Dangerous Hope: The Confessions of a Man with Too Many Christmas Lights

I own entirely too many Christmas lights for a man of my age and each November I waste about 24 man hours installing the 18,108 mini lights I own (Yes.  In 2008, I counted them).  Lest you worry that perhaps this may be too many lights for a residential home, please know that I am cautious; after blowing any given breaker, I always remove one strand from the offending line before I flip the breaker back on and then secure a new outlet for the subsequent battery of lights.  I have never started anything more than a small house fire and outside of the occasional tingle up the arm that occurs when you grab hold of a bare light filament, I have not seriously electrocuted myself more than 2 or 3 times in the last decade.  I am an artist and when working with more than 10,000 lights, I’ve learned the importance of maintaining tasteful sensibilities.  I start with a clean canvas of white lights tracing the outline of the home and I limit the use of colored lights to wreaths, bows and an occasional candy cane.  LED’s, blinkers and tracers are an offense.  In 2010 I tried to embrace the inflatable movement – adding an 8’ tall snowman, 3 little penguins and a collage of woodland creatures decorating a Christmas tree – but I found them beneath my sensibilities.  For the sake of the neighborhood children, I restrict the number of plastic Santas I mount, insuring that only one at a time can be seen from any particular vantage point.  In 2006, I suspended a sleek, plastic santa’s sleigh and three tiny reindeer from a steel cable which I ran from the upper level of the house to a tree in the nearby woods.  It was sheer genius and when viewed from the middle of my cul de sac through squinted eyes, it almost looks like the real Santa Claus is swooping in for a landing on my roof. 

The night after Thanksgiving, I throw the switch, walk out into that cul de sac with my family and turn around to enjoy the lights.  As I scan the scene, my eyes widen and against all reasonability I cannot help myself.  I’m transformed by the same 18,108 lights that moved me the year before.  I’m 8 years old again and filled with wonder and hope.  My heart skips a beat and for a moment I can’t help but think – perhaps believe - that Santa Claus is real.  In the morning I’ll awake to discover that not only is he real, but that he came to my house…. that everything I hoped for – that 5-speed Schwinn with the banana seat and sissy bar, that Red Ryder BB Gun, the Hot Wheels, the Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robots – are all under the Christmas tree for me. 

Headlights from the neighbor’s car sweep across my feet and as he passes by he smiles.  “Nice work Clark Griswold!”  As I turn to wave, I see that the light in the plastic Santa atop my chimney has just blinked off.  I feel the door closing on that 8 year old’s Christmas heart and I am pulled back into the tangible realities before me.  But in the split second before the door closes on that child-like hope, I catch a glimpse of something unexpected.  I see the face of Christ and it takes my breath away.  It seems ridiculous… I thought this was about childhood, Santa Claus and a profundity of Christmas lights.  Was that Jesus I saw?  Is that why these silly Christmas lights move me so?  Is my silly Christmas heart really longing for Him?  Is it, perhaps, true that there is a God whose love for me is so wild and unbounded that He would take on human flesh to reach me? Do I dare hope that some day I will look into those eyes and feel that embrace? That some day I will see things set right - hearts, minds and bodies healed?  Relationships restored and justice established?  Is it possible that this 50 year old heart could believe – could hope - that these things will be?  Barely, but yes.

As my heart opens, I am reminded of how dangerous this is.  Though the hope of Christmas is, of course, for something eternal, such hope often spills into the temporal.  A willingness to place faith in such a wild and unpredictable God opens the possibility that he could create a hope for something more in this life as well.  Romans 4 tells us that God promised Abraham a son and against all reasonability, Abraham put his faith in this God.  He hoped that a barren wife would produce him a son.  Genesis recounts the story and the implication cannot be denied; for 30 years, this man made love to his wife in the hope that this would be the time that she became pregnant.  And each month, for almost 30 years, he confronted the disappointment of her infertility.  Were you never crushed by this disappointment Abraham?  Did you never curse God for his seeming cruelty and close your heart off to this hope? 

Hope is a dangerous and powerful force.  It compels us to risk and reach for things beyond our grasp.  Seeing that which is not yet real, it allows us to persevere in the face of obstacles and setbacks.  But hope also sets us up for disappointment and pain.  And the more disappointment we suffer, the more our hearts close off to protect us from further heartache.  In this Christmas season, do you dare to listen to your heart’s longings and consider the possibility that some of that for which you long may be a reflection of God’s heart within you?  Would you dare allow your heart to hope for more?  Restored relationships in your family?  Healing and deepened intimacy in your marriage?  Passion and fulfillment in  your vocation?  Meaningful friendships?  Freedom from fear, depression, addiction?   Let the Christmas lights do their work.  And if there aren’t enough in your neighborhood, come take a drive through mine. 

 - Jeff

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