“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
So spoke Scrooge’s nephew to his miserly uncle. Ready or not, here comes Christmas again. For many of us it will be the “kind, charitable, forgiving, pleasant time” the nephew believed it to be. But not for everyone. Many will find that vacant place at the table a cruel reminder of the unrelenting march of time. But even that distress will be moderated by visits from friends, the joy in a child’s eye, Christmas Eve at church, the telling one more time of the story about a manger birth, shepherds, a star, and a weary couple of travelers seeking a place for the night.
For many of us there will be a suspension of the grimness that today engulfs the world. It will be a time to find, wrapped in swaddling cloths, hope for a new world order of peace, justice, equity and understanding across all sorts of divisive barriers. It will be a time to offer our honest commitment to one who was called “the prince of peace” and to turn modern weapons of war into new plans for peace. It may offer an opportunity to build bridges of understanding instead of walls of bigotry and bitter nationalism.
For us it may involve an opportunity to share ourselves with a Muslim or a Mexican family sick with wondering if they are to be escorted out of the country they have learned to love and where their children have lived since birth. It may invite us to work for a way to provide good health care for everyone, a universal opportunity for a solid education, safe and decent shelter for the homeless, welcome for the strangers in our midst and dignity for the aging. Aren’t those the dreams for the world we might find in the coming of the manger child?
This child who became a man for others never asked us to believe things about him but to follow him in lives of compassion, openness and affirmation. When the religion that was drawn from what he taught is reduced to doctrines about him, what follows are walls of separation, an arrogance that says we are right and all others are wrong and bound for eternal torture, and a super nationalism that puts us at odds with anyone who does not look like us or speak our language. These others struggle to be who they are in a world that wants them to be something else. And when that happens Christmas may be the “humbug” Scrooge thought it to be.
I believe God has offered the world a new way to live. And what is that new way? It can be found in simple language. So after reading the Christmas story in Luke 2 and Matthew 1 and 2, you may discover what a new world order might look like when these words of Jesus in Matthew 5 are taken seriously.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Have a blessed Christmas — and perhaps the best way to do that is to be a blessing in world terribly short of that life-changing commitment.
As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, everyone.”