CHRISTMAS comes at an inconvenient time this year. Thousands of American workers are losing their jobs, and millions of others worry about their security in a shrinking economy. There will be fewer presents under many Christmas trees tomorrow morning.People in other predominantly Christian lands also face dispiriting problems. The recession has lapped up on Europe's shores. A bitter war rages in Yugoslavia. Democratic and free-market institutions are still precarious in Eastern Europe. As their old institutions collapse, the people of the former Soviet republics face a bleak winter of anxiety and privation. Could we reschedule Christmas for a more propitious time? In fact, Christmas is never more needed than when spirits are low and hope is flickering. Though we have come to associate Christmas with gaily wrapped packages and tables piled high with sweetmeats, Christmas is not primarily a celebration of bounty. We don't find in bounty the validation of Christmas. Christmas is about a child born in obscurity and want, under a death warrant from the ruling potentate. Yet that child became a light of salvation shining steadily in the dark, like the star that heralded his coming. The Christliness exemplified by Jesus is God's agency for the triumph of good over evil, love over hate, faith over despair, and for the possibility of redemption, restoration, and healing. That Christliness is timeless and ministers to the 20th century as powerfully as to the first. Through the Christmas story, Christians grasp the incarnation of holiness. Other religions and cultures have their own such means for understanding the hope divinely implanted in the human makeup. May all our readers - Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others - find anew this Christmas season their own "reason of the hope that is in [us]" and take joy in bounty of spirit.