Thrill of hope

Published 5:50 pm Thursday, December 9, 2021

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By Jonathan Tobias    You could hear the Clark Griswold xylophone music in the air.

You know, that sort of tune that tells you a comic disaster is about to happen. Like staple-gunning your flannel shirtsleeve to the gutter. Or your extension ladder collapsing, taking you down with it. Or sliding down your roof while you’ve been staple-gunning lightbulb strands into the shingles, which I don’t think is a good idea.

And then grabbing hold of the gutter and shooting its icy cargo in through Todd and Margo’s window and striking, as an ice missile, an outrageously expensive hi-fi system: a perfect crime, so to speak, as the weapon disappears into a sodden pool of water in Margo’s precious carpet.

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“Why is the carpet all wet, Todd?”

Wait for it.

“I don’t know, Margo!”

I checked. You can get a Christmas sweater that says just that at Amazon (of course).

So far, I haven’t launched any missiles at my neighbors, mainly because there’s just not too much ice available down here in these warmer climes.

However, I have been possessed by the spirit of Clark Griswold. I went out yesterday to look for a tree, and I experienced that same golden sunbeam effect, accompanied by the sounds of an angelic choir. The utterly irresistible, insurmountable thought came flooding in like a tsunami:

No. Tiny. Christmas. Tree. For. Me.

Anything less than this tall, majestic, and very full spruce that’s right in front of me would be like a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. Which, by the way, you can also get at Amazon (for $27 – it’s cheaper at Hobby Lobby).

Upon further reflection, I regret, somewhat, this decision. But not too much. Despite the fact that I’ll probably have to bring out my chainsaw and do some substantial trimming from the bottom, the Clark Griswold spirit is very strong in me.

And maybe that’s not all bad.

There is a reason why Clark’s story is so beloved. He is Everyman, who – like each one of us – is beset by disappointments and disasters (some not so comic at all).

He constructs in his head unattainable ideals. His wife, Ellen, told him just this very thing, knowing that he would encounter frustration at many points – knowing this from prior experience (like in the previous movies).

We laugh at Clark’s slapstick misfortunes because we recognize the theme all too well. And we’re glad that these misfortunes are cast in a comic frame, as this provides a much-needed relief from the burden of frustration and the seemingly constant theme of tragedy in our world.

We love Clark because besides being a man of constant sorrow, he’s also a man of constant hope. Through all his stumbling through one mishap after another, through his lonely midnight inspection of every tiny bulb on the perilous rooftop under a very, very large wintry moon, through the interior destruction wrought by Snots and the squirrel, and even through the shattering letdown of the letter announcing his new subscription to the Jelly-of-the-Month-Club …

Clark still hoped.

We all decorate for Christmas because we hope.

We feel the same expectation that the Old Testament Hebrews felt about the Messiah, Who would one day come to set things to rights.
The Jews then, as they do now, knew for certain that there had to be justice, a happy ending, that it was impossible that life would turn out meaningless, collapsing in tragic irony, in nihilism.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

You know these words. They ring in your heart. You know that glorious morn broke on the Holy Night of the Nativity.

You also know, as do I, that this present weary life, with all its tragic frustration, will not end in meaninglessness. We know, in our heart of hearts, that there is an answer to the prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come.”

So even though I’m too Clark-like and prone to mishaps (hopefully just comic), and there is undoubtedly that same xylophone melody in the soundtrack for my Christmas preparation video, I too am a man of constant hope, adoring the Child Christ.

That is why you and I decorate.

And that is why I’ll be putting up our very full tree. Even though I might be saying, with Clark, “A lot of sap in here! Looks great. A little full. A lot of sap.”

An award winning columnist, Jonathan Tobias can be reached via email at