As an agno-atheist who grew up Methodist, I have complicated feelings about Christmas. It’s been jammed down our throat by mainstream religion, but also coopted from religion and turned into a grotesque display of capitalism and conspicuous consumption. It stole the thunder of countless faiths it then obliterated. It brings out the best in people, and also sometimes the worst.
And yet there are hundreds of millions of people, religious and not, who take comfort in it, whose hearts are warmed in its glow. Maybe it’s the presents, maybe it’s the religious beliefs. Maybe, as Community suggested, it has meaning simply because we say it does.
For me, it’s an annual reminder that the darkness, literal and figurative, does not last forever.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned … shattered [is] the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.Isaiah, 9:2, 4-5
Our world has felt awfully dark lately. I don’t have much faith the God of the Bible will fix it, but I try to have faith it will be fixed, that we can fix it, that the rods of the oppressors and the warriors’ boots will one day no longer rule our lives.
I often fail and allow cynicism and despair to prevail. But once a year, around this time, belief gets a little easier when a whole bunch of people agree to set aside their own cynicism and despair and to believe in something better.
I don’t want to tell you what to believe in, or even that you have to feel that belief strengthened today. Your battery of hope will recharge in its own way at its own speed and time.
But today feels like as good as any day to tell you this: I hope your hope thrives, that you find a way to believe in something that makes you stronger and happier. The song lyrics below do that for me – they help me remember that hope doesn’t have to be rational for it to work its magic – and I’m sharing them in the hope they do for you as well.
Like the Willie Nelson-sung song from earlier this month, this was written by David Javerbaum and the late great Adam Schlesinger for Stephen Colbert’s special “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!” This one was performed by Colbert and special guest star Elvis Costello.
There are cynics, there are skeptics
There are legions of dispassionate dyspeptics
Who regard this time of year as a maudlin insincere
Cheesy crass commercial travesty of all that we hold dear
When they think that, well, I can hear it
But I pity them their lack of Christmas spirit
For in a world like ours, take it from Stephen
There are much worse things to believe in
A redeemer and a savior
An obese man giving toys for good behavior
The faith in what might be and the hope that we might see
The answer to all sorrow in a box beneath the tree
Find them foolish, sentimental
Well you’re clearly none too bright so we’ll be gentle
Don’t even try to start vaguely conceiving
Of all much worse things to believe in
Believe in the judgment, believe in Jihad
Believe in a thousand variations on a dark and spiteful god
You’ve got your money, you’ve got your power
You’ve got your science, and all the planet’s going to end within the hour
You’ve got your dreams that don’t come true
You’ve got the ones that do
Then you’ve got your nothing
Some folks believe in nothing
But if you believe in nothing
Then what’s to keep the nothing from coming for you?
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year
Now if you’ll forgive me, there’s a lot to do here
There are stockings still unhung, colored lights I haven’t strung
And a one-man four-part Christmas carol waiting to be sung
Call me silly, call me sappy
Call me many things, the first of which is happy
You doubt, but you’re sad
I don’t, but I’m glad
I guess we’re even
At least that’s what I believe in
And there are much worse things