And so another Christmas has come, Christmas 2011.
As with so many Christmases past, this one is not a white Christmas in Mississippi. It is raining outside and the sky is cloudy.
I have known white Christmases when everything was covered in a blanket of snow. It is easier to believe in the promise of peace and goodwill to all men, when all the ugliness that characterizes a normal day is covered in a fresh blanket of pure white snow.
I have experienced that sense of peace that comes during a walk alone in fresh fallen snow. The poet, Robert Service, expressed it best in the last two lines of his poem, “The Spell of the Yukon”: “It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,/ it’s the stillness that fills me with peace.”
Peace seems to elude us this Christmas, just as in all past Christmases. War and strife continues to plague the land where the baby Jesus was born. The American occupation of Iraq is ending, but the violent struggle between the children of Abraham goes on, endlessly it seems. The so-called “Arab Spring” appears to be but another hope deferred.
In the Christian West the promise of Christmas continues to fade. In Europe, churches once filled with believers are closing at an accelerating rate. Some are demolished. Others are converted into commercial outlets—bookstores, sex shops, etc. In some cases, they continue to retain a religious purpose as Islamic mosques or study centers.
In America, where stores once closed early on Christmas Eve and remained closed on Christmas, Jesus’ birthday is just another opportunity to swipe credit cards and ring cash registers.
This year in particular, merchants have looked to the god of consumerism for a hopeful sign that the economic drought plaguing the land may lessen during the New Year. Holiday sales, we are told, set records this year despite all the talk of unemployment and dwindling profits.
Nevertheless, signs of suffering are everywhere for those who dare to look. Factories where workers once earned a decent standard of living and promise of retirement with dignity lay abandoned and rusting. One in fifty children in America is now considered homeless, while one in two families live near or below the poverty line. Middle and working-class incomes have remained stagnant or declined, while benefits such as health insurance and retirement programs vanish quicker than a spring snow.
But it is not all gloom and doom. Income for the upper five percent of Americans has soared in recent years. The greed of the few has taken on proportions that can only be described as obscene, while the masses are pacified with a steady diet of cheap goods from a part of the world that few Americans can locate on a world map.
So what is the meaning of Christmas? For the few, it is a gift from Tiffany’s or Neiman Marcus. For many it is a simple gift purchased at a Wal-Mart or Dollar Tree. For some it is a gift of a box of food for Christmas dinner and few inexpensive toys to put under a Christmas tree for the children.
Manger scenes may be banned from public places, carolers no longer go from door to door celebrating the Christ child’s birth, and “Merry Christmas” is rapidly being replaced with a more generic “Happy Holidays,” but the true message of Christmas grows ever stronger as the promise of Christmas comes nearer its fulfillment.
Christmas is all about hope, hope in a promise made by He whose word is true. It is a hope based not in what might happen, but in the certainty that what God has promised will come to fulfillment. It may not be during 2012, or even during the present millennium, but the promise made to the shepherds watching their flocks in the hills around Bethlehem over two thousand years ago will be kept.
I want to close this Christmas as I did last Christmas with these words from Linus explaining the true meaning of Christmas to his friend, Charlie Brown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKk9rv2hUfA
And here is a song about the hope of peace among the children of Abraham in Jerusalem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jI1A7_4OIF0
Until the next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.