Do the following phrases seem familiar? "Have good cheer." "Joy to the world." "Peace on Earth." "Oh what fun!" "Good tidings we bring." "With true love and brotherhood; each other now embrace." "We wish you a Merry Christmas!"
Of course, these are all lines are from popular carols, and you can hear them on the street or sung by pop singers in your local Starbucks. The pure optimism that rings in the voices of those singing these words often wakes me up.
My eyes sometimes get cloudy. Don't you know that the end of the world is coming (thanks, Mayans!).
I want to be cheerful, but I hear a lot about worry. There are worries about future generations and our nation's future; worries about our economy and our ability to compete in a global marketplace; there are worries about our families, our homes, our cars, our relationships and on and on the list goes.
The problem with worry is that it can become a world view. How can plans be made if we are terrified of what is to come? How can the world move forward if we can't seem to grasp and control our individual and collective destinies? To use words from the book of Ecclesiastes, everything can become a "chasing after the wind" and our work in the world can feel "meaningless."
But are things really that bad? Google recently released a video showing what people were wondering about over the year (see "Google zeitgeist 2012"). Some of the queries were inspiring, some were just sad: Lindsanity. Hurricane Sandy. Gabby Douglas. The Hunger Games. Kony 2012. Honey Boo Boo. Mars landing. Some of the worries I had about the new year melted away as I realized how much had happened in the one previous. Remembering the past is a good way to have hope for a better future.
One encouraging story happened a long time ago, in a land far away from our Lowcountry. Some shepherds were with their sheep in the night. The times were uncertain, militaries were engaged across the known world. There were politicians, emperors, religious people, merchants struggling and succeeding much like us, and there were deteriorating dangerous roads.
One moment, the sky opened and a spiritual display startled and terrorized these men. Then a being (a messenger of the heavens, an angel) opened the sky to tell them something big. They saw a celebration so bright it was beyond imagination, and their lives were changed forever. A child was born, Jesus the Christ.
The angel announced the coming of a king who would save the world. The shepherds rushed out and told everyone, and people were amazed. History was demarcated, and God proved that life isn't stagnant, that our lives are constantly ready for a new event, a renewal.
Sometimes we need to look back to remember that our future is bright. Personally, I'll be doing that at St. Andrew By-The-Sea's Christmas Eve service, under the stars, on the fields next to Station 300. I'll stand with others, a candle in my hand and remember that no amount of worry will change an iota of the future. God has it all wrapped up. In Jesus, he came to be with us, lived among us, and he is and always will be with us.
When I sing carols this Christmas, I'll remember our hope through every detail, because of our God, Immanuel.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.