A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE: The things that really matter

Christmas has come, ringing its bells, singing its songs.

The season, as it is called in tribute to its omniscience and persuasiveness, its non-hostile take-over of the better part of December, is a busy time. Card-writing and cookie-baking, office parties and charity events, gift shopping, tree-decorating, and stringing yards and rooftops with colored lights.

Still, it is a time when a society too often obsessed with other things calls a pause, by general agreement and tradition, to much of the misdirected nonsense.

We look away from the myriad rat races, hot dog-eating contests and displays of over-competitive idiocy that are the crackers and meal of our days for far too much of the year.

We try to focus on things that really matter. Sure, there’s a lot of decorating and shopping and party-going, but folks look to the things that connect us as people, and make a point of doing things to keep those human connections alive, and thriving.

They volunteer, collect coats for the homeless, buy toys for tots they don’t know, make donations to charities, put bills and coins in the bell-ringing buckets.

It might be a mom stopping by with some cookies for an old friend she hasn’t seen in too long. Or a kid shoveling snow from the front walk of the old couple next door.

It can heard in the holiday greetings exchanged by people on sidewalks, and in stores — sometimes by people that see each other often, for one reason or another, but also by near or total strangers, folks simply sharing the season’s spirit, wishing each other well.

A humble birth

There’s more — another deeper river of tradition and belief. Our December’s season of good spirit reaches its welcoming around people of many beliefs, and celebrates one of the foundational stories of our culture.

At its heart is Christian celebration and faith — Christmas as it lives in beautiful old carols and midnight church services. This is the story and celebration of a birth in Bethlehem ages ago, below a bright star. It was a humble birth — in a stable, they say — of a child who grew up to be a preacher, and teacher.

And in a world of emperors and armies serving proud angry deities, he turned the old warrior values on their heads. He preached tolerance and forgiveness, not judgment and vengeance. The meek are blessed, he said, not the great and grand. He saw honor is in the work of the plow, not the sword.

Spreading the message

And though he was sentenced to death, his followers had heard his words in their hearts, and sought to live those truths. They spread the message. The empire that had given the preacher a criminal’s death came to adopt his creed, and sought — imperfectly — to champion his truths.

And we, cultural and religious descendants of both the empire and the preacher, now set aside this time each year, the season, to feast and make merry, to share greetings and gifts, to make donations and do charitable services, to sing of the humble birth and the bright star.

We gather and pray — pray that the future will bring to us, that we can succeed in creating for ourselves and our children, a world built on that stable-born teacher’s great and simple truths: Tolerance, generosity and kindness, peace on earth, good will toward men.