I wish you a joyous and peaceful holiday season. December is often such a busy month, filled with events and engagements that compete for our time and attention. There is more pressure and there are more opportunities to shop, to give, to bake, to socialize, to decorate, to go to church. We might also feel an increased pressure at work to meet deadlines, fill quotas, complete our end-of-year obligations, take on extra work, push for that bonus, tackle those extra bills. At HBU, your child is working on final projects, writing term essays, preparing oral presentations, studying for final exams, ticking boxes on that ever-growing to-do list– and maybe even developing plans to clean out that dorm room. Amid the bustle and excitement of holiday preparations, perhaps the Christmas season also brings with it some sorrow for your family– grief in the memory of a lost loved one, perhaps, or a heightened sense of loneliness or of a strained relationship. This is the season for giving, after all, and the act of giving turns our attention to our relationships.
Children are such wonderful gifts. They require our energy, our attention, our time, our resources, our love. They can stretch our patience and consume our thoughts. They can be the source of our greatest joys, hopes, and worries. Their very existence is precious to us, and the experience of parenting can lead us to an imperfect but meaningful representation of unconditional love. Each human life is precious, but your child, you well know, is especially precious.
As a member of the HBU faculty to you, an HBU parent, I want to thank you for the sacrifices you make for your child–your young adult–to receive an HBU education. Thank you for the financial support you give your children, and the hours of work and planning that are behind that support. Thank you for the words of encouragement that you give your sons and daughters. Thank you for the interest you’ve taken in their education. Thank you for the pride you’ve shown in their academic progress. Thank you for the perspective you’ve offered them as they have embarked on their journey in higher education, and thank you for the ways you’ve let them grow into independent adults, forging their own path. It is a privilege to teach your children.
I myself am a mother of two– an infant and a toddler. I get to relive the wonders of Christmas through their eyes–the tree, the lights and decorations, the kitchen smells, the wrapped presents, the beautiful hymns and carols, and all the “reverence and gaiety” that T. S. Eliot mentions in one of my favorite poems of the season, “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.” In that poem, Eliot asks us to continue in the spirit of wonder that we had as children, to in our “eightieth Christmas” preserve the “amazement of the first-remembered Christmas tree,” so that the “accumulated memories of annual emotion / May be concentrated into a great joy.” There’s more to the poem than I can mention here, but its end reminds us most importantly to turn our attention not just to our first remembered Christmas, but to the first Christmas of all–that is, to the gift of the Christ Child, Immanuel, God with us.
In Matthew 7, Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” We as parents make sacrifices daily, willingly, in order to give good things to our children. During the Christmas season, or when our sons and daughters have grown into young adults with more expensive needs and desires, those sacrifices may be intensified. God’s sacrifice for us is intense beyond compare. The Father’s gift of the Son is astoundingly, wondrously intense, loving, and sacrificial–far beyond our deserving. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! (1 John 3:1). We as parents may have failed in significant ways. We are only human. We may have been deeply scarred by the failures of our own parents. Nonetheless, we seek to give to those we love, and we understand in some small way the path of sacrifice. My prayer for everyone in our HBU family is that this Christmas season we may experience anew the wonder of God’s intense love for us, his children, and that we may in the full assurance of that love generously pour out our love to others in His family–to our children, yes, and as far as opportunity presents itself, to all those with whom we share our lives– our brothers and sisters, members of the human race. May the song of the angelic host be our own: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all on whom his favor rests!
Dr. Emily E. Stelzer is Associate Professor of Literature in the department of English and Modern Languages. She loves teaching Great Works of Literature, Shakespeare, and other writing and poetry courses in HBU’s English program. She is the author of Gluttony and Gratitude: Milton’s Philosophy of Eating (Penn State University Press, 2018).