It's Christmas, the second-most-important Christian holiday and the most important holiday for many Americans. Tonight is Christmas Eve. But for some families, every year, Christmas comes at a moment that seems dark and difficult. Many of my friends are in my thoughts tonight, and my own family is grieving.
This will be our last Christmas with Mom. My mother is in hospice. She spoke during the fall about wanting to make it to Christmas, and she has. I am immensely thankful. I am very sad. We have her; we will lose her. The two truths are not separate.
The winter holidays are about celebration and gratitude. Celebrating is easy. Gratitude is harder. In the good years, in our well-fed and endlessly-indulged country, being grateful for our easy bounty often poses an enormous challenge.We take so much for granted, and understand too little of it as a gift. But when Christmas comes to you in the bleak midwinter, gratitude is even more important. You must dig deeper to bring up your thanks. But this is the most important time to be thankful.
I am grateful, tonight, for all the years of my life that I have enjoyed my mother's love. I am grateful that this Christmas I will see her face and hear her voice. And I am grateful, more than I can ever say, to the family that has supported and surrounded her during her illness. Everything I want for Christmas I have; I have already been given it, year by year and day by day, all the days of my life.
There is a reason that this holiday comes at the dark ebb tide of winter. It is the holiday of consolation in the darkness. The Christian story tells of a miraculous birth in the dead of winter, far from any riches or comfort, in the most unlikely of places. And it offers, in the long night of the spirit, a promise of far-off hope.
That promise is not about tomorrow. There is a reason that Easter is the most important day of the Christian's year, and Christmas the second. Easter is the fulfillment of hope. Christmas is hope that has yet to be fulfilled. Santa aside, Christmas has never been about immediate gratification. The child is born, and nothing outward or immediate changes. He is a baby; his great deeds, his historic role, are decades away. Everything will change, but not yet.
Christmas is not about hope fulfilled, but about hope itself: the faith that the better day will come, no matter how long tonight may last. The promise is fulfilled by being renewed, and we are asked to wait again, to hold hope quietly in our hearts through the long, gray winters. It offers us only the reassurance of a distant star, just above the horizon, clear and steady but beyond our reach. All it promises is that the star is there. And that will be enough.