In December 2020, the world needs realistic and infectiously optimistic leadership to guide us out of the fog of pessimism.
Christmas 2020 and the celebration of the birthday of Jesus is a celebration of optimism, faith and hope.
Advent is the time of waiting and preparation for Christmas.
It is a perfect time to spread optimism around you and restore your own optimism.
As Helen Keller wrote, “Christmas Day is the festival of optimism.”
Helen went on to write “Even on Christmas Day do men remember that Christ came as a prophet of good? His joyous optimism is like water to feverish lips, and has for its highest expression the eight beatitudes. It is because Christ is an optimist that for ages he has dominated the Western world. For nineteen centuries Christendom has gazed into his shining face and felt that all things work together for good.”
There are some who advocate rejecting optimism in favour of hope. I don’t believe you have to make that choice – the spiritual life and faith enhance optimism and, for me, Advent preparation is the perfect time to combine the strength of hope and the trait of optimism.
What is Christian Optimism?
In one of his sermons “Why I am an optimist”, the American evangelist Billy Graham quoted St Peter “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
Billy Graham went on to say “I am an optimist not because I blindly hope – all evidence to the contrary – that somehow everything will work out all right. Nor am I an optimist because I believe in man’s unlimited ability to solve his problems. I am an optimist ultimately because I believe in God.”
Thomas Merton wrote, “The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance. Therefore, too, we must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.”
I love this expression from Saint Josemaria Escriva who said “Christian optimism is not a sugary optimism, nor is it a mere human confidence that everything will turn out all right. It is an optimism that sinks its roots into an awareness of our freedom, and the sure knowledge of the power of grace.”
Monsignor Sabino Vengco Jr. wrote beautifully, “Our present life is a matter of what is still to come. At no point is it everything already, nor is everything there. Our life is about birth, growth, and maturation; there is even fullness expected in the end of life, in death, into what is eternal. There are depths and dimensions in one’s life and in the world at large still to be discovered and explored, forces to be unlocked so that life can be brought to its full potential. Creation is in progress and its plenitude and completeness are waiting: an optimism that is an essential component of Christian faith.”
The Optimism of Advent
The Very Reverend Dr James Rigney, painted the pathway. “John the Baptist blends simple moral instruction on how to live in this climate of expectation, with words about the coming of the more powerful one. John is the route to Advent optimism.”
The Reverend Kenneth Padley put this well. “Hope is optimism. Hope is certainty. And hope is engagement. That is why we hope with expectation of the future, trust in Christ, and patience in waiting. Christian hope is bigger and better than we can begin to conceive. But in Advent, the season of hope, we come close to catching a glimpse.”
William Willimon wrote, “For some, Christ’s coming is terrifying. Old verities give way at his arrival. Those who make their living by the status quo do not rejoice when the status quo is threatened. Caesar trembles, empires topple, and the earth shakes. For those tied to the old age and its gods, its armies, its delusions of immortality, its false securities, the arrival of the Son of Man is bad news. `Apocalypse now,’ cry the prophets of doom. Let us put away these prophets, close our eyes and speak optimistically of tomorrow. But those who have watched, who have heeded the signs, who have never made peace with the status quo, who have lived as if there were no tomorrow prick up their ears, straighten, stand on tiptoes. The Anointed One comes, their redemption is near and the world’s doom becomes their deliverance”.
Advent Optimism is a Beautiful Thing.
Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, explained, “Above all, let us try to make Christ present in the hearts and lives of others. Yes, we have to be, each one of us has to be a source of hope and optimism for other people. What a beautiful Advent and what a beautiful Christmas we will have if we really have the joy of knowing that we are disciples of Jesus Christ who came to save us and to make us happy. “
God is an Optimist
Fr Dave Austin osa said , “Advent opens us to the ‘refreshment’ and ‘renewal’ of the Christmas celebration – two more ‘Christmas words’ perhaps, expressing God’s optimism for each of us in our human living and his gift of hopefulness that we so badly need.… St Paul’s words from Philippians 4 should ring in our ears: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.’”
The anonymous Advent Reflections 2019 of Notre Dame Catholic Church Kerrville, Texas is endearing: “God imbued us with some innate desire to look to the morning sun, to find optimism in the new leaf, and through it all to know that He loves us and will never abandon us.”
Jesus was an Optimist
Rev. Dr. J. Barrington Bates, wrote, “Jesus showed an unquenchable, confident optimism—even in seemingly dire situations. And he commanded us not to fear, but live in hope.”
The Advent Optimism of Children
Creede Hinshaw wrote, “I began thinking about children and waiting. I first concluded that children know nothing about how to wait. But after further reflection, there is another side to this. Children have to wait for almost everything. Accompanying that waiting, at least in terms of their birthday parties and Christmas, is a sense of sheer excitement and eagerness. That unbridled optimism and expectation is often missing once we become adults. Children have much to teach us about eager expectation. As adults it is too easy to grow cynical, jaded or resigned. One of the Advent themes is that of waiting. But not just waiting for any old thing. The Christian is awaiting the redemption of the world, the coming again into the world of the One born in a manger. Advent is a season to heighten, sharpen and restore that sense of expectation.”
Let me conclude with the advice of Pope Francis to youth, “I propose these three characteristics for your testimony at this time: honesty, responsibility and optimism. All three accompanied by discernment.”
Optimism Exercises at Christmas
Meditation and Prayer: There is good evidence to show that meditation and, in particular, compassion meditation enhances your optimism and happiness. A prayer is a form of meditation so this is a good time to meditate and pray on the messages of Christmas.
My Best Self: Set aside about 15 minutes and write about a future day in your life in which you have accomplished everything you desire. Then spend five minutes imaging that reality. Practising this every now and again is said to significantly improve your positive feelings, your feelings of optimism and the infectiousness of your optimism.
Gratitude: Expressing gratitude is a wonderful way to make you and others happy and optimistic. As we gather with family for the Christmas celebrations, there’s the perfect opportunity to express thanks for the hospitality of the day and for memories of good times past. A message to those far away is a great idea too.
Singing: Some of the most beautiful music ever written was composed for Christmas and Advent. Those going to Church will have the opportunity to sing, so take the opportunity and sing with vigour. For this who don’t, sing to yourself or sing with others!
Walk and Take Some Deep Breaths: Walking in company or on your own is another good way to enhance your feeling of wellbeing and optimism. While on that walk, make sure to take some deep slow breaths and fill your lungs with the fresh air of Christmas whether your Christmas is in Summer or Winter.
Use Positive Language: Don’t just ask “how are you?” – ask people “What’s the best thing happening for you?” or whatever variation feels natural for you.
Ask “What makes you optimistic?”