December 7, 2013
On December 7th, the Christians Science Monitor, my favorite tabloid, published a quote of Nelson Mandela, South African’s heroic apartheid fighter, who died a few days ago, expressed by him after his 20 plus years in prison:
“… As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.”
On November 26, 2013, Pope Francis published an 84-page document, an apostolic exhortation, a platform for his papacy, saying:
“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills … I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
A week later, radio host Rush Limbaugh, in words one would expect only from a dedicated champion of Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness, lambasted the Pope, calling his comments “pure Marxism.”
A few days later, I started Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas, Sarah Palin’s latest book, but stopped after her description of her Christmas joy buying a Christmas present:
“To combat the anti-gun chatter coming from Washington, I surprised [Todd] with a nice, needed, powerful gun.”
Then, by chance, I heard Bill O’Reilly’s criticism of Macy’s “war on Christmas.”
And then I said “Enough!”
I set aside the Christmas poem I was writing for my blog about Santa and Pete Polar Bear, a follow-up to last Christmas’s poetic ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
I knew it was time.
Time for me to revive and update a Christmas Message I wrote some 30 years ago. I would like to share it with you:
It’s hard to believe that Christmas is actually here! Goodwill. Cheer. Christmas carols. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Excitement. Up feelings. Parties.
However, sometimes we become so caught up in the glitter and excitement of Christmas that we forget what Christmas is really about. Christmas is, after all, a celebration of a birthday.
The birthday of a Man who, in the later part of His life, faced overwhelming odds, disappointments and stress, as well as ridicule and uncertainty that pale anything we might face today. And yet, His exemplification of manhood, His meeting of adversity, His living His life in unaltered fullness, His message of love and compassion, have changed lives and challenged men and women for 2,000 years.
He was physically strong. Did He not walk miles between Palestinian villages?
He was intellectually curious. Did He not challenge the scholars of His day when He was but 12 years old?
He loved crowds and people. Were they not with Him everywhere?
He was anything but meek and mild. Did he not stand up to Caesar and cleanse the Jerusalem temple?
He was compassionate and generous to a fault. Did He not wash the feet of His disciples rather than they His?
Of His 33 years, we know but only a few days. Most of those days deal with His period of great adversity; when He was ridiculed; when His 12 closest friends lost faith in Him and abandoned Him. Passages of scripture describe His emotion, His fears. His sweat, the physician Luke wrote in his Third Gospel, was like beads of blood on His brow.
Yet, He did not falter nor change His course.
His strength, His vision, His ability to be true to His purpose, His sense of right, survive his death and have inspired nations and men and women of all faiths throughout the ages.
In a sense, His message is a Gift of the Magi message for each of us – it’s a message about how we ought to live here on Earth. O’Henry’s Gift of the Magi is one of my favorite Christmas stories. The story is of a very young and loving, but poor couple. In the story, the young girl, down to her last 14 cents, sold long locks of her precious hair to buy a fob for her husband’s treasured watch, while he, also broke, pawned his treasured watch to buy a comb for her precious hair.
That is how He lived. That is how Pope Francis calls upon his followers to live. That is how Nelson Mandela lived.
Is that not how we should live? Is that not our Christmas Message, regardless of our faith?
Now, some of us may be uncomfortable with the idea that we become active participants and facilitators of our own Gift of the Magi for humankind and our Earth. And, some will say we have an excuse. He, whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas, had a special gene, a God Gene, a gene we don’t have.
But the real Christmas Story – His Gift of the Magi – is not about His God Gene; it is about His humanity.
It is His humanity that inspired Thomas Jefferson, our third President [1801-1809], author of the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, to write:
“It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read. …
“It is the innocence of His character, the purity and sublimity of His Moral precepts, the eloquence of His inculcations, the beauty of the apologues in which He surveys them, that I admire. …
“I am a Christian, in the only sense He wished one to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to Himself every human excellence; and believing He never claimed any other.”
It is His humanity that inspired theologian, philosopher, musician, physician and medical missionary Albert Schweitzer, 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner, to dedicate his life to serving humanity, to devote his life to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné [now Gabon] in west central Africa and to inspire us with his philosophy, Reverence for Life, his Quest for the Historical Jesus, his Philosophy of Civilization, his Out of My Life and Thought, and his other writings, including his Nobel acceptance speech, The Problem with Peace, considered one of the best speeches ever given. As the young physician Schweitzer prepared for his African venture, he wrote, in words similar to those recently given by Pope Francis:
“Our culture divides people into two classes: civilized men, a title bestowed on the persons who do the classifying, and others, who have only the human form, who may perish or go to the dogs for all the ‘civilized men’ care. … If all this oppression and all this sin and shame are perpetrated under the eye of the German God, or the American God, or the British God, and our states do not feel obligated first to lay aside their claim to be “Christian’ – then the name of Jesus is blasphemed and made a mockery. …”
“The subject of all His preaching is love …. Jesus sets up the ethic of active love!”
That is the message of His humanity.
That is our Christmas Message.
Albert Schweitzer: Out of My Life and Thought [Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1949]
Alf J. Mapp: The Faith of Our Fathers [Rome & Littlefield Publishers 2003]
Thomas Jefferson: The Jefferson Bible [Beacon Press 1989]
Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson Writings [The Library of America 1984]
Jon Stewart: The War on Christmas