It’s Christmas time, when people around the world normally pause to take a collective breath of reflection and a sense of general good will sets in, if only for a few days. While many don’t celebrate the Christ of Christmas and the singular act of God’s magnanimity towards mankind the day commemorates, it’s still viewed by most of the world as a time to pause from conflict and remember that we are all members of the human fraternity. A little human kindness and good will goes a long way, if I may steal a sip from the Ghost of Christmas Past’s golden chalice.
The sad thing is that signs indicating the world has taken a turn for the nastier are popping up in news headlines everywhere. I’ve been accustomed to the news around Christmas being full of wonderful anecdotes of anonymous benefactors alleviating the suffering of some poor soul or family in desperate need. But not this year. The headlines have been screeching daily that we live in new, meaner times as mankind stoops lower and lower on the scale of depravity.
In Syria, a nepotistic dictator has taken to firing Scud missiles on his own people. Whether they are “revolutionaries” or not, they are his own people. Surely there were some opportunities along the way in this conflict where cooler heads could have worked to resolve some differences or shared a bit of power and self-determination. A Scud missile is as ugly a “solution” as its unappealing name, and a very loud, destructive statement from the president of Syria about what he thinks of the people he governs.
North Korea continues to launch large, scary rockets (read missiles) over Japanese airspace, to the distress of the entire region. These intensely xenophobic people and their odd-looking leader could all use a dose of Bob Cratchit’s holiday punch and a leg of Christmas goose to enliven their spirits and cheer their mood. A nation that uses global military threats in order to extort food from other nations to feed its starving populace has a huge problem both with priorities and methodology.
Iran is racing towards full nuclear capability and already has delivery systems in place that make it a huge regional threat. Israel is being attacked by missiles falling on their populace daily, fired from humanitarian locations in Palestine like kindergartens and mosques, in complete violation of the Geneva Convention. Hamas’ idea of a Christmas present for their little children is apparently the “privilege” of being an involuntary human shield.
Civility and human decency, once hallmarks of the holiday season, are rapidly disappearing. If you doubt this, simply go Christmas shopping. From surly, apathetic retail clerks to aggressively hostile shoppers, the attitude is a lot more “Get out of my way” than “Peace on Earth, good will towards men“. The papers have been full of stories of charity Christmas tree thefts, muggings of Christmas shoppers and thieves following parcel delivery trucks around and stealing gifts off door stoops.
In my state of New Hampshire, a woman was tasered by police at a mall store that sells iPhones. She purportedly wanted to purchase more than the two-phone limit, and when the store refused her she used her phone to video other shoppers being allowed to exceed the limit. The retailer asked her to leave and issued a “stay away” order, and her ensuing confrontation with Nashua police ended with her being tasered and arrested. Over Christmas gifts. It doesn’t matter who was right or wrong. The whole situation is a microcosm of what we have lost from Christmas.
Charities are stretched beyond their normal means by a huge influx of “newly distressed” applicants for their goods and services, many the result of layoffs as the economy appears ready to crater again. Many of course are those same voters from the last election who were seeking any “free” benefit they can get their hands on, with no regard to where such “freebies” come from. Christmas benevolence hasn’t disappeared from the landscape, but it has become increasingly pragmatic to apply a needs test to those with their hands out for hand-outs.
Decorum and common respect are failing in this season of holy contemplation and gratitude. The Pope, perhaps the single most global representative of Christendom, was openly mocked this week on Twitter after tweeting a rhetorical challenge to Catholics on suggestions for deepening their faith. Many of the answers ranged from mockery to open, perverse derision. The derogatory responses outnumbered the sincere ones. Merry Christmas, Your Holiness.
Another headline informed that a four-foot statue of Jesus was stolen from a church in New York City, and that several Virginia teens were arrested in connection with the theft and destruction of a nativity display. There are pranks, and then there is open contempt and total lack of respect. When children are raised to believe that they are accountable to no higher authority, the only thing they will ever likely respect is brute force. This return to Neanderthal values is becoming the norm, if it hasn’t already.
This is a time for Christians around the world to stand and reaffirm the values of the faith. We need to lay aside our own propensity to indulge ourselves in the manner shown by so many of these prior examples. We are the light of the world. Even one small candle dispels an enormous bulk of darkness, giving those blinded by moral bankruptcy a point of hope and reference. We need to live by example the truths we espouse, in plain view of others and especially behind closed doors. Our consistency in practice and proclamation is not negotiable, lest we be mere hypocrites fooling only ourselves.
The light of the gospel of Christ has never dimmed. It is God’s truth about His love for us, and when historically the darkness has arisen against it, that truth has only burned brighter and more intense in response. This persistent message of hope and grace has been celebrated annually for 2012 consecutive years, give or take a few. There’s something to be said for that regular reminder and refocusing of our priorities and status.
My prayer for all believers this Christmas is that we rise to the challenge before us, and respond with love, grace and compassion, the true hallmarks of Jesus’ disciples. Like the Christmas lights decorating my street, each tiny light doesn’t amount to much, but shining together as a multitude they are incredibly beautiful.
Image: Courtesy of Mattsenate; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license