I suppose that, seeing as it’s Christmas Day, I should write about seasonal topics, like spending time with family, snow, or perhaps the “True Meaning of Christmas.” So I will touch on all three, but spend more time discussing what’s actually on my mind.
I prefer Thanksgiving to Christmas, to be honest, for the simple reason that I get all the nice time with family that I don’t often see, without all the nonsense regarding money. Nobody is worrying that so-and-so will like some gift, that they spent too much or too little, or that the next three months will be spent paying off credit card bills. There is also no tree in the house that will need disposal in short order. All nice things. Good food, good family, no frills.
But as I missed Thanksgiving this year on account of being indisposed on the left coast, I intend to enjoy Christmas to its fullest. I’ve missed a few over the years, so they’re growing in their importance and meaning to me. These days, it’s more of a coordinated effort to get the entire family in one place. I’m more appreciative.
For the majority of my life, I have invested my efforts, emotions and thoughts on myself, and consequently missed out on relationships. But as God has changed my heart, I have discovered, quite surprisingly, that there are other people in this world besides myself, and that they’re worth getting to know. It begins with my family, and radiates outward from there. But it is often melancholy. Whatever great personal excitement I feel, or contentment with my situation, is quickly tempered by the fact that there are many others I know who are not doing quite as well. I am not wracked with guilt, but care. Frequently, all I can do is pray, and if circumstances permit it, check in, say hello, and encourage them as I am able.
For example, I have a friend out west who is spending Christmas day alone. She left several messages with her mother, but they were never returned. She’ll trudge through two feet of snow as she walks to work. If she lived closer, I’d invite her here. We may not be HER family, but we’re A family, and I think that’s better than nothing.
For the more than 140,000 men and women in uniform deployed overseas, eating tasteless chow hall food dyed a festive red, I miss you, too. Yet you are here with us today, because we remember you. And I am with you, too, because part of me never left. Come home soon, victoriously.
Many of my closest friends are struggling financially at the moment, victims of overly timid consumerism and media doomsaying. They have families to feed. They are not crushed beneath their burden, but they are groaning. And now I hear them, for the first time in my life.
Most of them are lonely, too. Years ago I thought I’d be clever and give a funny gift to one young woman I know. It was a “Mr. Right” figurine. A sharply-dressed guy, smiling, with a little cartoon-talk bubble coming from his mouth. You could stick on one of the phrases that came with the box, like, “I love it when you talk,” or “Let’s go shoe shopping,” or you could simply write your own. I thought I was being funny. When she opened the box, it was empty. Somehow I got the defective one. There was no Mr. Right at all. My joke quickly crumbled and I felt awful. I wonder if I discouraged her, giving the impression that he doesn’t even exist. I still think about that. I wonder if I encouraged her to give up. I still think about that, and pray for her.
Unfortunately, time has expired for some of these relationships. Every single time I wrap a gift, I think about my grandfather, whose attention to detail and patience made me regret tearing off the paper he so perfectly fitted. He was an artisan, one of the nation’s top foreign service officers, and a man who lived through some of the most harrowing days of the Communist revolution in China. I wish I’d been interested enough to listen to his stories. I miss him, and my grandmother, too, the daughter of the famous luxury railroad car designer, Leland Knickerbocker. I miss the elegance, wisdom, and sophistication they brought to every conversation. We all miss them.
I can still listen to the stories of my other grandfather, but he’s 94 now, and disinclined to dredge up memories from nearly a century ago. I should have listened when I was younger. This is the son of the Colorado pioneer, whose homestead I visited in Meeker. This is the man who fought through two wars as an artillery officer. The man who was captured by the Nazis and escaped, and years later only barely survived the Chinese push south into Korea. I know little of these stories, but I know there are medals that illustrate his gallantry. The clock is ticking.
I could write at length about all the starving people worldwide who want nothing more than a good meal and a safe place to sleep, but this is not only cliché, but pointless. None of us, including myself, can truly understand their plight until we experience it ourselves. They are a distant group in need, and hard to relate to.
But I needn’t go far to find people in need. All I have to do is look around me. A cross-country trip has blessed me with many neighbors. People need help everywhere. There is little that I can do, really. But I can still pray.
Suicidal tendencies always seem higher at Christmas. Right now in a nearby town, a man sits in a cemetery at his father’s grave. He went there to “sit and die.” Police reports will confirm this if you do not believe me. Others, drunk, are testing the edges on the razors they hold and thinking, for now. Just thinking.
The gospel of Luke writes that when Jesus approached Jerusalem and looked out toward the city, He wasn’t full of great joy about his reception, or pleasure at the numbers that would hear of Him and believe. No, He wept for them. For a civilization hungering for hope, but looking in every wrong place. He offered the greatest hope, but few answered the call.
Christmas has never been about trees and gift-giving. In fact, scholars speculate that the holiday’s placement on the calendar was intended to offer some more conservative alternatives to pagan winter solstice celebrations. But this doesn’t detract from the meaning we CHOOSE to afford it, as an annual remembrance of the birth of Christ – the savior of the world, whose perfect love overcomes our imperfection in full.
Life, when fairly considered, isn’t daily elation and unending happiness. If it is, the person is living a lie. More realistically, it is smiling through one’s tears. We, too, see Jerusalem, or another similar city, and we, too, weep. Today, we celebrate Jesus’ birth with great joy. And excitedly share the hope He offers. Yet we also weep for those who have not found it. May our joy and eternal hope, today and always, be contagious.
Copyright © 2008, Ben Shaw
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