Four centuries ago, a Swiss medical student noticed that soldiers fighting far away from home often experienced deep feelings of melancholy. Since he couldn’t find a word that appropriately described the experience he coined one of his own: nostalgia. It was the combination of two Greek words: nostos (homecoming) and algos (pain or ache). Nostalgia is an almost physical ache to go home, or to go back to a happier past, or perhaps to go forward to reclaim something priceless that has somehow been lost.
White Christmas, hands down, is a nostalgic movie that makes my point about this time of year. Listening to and watching this movie reminds us all of times past and feelings of good times of Christmas in years ago with snow and family. What binds the movie White Christmas together is Irving Berlin’s famous song “White Christmas.” Bing Crosby sang the song in public for the first time shortly before Christmas 1941, only weeks before Pearl Harbor. Throughout the war, wherever he traveled to entertain American troops, “White Christmas” was the soldiers number one request.
They were stabbed by nostalgia–a deep longing to stay safe and alive and the longing to return to homes that would be more secure because of their sacrifices on the front lines.
For Irving Berlin, the author of “White Christmas” the date December 25 was a complicated day. His infant son Irving Berlin Jr.–not even a month old, and the only son they would ever have during their 62 years of marriage died on December 25, 1928. For Berlin, “White Christmas” evoked a yearning to somehow redeem and reclaim what was for him the most painful time of the year.
We yearn for a world in which everything broken can finally be healed or repaired. Is the hope of heaven just a means of escape from the disappointment of the present world?
The Apostle Paul had a different take: “All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for the full deliverance.” (Romans 8:22-23, The Message)
Our nostalgia for childhood, for the joys of past Christmases, for the former days of health and hope, is, at root, a nostalgia for our true spiritual home–the new creation that God is now preparing.
It’s a new world that by God’s grace, we ourselves can help bring about. And tomorrow will bring us one day closer to its reality.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain