’Tis the season of orange and gold! Close on its heels is the season of red and green, although many have already exchanged their autumn/Thanksgiving decorations for winter/Christmas ones. Seems as if some stores did that as soon as Labor Day was over—no names will be mentioned to protect myself from slandering these holiday-skippers.
However, I would be a hypocrite to fuss too much, since I have been listening to Christmas music for a month now. Okay, okay—I’ll admit it! My family was listening to a wee bit of Christmas music at the beach in late September.
So we are guilty of jumping onboard the rushing holiday express. Actually I’ve noticed many people listening to Christmas songs extra-early this season. Does that mean we don’t appreciate Thanksgiving? Absolutely not. I believe this music brings us such a sense of comfort that we crave it more when the world around us swirls with news of mass shootings in places of worship, crazed foreign dictators threatening nuclear war, allegations of sexual abuse all around us.
We hear ol’ Bing croon “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” and suddenly the world seems a bit brighter. The soothing sound of Nat King Cole telling us that chestnuts are roasting on an open fire takes us back to a simpler time on the old paths. Andy Williams’ golden voice keeps insisting it’s the most wonderful time of the year, and pretty soon we start to believe him.
And those are just the secular holiday songs. Once you throw in Johnny Mathis reverently singing “What Child Is This” and Mariah Carey’s magnificence in “O Holy Night,” it’s hard to resist the rising feeling that hope yet exists for this dark world.
And it does.
I find it appropriate that the holiday leading into what many call the season of hope is Thanksgiving. Giving thanks and promoting hope go hand in hand. A grumbler/complainer/whiner is the archenemy of hopefulness. Try bellyaching and griping about everything for a few days, and see how much hope you feel.
I am convinced that a grateful heart is a hope-filled heart. I also believe that when you give thanks even in the midst of trials and tribulation, you open an invisible but very real door of blessing.
On Sunday, I preached a sermon entitled, “Hallelujah Anyhow!” The gist of it was that if we want to be overcomers, we must be people who can praise
God and speak positive things when it is not natural to do so. Seem too hard? Yeah, for me, too. But then I look at examples of those who have modeled this desirable behavior.
During my sermon, we read the Scripture about the Apostle Paul and his missionary cohort Silas being arrested for preaching the Gospel. They were stripped, beaten with many stripes, chained up in the innermost prison. I imagine it was miserable in that dark, dank place with its atmosphere of gloom and the smells of bodily wastes (hard to relieve yourself privately with your feet in stocks).
Had I been so treated, I may have moaned and cried and begged God to get me out of there, while reminding Him that this wasn’t fair. Instead, Paul and Silas began to pray and sing praises at midnight—through the pain, misery, discomfort and fear.
And when they did, the Bible tells us their chains supernaturally fell off. I believe if they had groaned and whined, they would have still been chained up come morning. But when they reached deep within themselves to pull out a “Hallelujah anyhow!”, the miraculous happened.
There are two other interesting points here. The first is that while Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises (note: they were not singing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”), everyone around them was listening. Secondly, when their chains fell off, so did the chains of every other prisoner.
Now, you may be rolling your eyes and saying, “I don’t believe all of that hokey supernatural miracle stuff.” But the moral of this story holds true even if you take out the divine intervention and translate this into a simple analogy.
Truth is, when you are going through difficult times, everybody around you is watching to see how you will react, just as those in the jail listened to Paul and Silas. Will you let trouble make you bitter or better? Will you somehow be able to give thanks in all things or curse the day you were born?
The second analogous point is that when you manage to be thankful and speak hope even in the midst of tragedy, it will positively affect everyone in your path—just as Paul and Silas’ praises supernaturally loosed not only their chains, but also the other prisoners’ bonds.
I didn’t say it was easy, and I have failed miserably before during tough times. But I have seen those who have done it, and no doubt they bring me hope and inspire me to carry on.
I have a young friend who recently lost her fiancé to a tragic accident just a month before their wedding day. Her sorrow is unimaginable, yet she posts inspiring words and memes about the faithfulness of God on social media.
I am close to a woman whose 19-year-old son was killed a couple of years ago. Despite the intensity of her grief, she crafts encouraging blog and Facebook masterpieces which resound with hope and love. She reaches out to others who are hurting, such as the aforementioned young lady who mourns the love of her life.
I have a dear friend who lost a toe to diabetes, then recently finished cancer treatments only to suffer his second stroke. He enters our church slowly every Sunday morning, but with a positive attitude; it was he who first told me that his motto for the dark times is “Hallelujah anyhow!”
So during this Thanksgiving week and on into the Christmas season, I challenge YOU to be thankful and maintain an attitude of gratitude despite the storms of life that would beat you down. It will help break the chains of discouragement that try to imprison you, and it will make a difference in the lives of those around you—those who so desperately need to escape their own dungeons of despair.
I’ll join you, and together we will spread the TRUE meaning of holiday cheer. It’s a whole lot more than cookies, tinsel, colored lights and jingle bells. It is hope and light to defeat the darkness.
Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her blog is at http://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com.