Written by Capt. Gregory Todd, Chaplain of the Coast Guard
Spending too much! Eating too much! Drinking too much! Too busy! Too tired! Too stressed! “All I want for Christmas is relief!” This is a common refrain during this season but buried underneath the holiday trappings, we may find an ancient resilience to face the challenges of the season as well as the rest of the year.
With the holidays’ religious roots and the significant numbers of studies suggesting a link between the practice of religion and building personal resilience, an ancient resilience may be found in pausing to consider the faith that underlies the holidays and how that faith builds resilience.
The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah began this year at sundown on December 12 and celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem two centuries before the Christian era. As the temple lamp was lit in rededication, there was only enough holy oil for one day but, miraculously, the lamp stayed lit for eight days allowing for additional holy oil to be pressed and consecrated. The miraculous lamp illustrates the Lord was with His people as they rededicated the temple.
The Christian celebration of Christmas celebrates the Divine taking on human form in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is celebrated as the Son of God whose perfect life and sacrificial death win Divine forgiveness for humanity and whose resurrection from death promises resurrection for the faithful and Divine care day to day. With a similar theme to Hanukkah, Christmas celebrates the Lord is with humanity.
Faith then is the celebration of the presence of the Divine in our lives; that God is with us. This celebration of God’s presence leads us to hope. Hope looks at the future and celebrates that the Divine is wise, is involved with human existence, and is benevolent toward humanity. Hope empowers us to meet the future, to meet difficult challenges because we are not meeting them alone but with the presence of the Divine. This is Divine resilience.
But are faith and hope enough? Fourth century theologian and philosopher, St. Augustine, reminds us, “For when we ask whether someone is a good man, we are not asking what he believes, or hopes, but what he loves.” Faith and hope lead us to love. Faith in the presence of God and a Divine hope for the future, pushes one’s focus outside of oneself to look toward the welfare of others. This is what drives the charitable nature of the holiday season. The Divine leads us to love. What a wonderful antidote to our selfish tendencies.
So when the commercial nature of the holiday season drives us to bigger and more elaborate celebrations, always with the encouragement to purchase more and stretch our budget as we stretch our energy and patience, the Divine nature of the season would invite us to a respite. Our respite from the stress of the holiday season is in faith, hope, and love. Researchers may call this resilience but for centuries the faithful have called it “Peace on earth and goodwill to men.”