WASHINGTON: As we enter the Christmas season, it seems that most of society’s concerns and obsessions are quite the opposite of what is, in fact, being celebrated. Christ. We live, more and more, in a materialist era in which the Christmas season begins with “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” Newspaper headlines tell us how much money was spent each day—the more the better. In our political life, we are told that “nationalism” and “America First” are values we should embrace. But the Christmas message is something quite different.
I remember, after the murder of Martin Luther King, attending a memorial service at Washington’s National Cathedral. The hymn chosen was one which declared, “In Christ, there is no East or West,” Its words express a universal religious message, which many seem to ignore
In Christ, there is no East or West. In Him no North or South.
But one great Fellowship throughout the whole wide earth.
The idea of viewing all men and women as children of God, of respecting the stranger as oneself, is part of the Jewish tradition Jesus learned from his earliest days. Ironically, we have political spokesmen who at the very same time stir suspicion of those who are different, either by race, religion, or ethnicity, and proclaim they are Christians. What would Jesus say?
The views of man and the world set forth by Jesus—and the one which dominates in the modern world—are contradictory. Christmas should be a time of contemplation of the meaning of life—and of our own lives—and of seeking our answer to the question of what God expects of us.
In his book “Jesus Rediscovered,” Malcolm Muggeridge, the distinguished British author, and editor, who had a religious conversion while preparing a BBC documentary about the life of Jesus, pointed out that a desire for power and riches is the opposite of what Jesus called for. Indeed, Jesus was tempted by the Devil with the very powers many of us so eagerly seek:
“Finally, the Devil showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world in a moment in time and said, ‘All this power I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever, I will give it.”
All Christ had to do in return was worship the donor instead of God, which, of course, he could not do. How interesting though that power should be at the devil’s disposal and only available through an understanding with him. Many have thought otherwise and sought power in the belief that by its exercise they could lead men in brotherhood and happiness.
And peace, invariably with disastrous consequences.
Always, in the end, the bargain with the Devil has to be fulfilled. As any Stalin, Napolean or Cromwell must testify.
“I am the light of the world,’ Christ said. ‘power belongs to darkness.”
Muggeridge, who died in 1990, lamented the path in which he saw the Western world moving:
“I firmly believe that our civilization began with the Christian religion, and has been sustained and fortified by the values of the Christian religion, by which the greatest of them have tried to live. The Christian religion and these values no longer prevail, They no longer mean anything to ordinary people. Some suppose you can have a Christian civilization without Christian values. I disbelieve this. I think that the basis of order is a moral order; if there is no moral order there will be no political or social order, and we see this happening. This is how civilizations end.”
And yet, despite all of this, there is a spiritual yearning in our American society. A feeling that things are not what they should be. The desire to set ourselves and our country back on a better path. Christmas speaks to the spiritual vacuum in our lives, but only if we will listen to the message.
G.K.Chesterton, discussing the meaning of Christmas, wrote:
“…there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not, in its psychological substance, at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest form of hero worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can sometimes take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never expected; and seen a light from within. It is as if he found something at the back of his own heart that betrayed him into good.”
A key question for Chesterton was:
“How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?”
His sense that the world was a moral battleground, wrote his biographer Aliza Stone Dale,
“Helped Chesterton fight to keep the attitude that has been labeled ‘facile optimism,’ something that he could never recover, the wonder and surprise at ordinary life he had once felt as a child..”
The divisions in our society are unseemly and unnecessary–and the opposite of the Christmas message. Dividing people ignores the reality that all men and women are created in the image of God. To view people as “enemies” because they disagree about how best to deliver health care, or what the tax rate should be, or what our immigration policy should embrace, is to misunderstand the nature of democratic government.
Men and women will naturally disagree about matters of public policy. That is why compromise in a democratic society is necessary. Genuine leaders strive to unite the American people, not divide it. We used to think that we could disagree without being disagreeable.
Why is that no longer true for so many?
Jesus urged his followers to love their enemies. Even many who call themselves Christian cannot even love those with whom they disagree upon one policy proposal or another.
This holiday season we would do well to reevaluate the real gods in our lives. And in the life of our country. Our health and that of America may depend upon such a genuine celebration of Christmas.