This Christmas, Let Our Giving Be of Ourselves
It is called Christmas - the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. That truly is, or at least ideally is, the reason for the season. That much we can agree on.
Is there a war on Christmas? Some think so. Bill O'Reilly seems to think that every time someone utters the words "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!" an angel loses its wings.
To equate a cheerful acknowledgment that not everybody shares the same faith traditions is a provocation antithetical to the holiday's namesake. Respecting people who embrace other traditions, or no traditions, does not diminish the meaning of Christmas. We have better ways to do that.
Is Christmas under attack, or is Christmas attacking all the other holidays? This year more stores than ever opened their doors to Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day - and those whose employees could not be pried from their tables before the pumpkin pie was served were compelled to open their stores at 3 a.m. the next morning.
Traditional parades and football games were interspersed with ads for door-buster savings, Christmas lay-away plans and, my favorite, the excited girl in the elevator with her boyfriend on their way down to the parking lot so she can show him the new car she bought him. (Where were those girls when I was dating?)
Thanksgiving is fast becoming Black Friday's Eve. The big stores are stocking for Christmas before Halloween. You can buy your kid a Spider-Man costume, get a deep fryer for the turkey and pick up that 11-foot inflatable snowman all in one trip. Thanksgiving is all but lost. Halloween is fading. Labor Day must be nervous.
This is how we celebrate the birth of a child who would grow up to teach us to ask for no more than our daily bread. This is how we honor the teacher and healer who was crucified for making a scene over the business conducted in God's house. We celebrate the birth of the quintessential anti-materialist with the most over-commercialized day anyone could possibly imagine and by increasing that commercialization each and every year.
That commercialization pays for the time that O'Reilly uses to berate people for a generalized greeting. His rants are punctuated with, and paid for by, messages from sponsors encouraging people to spend to their limits and beyond buying everyone they know things they could probably live without.
In that light, O'Reilly himself is a storm trooper in the assault on "the reason for the season."
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, our pastor and the children in our congregation shared a prayer that they had written together. It began, "Dear God, thanks for all this stuff!" It went on to to be a very sweet prayer, but the way they said that first line brought a chuckle throughout the sanctuary.
It was an appropriate prayer for a child who was about to plow into a feast. It was not necessarily a prayer of children of the well-heeled, but it was the prayer of a child who is secure, one who is not lacking.
When I thought about the prayer, I couldn't help but think about another child who probably wouldn't have written that prayer - one for whom "all this stuff" is not a given. It struck me that the thing that those two children have in common is that neither one is responsible for his or her circumstances or the avenues or obstacles to reaching one's full potential.
At some point on or just after Christmas Day, I will look into the eyes of a child four months shy of her third birthday and hear her call me the sweetest thing I've ever been called: "Granddaddy." And in that moment the tree, trimmings, the scattered dishes and ravaged wrapping paper - all the excesses of Christmas - will disappear. I will remember that this season is about a child from the most humble circumstances who grew up and dared to challenge the established order and offer a better way.
This Christmas, let our giving be of ourselves. Let us be bold enough to share peace and good will without hesitation or reservation. And if we would be true to "the reason for the season," let us foster the best potential in all children and all people regardless of their circumstances.
To everyone who reads this, Peace, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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