Tree Lighting

Hundreds of people gathered for the 29th annual Ram Pasture Tree Lighting in Newtown on Dec. 11. (Reuters / December 12, 2013)

Despite the color and the carols, the multitude of lights, the ho-ho-ho-ing, the television specials and the frenzied shopping extravaganza, Christmas is really a small event.

At its heart is a child, born in what is often called "the little town" of Bethlehem: a baby boy, the son of a couple of meager means, of small consequence. A tiny, divine gift, and as the 19th-century hymn puts it: "how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given."

Christmas is not a rejoicing, noisy triumph; not a realization of dreams come true; not the glorious victory of life over death. For Christians, that comes years later, with the resurrection.

Christmas is something much smaller, more intimate, more human-sized. In the words of the late German American theologian Paul Tillich, it is "the new possibility." That's all: just a possibility.

What would this child become? As with all children, no one knows for sure. But the possibility of greatness was there.

Tinged by hope, accompanied by prayers, buttressed by faith, Christmas is seen today as the chance, however minuscule, that love will indeed triumph over hate, that good can subdue evil, that there really may be peace on earth. Sometimes, it seems a dim, sputtering possibility at best.

That was certainly the case a year ago, when the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School cast a deep pall over the holiday, not just here but wherever people cherish their children and their neighbors.

A year later, the gloom has not lifted in Newtown. For some, that may never happen. But the spirit of the holiday — not the hoopla, but the small, quiet hope — is there just the same.

And like Christmas, it focuses on little acts, kindnesses in miniature. On the one-year anniversary, town officials asked everyone to remember those who perished at the school by performing "small acts of benevolence and grace."

How appropriate to Christmas that request is. It is not a call to massive action, just as Christmas is not the climactic act of a mighty drama; it simply asks that each of us, in our own way, do something for another. A little something.

And we need not focus entirely on Newtown's tragedy to see the need for such intimate, personal outreach. The state, the country — indeed, the world — needs small acts of benevolence and grace. With luck, those may not be limited to this season, and they may not stay small.

Like Christmas, they may represent a beginning, a new way of relating both to those we know and to those we have never met.

May those of all faiths, or of none, look into the darkness this Christmas and find a way to lighten it for someone just a little. May we all perceive the new possibility the holiday represents.