Here is my Christmas column in the Greenville News.  I hope you and yours have a blessed Christmas!  The text follows the link.

Christmas…’it’s the most rational time of the year.’ That would certainly be an odd statement, wouldn’t it? Well, it’s not true in every sense. We do act pretty goofy. We spend money we don’t have to buy stuff that people don’t need, much of which they will give away to people they don’t like, so that they won’t feel guilty for not buying them anything. Not much rationality there.

A rational hope was born

A rational hope was born


And we do love our decorations! Houses are covered in lights, and yards display a fascinating mixture of Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman (tragically out of place here in South-Town) and the Nativity, complete with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, animals and Wise-men; all gleaming with electricity.

Still, it may well be the most rational time of the year. Or certainly one of them. Because it is about something that humans universally crave; and that is hope. Christmas is the time of year when we study ‘the science of ‘hope-ology.’

Scientific method goes like this: Orange Hippos Take Classes Regularly. At least, that’s the mnemonic device for kids to remember ‘observe, hypothesize, test, collect data and report.’ The situation of humanity is this: We observe the reality of pain and guilt, suffering and fear. Next, we hypothesize that if we feel that badly, there must be something other, some deliverance, some hope to counter-balance it. We feel a hunger that needs to be sated.

We test assorted techniques of easing the pain. Drugs help some diseases, but otherwise are a big bust (no pun intended). Alcohol leads to anesthetized misery and family pain. Self-help is circular when self is damaged. Technology is a tool, but not a system of belief, and certainly not a comfort.

We then collect data on humanity and on what seems to make sense, what seems to help. And at Christmas, those of us who believe in the Christmas story as factual are trying to report that our investigation has uncovered a source of hope.

Of course, it may seem loopy from the outside. Angels and virgins, far-away countries and miracles, prophecies and sacrifices and all that. But if we are going to try to be anything like rational about all of it, we should at least ask, ‘does Christmas make any sense?’ Miracles aside, does it fit the human story and the human need?

I think so. In an otherwise short, hurtful life, Christmas is the story of a God who came to man, in order to make man whole, ease his suffering and banish his guilt. This ‘hope-ology’ we study at Christmas tells the broken that God wants them to be whole. It tells those who feel worthless that God gives them worth. And it tells the lost and dying that God came to earth to offer them a fuller, transformed existence here; and that the wonder doesn’t end with our last breaths.

Does it qualify as science? Of course not; I was just using science to make a point. But to the extent that it has what scientists call ‘explanatory power,’ the ‘hope-ology’ of Christmas is irrefutable. What else offers humanity this?

The dying rarely ask to be reminded that their body was nice and earth was nice and that they briefly may (or may not) have contributed to the advancement of their species. They usually hope for more than ‘we’ll miss you for a while, so have a nice, permanent nap.’

And the broken and struggling, addicted and abused want more than ‘try harder, but in the mean-time, here’s a handout. Happy Holidays if you believe in them.’

What we want is hope. From fundamentalist to atheist, we need to believe there is an answer to our questions; a deliverance from our fears, a reason for our being and a completeness to our insufficiency. The Christmas story has the power of that hope. It explains our longing and gives shape and incarnation to our deepest desire; the desire to be valued and found, to be loved and treasured, to be forgiven, if only for being ourselves. To be made new.

We who believe may be wrong. It’s called faith because we can’t touch it or confirm it in the lab. But if it turns out we were wrong, at least we responded to the very rational need for hope.

Christmas is a bright, shiny, crazy reminder of that need. And perhaps our lights and insane gifts, our parties and endless search for ‘the meaning of Christmas,’ are all just data that help support our hypothesis.

Merry Christmas!


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