Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. That is my wish for everybody whom I know, and for those whom I do not know as well. It seems like a bit of a cheesy formality, this ritual annual invocation; something one does reflexively with increasing frequency as we finish digesting our enormous Thanksgiving dinner and plow through the last shopping days until we once again stress our biliary systems, and also the bathroom scales, to the max with our equally enormous Christmas repast. I have been as guilty of mumbling this mantra as has the next person but it is my wish and intention to change that sad fact and trade in my insipid yuletide insincerity for a true and genuine wish for a Merry Christmas and a happy new year to each and all.
But first, what do I mean by these words “Merry Christmas”? Well, what I do not mean is too many presents, too much shopping, too much food or too much of the adult beverage of choice, followed by too many aspirin the next morning. My vision of a merry Christmas is born of my Christian faith. The foundation of my Christmas is the birth, on whatever date that it actually happened, of Jesus of Nazareth, who was/is God come in the flesh to rescue humanity from the separation and hell that we had initiated by screwing things up in the first place. This act by God was an act of sacrificial love, in which he gave us what we desperately needed but had no chance of obtaining by our own efforts. God did this out of an abiding love for his children and never thought about what it would cost him.
In the process of doing this God lived together with men and women on Earth, first in his family with his father, Joseph, and his mother, Mary, his brother James and other siblings. Later, God lived with his twelve disciples and a circle of friends, both men and women whom he treated with an equality that was shocking at the time and which should be a lesson to us today, at least the Christians among us should recognize this and strive to imitate our God. And in the end God gave us the present that was unobtainable in any other way. Hung as a bloody, mutilated, and finally stone cold dead ornament on a ghastly Roman Christmas tree on Calvary Hill, God gave us the gift of reconciliation between himself and humankind. What an amazing gift!
This was an incalculable gift and deserves to be commemorated daily, rather than once each year, but once per year is how we have chosen to recognize it, so at this time I wish my family, friends, acquaintances and in fact the whole world a merry Christmas. But what do I mean by “Merry Christmas,” and how can I wish it to my family and friends and valued acquaintances who are not Christian, who recognize spiritual paths different than my own, or no spiritual path at all? Can I wish a Merry Christmas to people who are not Christian? What does a baby lying in a feed trough in a stable in Bethlehem two thousand years ago have to do with my friend who is Muslim, or my Buddhist or secular materialist friends, and I assure you that those friends of mine are real? Is my wish for them to enjoy a Merry Christmas just another example of the cheesy ritual that I mentioned in the opening words of this post?
The answer is “No”, and I will be glad to explain why. Jesus – God – did not come to the world to bless Christians. When Jesus was born there were no Christians, and when the angels sang “Peace on Earth, good will towards men”, those men were Roman pagans, Judean Hebrews, Persian Zoroastrians, Indian Hindus, Chinese Confucianists, Taoists, and Buddhists, Aztec worshippers of Quetzalcoatl and North American Lakota who worshipped Mother Earth and Father Sky. The biblical text just says “Peace on Earth, good will towards men”. That’s it. I will be happy to say it as God’s angels said it: Peace on Earth, good will toward men. All of them. Merry Christmas.
And how am I going to do this? First and foremost by wishing that you love your family and friends and others as much as you can. You may not receive love back in the same measure; that’s how it turned out for God when he was here in the flesh, but love anyway. You have the choice to love or not love. Which one is most likely to feed your soul? Do not wait to be loved first, and then dole out the appropriate amount of love in return. Love first, love earnestly, and love regardless of something other than love given back to you in return. And when you do this you should be open to receive the love that may return to you, which might come from the most unexpected sources. Perhaps love will be returned by your family members or others close to you. I hope so. Or maybe, when you least expect it, love will come from people who you never laid eyes upon before in your life, who flit into your line of sight and bless you in ways that you could never predict. Things like that happen all the time, but we don’t notice it or don’t allow it because it doesn’t fit our busy schedule.
I will also wish you a Merry Christmas by urging you to share your material blessings, which never give you the real joy that they promise anyway, to people who are hurting and doing without the things they need rather than the things that they play with. Those people may be living in villages without a well for drinking water in Honduras or Borneo, or they might be the elderly couple living down the street who have to decide whether to pay the electric bill so that they can keep their medicines cold in the refrigerator or pay the water bill so that they can bathe and flush the toilet. These folks are known and can be found if you wish to try and find them. Bless them with your money, or simply your time and friendship. It will make you a good deal more merry than will giving your nephew Clarence another sweater that he’ll wear at an Ugly Sweater party two years hence.
Therefore, when I wish you a Merry Christmas, regardless of your spiritual persuasion, I wish you the joy of love given and love received, the way it was between God and humankind on that first Christmas morning. I wish you the joy of sharing what you have in abundance with those who have no hope of obtaining their bare necessities by their own effort. If none of these wishes for you are likely to be fulfilled in your immediate future, then I wish that you will take comfort from the love I feel for you; the love of one frail and bent, but not broken, brother to another brother or sister on this confusing and sometimes frightening planet. I wish you joy, love, comfort and peace. I wish you these things because I want to wish them. It makes me merry to wish this for you. Merry Christmas, my friends.