Unto us a child is born. Unto to us a son is given.
May the grace of the coming of Christ bring peace to your heart and to your life this Christmas 2007. This is our faith, our belief, our hope as Christians. I was preparing to fix up my hot and spicy turkey this evening when I began to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, to reflect on the Christmas story and my place in the larger belief in Christmas. The belief we share as Christians that God himself left his Heavenly seat to be born by a woman because the world was in such a mess, is a very powerful belief to behold.
The idea of setting aside a day to celebrate that faith and that birth however, has taken hold of the world in such a way, Christmas, as Christians call it has become one of the most internationally confused days on our globe. All over the world, the idea of gift giving and receiving, peace and goodwill, the gathering of friends and family, etc. etc. has been confused. All of our busy gift giving has replaced much of the faith that we have that Jesus actually came to give us peace and hope and rest.
Christmas therefore has become for many around the world a time of worry and fear and pain and sorrow because of the worry that they may not find that gift or receive that gift or have time to visit that family member or see that family member. Christmas that is meant to remind us of the tremendous peace we can have has become a time of stress, whether or not we know it.
In my home country of Liberia, there is a strange twist to the idea of Christmas. Weeks before the actual day, people go around their everyday life asking others the inevitable Liberian Christmas question: “Where is my Christmas?” Sometimes they may emphatically say, “My Christmas on you-oh,” meaning that you are responsible to give them a gift this year for Christmas. Most often, those asking the question expect a gift in money or kind, and most often, the person being asked is in the position of power or is the wealthier one, and therefore has the burden of helping the friend or the person who is asking for “their Christmas.”
Another twist to the story is that the individuals who usually feel the need to ask people for their Christmas usually do not think they have anything to give. They believe that their Christmas is much more important than the other person’s need to receive or whatever. But Christmas is neither about receiving gifts or giving gifts in the sense that we practice here in the US or in Liberia, West Africa. The gift that has been given us by God is Christ, and we celebrate that gift by giving of ourselves and of our possessions willingly without being asked. Most often, in the United States, we give gifts to our family members and sometimes to our friends. But there is a problem here too. In our need to give gifts to our family and friends, we have turned a spiritual occasion into a capitalistic one of selling and buying and stressing over the unnecessary. I am as guilty of this as everyone else, believe me. As I sit here, I am very exhausted because I have been trying to fit shopping and cooking and cleaning and welcoming my children back home from college, decorating the Christmas tree and wrapping gifts, sending money home, and all the other stuff in preparation for this good day into my already busy and professional lifestyle.
But if you ask me whether I really wanted to do all of that stuff, I’d say all I really really wanted to do was to go upstairs to my room and wrap myself under my soft comforters and sleep for two days, get up in pajamas and get some tea and get back to sleep while Christmas music played. I really would like to find that rest, to run from all the Christmas lights, from the over-decorative street blocks in my neighborhood, all the fake happiness and the lack of peace reflected in the over-doing of Christmas. I say “fake” happiness because I wonder how much of the happy jolly spirit we have allows us to just know our neighbors, to know the unfortunate in our town, to care about those we give cans of food to if we really had the opportunity to know them. But this is what Christmas is really about- knowing the people around us and being human beings to them.
But if I wanted to simply rest, I can’t do that, of course, and you can’t do that too… okay. I was just trying to be honest with you. Tell me, do we really want to go through all the stuffing of turkeys, the baking, the happy-jolly holiday singing or do we just want to have peace, to know peace, to really find peace? It is only when we find that peace that “transcends all understanding” that the true meaning of Christmas becomes relevant. It is only then that all of the “happy jolly” feelings, the festivities and the reality of the season become real and beautiful.
What is peace? What is peace really? When Christ came into the world, it was to bring peace, of course, not through war and violence, not through the destruction of human life or the destruction of our enemies. It was to bring peace to the troubled heart that causes wars. The peace of Christmas should be the peace that knows calm when all of the material things of the world are not there, when one’s world has fallen apart, when there are no gifts to give, when the bills need to be paid…peace.
Because I am talking about Christmas, I know I have already lost some of my best friends. Some of my friends do not believe in Christmas. They believe in the entire festive season as “Happy Holiday” season, and I do not blame them. Those who think of the day as a holiday may be telling it as it is because really, Christmas has been taken out of Christmas, and has become a holiday, of course. For some of these friends, it is not the faith of the day that matters since for them, Christmas is not a faith issue. I agree with them on that. But for me, Christmas is a faith issue, but I know that Christmas has been taken out of Christmas for most of the world.
There is hope however, because if nothing else, the idea of family, goodwill, and gathering continues to be a strong Christmas tradition around the world. Yes, cooking and cleaning and preparing for family can be burdensome, but after all the hard work and stress, there is always something wonderful about having everyone together under one roof.
One of the ways I have reduced my Christmas stress is by reducing the number of people I have to entertain, the number of gifts my own children get, and by shopping later, not earlier. This year, our Christmas tree was up for two weeks without any gifts under the tree. In fact, I’ve just completed wrapping the last gift ad placed it under our artificial Christmas tree. Our children were amazed that there was a Christmas tree with no gifts under it. Maybe they learned something new by that this year.
Of course, there are numerous ways of refocusing and reducing stress. One must find their own way of surviving the weeks before and after Christmas.
Whatever you do this Christmas, remember to keep peace in Christmas because it was to bring peace that the Christ child came. And even though he came to our world as a child, he was really God and creator of the world.
Let your Christmas this year be filled with peace and calm, and your new year be prosperous all year through.