Peace On Earth Good Will to Who?

My wife and I went for a nice long brisk early November walk today, and at one point we went into a Christmas store. As I was looking around at all the cheerful items for sale, I saw a plate that said “Joy to the World” and another that said “Peace on Earth”. I was immediately hit by a sense of remorse over the fact that we tend to talk about those things only during the Christmas season.

I remember sharing with some people in the past about how wonderful the world would be if we could somehow keep the Spirit of Christmas, and all the goodwill associated with it, alive all year long. Unfortunately, that often does not seem plausible. But, happily, the Christmas season returns to us each year. So, even if we try, but fail, to keep the Spirit of Christmas going all year long, each Christmas season we have another opportunity to promote “Joy to the World” and “Peace on Earth”.

And wouldn’t it be awesome this year if everyone who celebrates or observes Christmas, *or* anyone who wants the world to have joy and be at peace, would somehow use this upcoming Christmas season to really promote those values – regardless of personal faith and/or convictions? This holiday season, let “Peace on Earth” and “Joy to the World” become more than just rote phrases on decorations and cards that put a warm smile in our hearts but which generally fail to motivate us towards actually striving to bring joy and peace to the world.

Words have meaning. Look behind the words to see the true meaning and purpose of those words. They were not originally written or uttered for the purpose of becoming part of the trappings of the Christmas season, but to push us forward, to be goals, to remind us that we can be a better global family.

The words “Joy to the World” do not mean “Joy for just me and those I care about”. They mean joy for the entire human race – and to have joy, people need to be treated fairly, with dignity, and respect, and with the same opportunities and freedoms as everyone else, with all people viewing everyone else as brotherly neighbors, recognizing the worth of all persons.

Likewise, the words “Peace on Earth” do not mean “Peace just for my own” – whatever our own might be. Nor does “Peace on Earth” mean “Peace through victory”. It means peace for all nations, all societies, all types of people, all over the world through letting go of blame, and of our wounds, our pride, and our fears. But peace does not just happen in a vacuum. We need to actively work towards peace. And that means, among other things, that we must be willing to listen – truly, honestly, sincerely listen to one another – and actually hear what is being said, with an understanding that even in diversity, we can have both harmony and unity.

We live in an era that is full of uncertainty and confusion and misdirection. There is accountability on all sides. People from all spectrums have hidden behind Christian values to promote views, positions, and actions that are contrary to the teachings of the One whose birth Christmas celebrates.

So this year, as we enter into the Christmas season, and we see our political and religious leaders, and others, talk about how special a time of year Christmas is, and as they sing “Joy to the World” or “Peace On Earth Good Will to Men”, really make them mean it. Don’t let it just be warm but empty words concealing hypocrisy. Hold them accountable. Point out the hypocrisy. Ask them to explain what they think “Joy to the World” and “Peace on Earth” truly means. What does it look like? Ask them who those words were meant for. Make them acknowledge the things that they are doing that undermines Joy to the World, and Peace on Earth. And then ask them, on their Christian faith, what they are going to do, to truly live, and personify those words.

And as they passionately enjoy and celebrate Christmas, ask them whose birth Christmas celebrates, and what did He have to say about the various issues that seem to be dividing us.  Because, if we are not really following Him, just why are we celebrating His birth?

Christmas is for Everyone

uglysweatersI often feel that Christmas should be celebrated by anyone who feels inclined to do so, regardless of religious beliefs.  Agnostics, Atheists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths can easily celebrate Christmas, and I think doing so would have a positive impact on the world.

Of course, many people who are not Christian already celebrate Christmas.  Agnostics and atheists seldom have issues with celebrating Christmas, and I’ve heard of some Jews and Muslims also celebrating Christmas, focusing on the secular aspects.

But many people feel they cannot do so, because of it’s association with Christianity.  And I suspect many Christians would be against sharing this most sacred holiday, for fear of it somehow losing it’s true meaning, or fear of it being diluted.

Regarding the latter, I think that this is actually not a valid concern.  The true meaning of Christmas is always going to be acknowledged and celebrated and remembered by Christians.  We don’t need to fear that it’s going to somehow go away, or be forgotten.  Its not.

In fact, I think Christians need to be more empowered to celebrate and acknowledge Christmas for what it means to them.  Christians should not have Christmas, and its true meaning, taken away from them.  All people of faith should be able to openly celebrate and acknowledge the true meaning of their religious festivals.

So I’m not at all suggesting that the true meaning of Christmas should be minimized even further.  I’m not in support of making it just a secular only celebration.  But I do feel that Christmas can mean different things to different people, and I don’t think Christians need to try to jealously hold onto some exclusive ownership of Christmas, and I don’t think we need to worry about its true meaning being forgotten or lost.

Think about it this way.  Who is the true meaning of Christmas most relevant for?  Obviously, Christians.  I actually find it a little amusing to sometimes read about how enraged some alleged Christians are about the secularization of Christmas, because, its true meaning does not matter to people of other faiths, and it does not matter to people who do not have faith.  It only matters to people who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ.  And we’re not giving that up.

I don’t agree that we need to remove all references of Christmas from the Holiday Season.  I don’t think we need to purge Christmas of all things Christmas-related in public and elsewhere.

But I don’t think we need to freak out about sharing it with the world.  In fact, as a Christian, I think we should share it with the world.  But the people of the world should be free to participate in Christmas as they feel comfortable.

Can a Muslim celebrate Christmas?  Why not?  Islam does not regard Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  However, they do believe that Jesus was a prophet of God.  So, why can Muslims not join in the joy and traditions of Christmas, and celebrate the birth of someone they uphold as one of God’s prophets?

Can a Jew celebrate Christmas?  Why not?  Judaism also does not regard Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and unlike Islam, it does not believe he was a prophet.  But he was a peacemaker. He was a man who was an advocate for the poor, who taught that we should love not only those who love us, but also our enemies.  So, why can Jews not join in the joy and traditions of Christmas, and celebrate the birth of one of their greatest citizens?

Now, some people might suggest that a Jew or Muslim could not celebrate Christmas because the word Christmas has the word Christ in it, and therefore, to celebrate Christmas would be an acknowledgement of the validity of Christian doctrine.

Or some might say that the name should be changed.

But changing the name would undermine the unity that would exist if more people celebrated Christmas.  The whole point of opening Christmas to everyone would be to help people of various backgrounds be united together.  But being united in common purpose does not equate to universally accepting the same things.  In unity, diversity can still flourish.

By continuing to call Christmas by that name, and by celebrating it with all people, the sense of unity among people can be magnified, and we can all feel a little more of the joy, hope, love and peace that are associated with Christmas.  We can all experience a bit more of the “peace on earth, and goodwill toward men” that we think of during the Christmas season.

But we can be diverse regarding the purpose of it.  For Christians, we celebrate the birth of the Son of God.  For Muslims, they can celebrate the birth of one of their prophets.  For Jews, they can celebrate the birth of a wise teacher.  And everyone can celebrate what for many people is now understood as a season of peace, and love, and family, and joy and celebration, and hope, and the “magic” of this special season that goes along with it.

But what about the implied acknowledgement of the name that would go a long with celebrating it?

Well, many atheists happily celebrate Christmas, and call it that, without giving it a second thought.

You see, acknowledgement  is deliberate.  You do not acknowledge something to be something simply by using a particular name or title. You do not worship something unless you consciously chose to do so.  So, calling Christmas by that name is not an acknowledgement that Jesus is the Christ, if you don’t wish to view it that way.

If I met the Pope, I’d address him as “Your Holiness”.  But I’m not Catholic.  If I met the President of the United States, I would address him as “Mr. President”, but I’m not American.  I would do these things out of respect.   But I don’t acknowledge that either one of them has authority over me or that I’m an adherent of what they represent.

So, calling  Christmas by that name need not be any kind of acknowledgement either.  Its just a term.  It means nothing to anyone unless you chose to accept that it has meaning for you.

Other religions can also celebrate Christmas.  Its easy to build a case for Jews and Muslims, but anyone can celebrate Christmas, again out of a desire to be united with other people during the Holiday season, focused on the joy, hope, love, peace, goodwill, fun, harmony, etc. that we hope to experience each year.  And if we all share Christmas with each other, maybe some of that good will might linger for a little bit longer.

So, I urge everyone to celebrate Christmas, and I hope that each year, everyone, regardless of faith, will have a very Merry Christmas!

(and yes, you too can then wear an ugly Christmas sweater – rejoice!)

Merry Christmas Everyone – Whatever that Means!

adventcandlesI’ve been thinking a lot lately about the true meaning of Christmas. I’m not going to claim that I hate the secular aspects of Christmas, because that would just be an outright lie.

I don’t like just how commercial it has become, but I definitely can’t claim to hate all of the secular traditions.

However, I do dislike how the true meaning of Christmas often gets entirely overlooked. But to just remind people that it’s really about the birth of Jesus Christ seems somewhat pointless. While often overlooked, this fact is not exactly unknown. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t know what the real meaning of Christmas actually is.

So, again, saying the true meaning of Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ seems kinda pointless. “It’s about the birth of Jesus Christ.” Really? Don’t want to offend, but, so what? A more relevant question might be “what is the true meaning of Jesus Christ?”

Or, to put it another way, just what was this Jesus dude all about?

That question can be answered in any number of ways, but I think its fitting to look at it from the perspective of the Advent season.

During Advent, a candle is lit on each of the four Sundays prior to Christmas Day. Each has a particular theme: hope, joy, peace and love.

These word, these concepts, are actually very useful in helping us understand what Christ stood for, and what he advocated.

Christ Brings Hope

One of Christ’s many titles is Immanuel, which means “God is with us”. The name Jesus means “God is Salvation”. Both remind us that God does not forsake us. They help us remember that we are never alone. When I think of Christ as a beacon of hope, I’m reminded of one of my favorite scriptures:

“And you shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings; but you shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”

This passage helps us understand that Christ wants us to turn our concerns and troubles, whatever our burdens might be, over to him. And knowing that is defiantly a good reason to have hope.

Christ Fosters Joy

Another of my favorite verses of scriptures is:

“Adam fell, that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”

I love this because it directly answers the greatest question of all: “what is the meaning of life?” – that makes it an extremely profound verse, all the more so because of how simple it is.

We are born, and we live, to have joy. That’s it. That is why Christ, who is God, created us in the first place. That is what he wants for each of us. And if we follow his examples, putting others before ourselves, helping each other, we tend to find a deeper meaning to our purpose, and in doing so, things tend to happen that result in joy being more abundant. Its when we become too self-focused, too materialistic, and take others for granted, that we undermine our own potential to experience joy.

Christ Seeks Peace

Not just global peace, but individual peace. A lot of Christians talk about converting people to Christ. That’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that. But for a while, I’ve been thinking that what we should also be striving to convert people to peace, and to the things that Christ sought to convert people to, such as compassion and charity. Everybody needs some form of tranquility, and we each have the potential to be generous and caring. What would the world be like if we focused some of our time on helping people find what they may be missing, helping them to find peace, and to be more generous and compassionate?

Christ Promotes Love

Love is perhaps Christ’s greatest cause. And love is the basis for all of the above: hope, joy, peace, and also compassion & charity. Love is the foundation for building and sustaining holistic communities; and its also the means to establishing and nurturing sincere relationships with one another – whatever those relationships might be.

The more free we are with our love, the more likely we are to see everything else that Christ advocated explode! But our capacity to love people is often undermined by various circumstances, including our own fears.

So, how can we grow our capacity to love people, and express our love in ways that will have a positive impact on each other and people we don’t even know?

It has to begin by allowing ourselves to be loved. Allow yourself to be loved, and your own capacity to love others will increase.  Do not be afraid to be loved.  Do not be afraid to love others.

***

Its all a circle.

And as we become more comfortable being loved and loving others, everything else will be magnified…our joy, our peace, our hope, his joy, her peace, your hope, etc.; and in turn, these fuel love, and it just goes on and on.

This is what Christ was, and is, all about. And therefore, this is the deeper meaning behind Christmas.

So, my hope for everyone I know, and everyone you know, is that during this Christmas season, and beyond, you will never lose hope, that you’ll always find ways of having joy, that you’ll ensure that from time to time that you’ll enjoy some peaceful moments, and that you’ll love life, yourself, and everyone else; that you’ll allow yourself to be loved and in turn love others.

God bless!