The Spirit of Christmas

“Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
Luke 2:14 (Common English Bible)

There is a Christmas song that ponders in a rather wistful manner, why the world is
unable to embrace the spirit of Christmas all year long. At Christmas, we crawl out from our
hard shell of self-concern, our eyes sparkle with wonder, and we behave with an
uncharacteristic charity toward all people. We slog through eleven months of drudging effort,
eyes squarely focused upon survival in a competitive marketplace with little attention to
others, and then Christmas comes. We throw off the heavy coat of selfishness for a time.
Kindness permeates the places of our soul made callous by fear of scarcity and generosity
flows from hidden springs in our heart. We play, we laugh, and we are amiable to the stranger
and friend equally. That Christmas song is on to something. Why can’t we have the spirit of
Christmas all year long?

Bethlehem is a divine interruption. The world today is little different from the world that
welcomed the birth of Jesus. Enemies are everywhere and national security continues to be a
pressing concern. Inequity of wealth among people of every nation conveniently ignores the
apostle Paul’s call that those who have much shouldn’t have too much and those who have
little shouldn’t have too little (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). But Bethlehem invites the world to a
fresh imagination; to imagine a world where instruments of war are repurposed into farming
instruments and people impulsively and joyfully share from their abundance so that others
may simply have enough. Bethlehem asks that we look at the world differently, asks that we
live differently. 

The spirit of Christmas is a deep and persistent call to pay attention to God. It is a call to
see and participate in the creation of a new world where peace and good will abounds.
Bethlehem is not an occasional indulgence – an occasion where we lay aside for a moment
careful attention to our health and consume copious quantities of Christmas cookies and
eggnog. Bethlehem asks that we care about the world of which we are a part. Bethlehem
invites us to join the angels in announcing that God has unleashed upon the world a new
order where all people may find carefree rest in God. Bethlehem is not a charming dream. It is
not an aspirational goal. Bethlehem is a confident and certain reality. God has come into this
world and nothing is going to be the same.

Go to Bethlehem this year. Go and bow down before this magnificent birth of a new world
order. Discover in Bethlehem God’s divine intention for each of us; discover that peace and
good will is not for one month of the year but God’s gift to be embraced and shared all year.
But if you go to Bethlehem, recognize that Bethlehem makes demands upon all who visit.
Bethlehem asks that you dedicate your life to speeding up the tempo of good will in all your
relationships. Bethlehem will ask you to guard your speech and exercise restraint in the use of
acrimony, harsh, and mean criticism. Bethlehem will demand civility, humility, and respect of
others, particularly of those you disagree with. And Bethlehem will ask of you uncommon
generosity toward others. Bethlehem asks a good deal from all who visit. But Bethlehem gives
in return God’s peace. That is the spirit of Christmas. 


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