It seems the holidays are coming faster than usual this year, but I also have a sense that is because I slow down a little more each year and it takes me longer to do the normal amount of preparation. But, I adjust, and find the preparation becomes more of a joy and less of a burden as time goes along.
This year I find the holidays to be more pensive than normal. The bright lights and Christmas carols will all be around, but I think many folks are a little more thoughtful this year and perhaps thinking about the true meaning of the gifts of gratitude and peace. The coming of the Christ Child is a reminder that love and forgiveness were central to Jesus’ message and that is where we need to place our focus this holiday season and for the coming year.
I have to really step back to get a perspective on what this last year has brought to our understanding of relationships and our place in the world. The natural disasters (and I know I will miss a few) are beyond our scope to understand — Hurricanes in Texas, Florida and the Carribbean (some say one of the worst hurricane seasons and the forecast is these storms will continue to grow more serious in this time of climate change); the earth quake in Mexico, coming at the same time as the hurricanes barely received any attention from us; now there is a serious earthquake in Iran/Iraq where people have just barely started to rebuild after a long war; in the Middle East Yemen is on the brink of a cholera epidemic that will kill millions as well as suffering from starvation from a Saudi Arabian blockade; South Sudan continues to suffer from famine; cities in India, like New Delhi, are becoming a place where no one can breathe due to exhaust fumes and the air pollution is getting worse; and the refugee situation has slipped from our televisions, but not from reality as people continue to flee hopelessness, dreaming of a better life. In our own country the political situation continues to worsen with hasty legislation, decisions which are made selfishly, and a sense of corruption and decline in ethics and morality we have not seen for a very long time.
Top all this off with each of us knowing family and friends who are ill, approaching surgeries, going through treatments, and many for whom death is drawing near.
All of this can lead to serious depression, or trying to find a way to tune out the world. We look for hope, but it seems there is no place to breathe or to find peace, and then these holidays can become a mockery of all we hope for, all we pray for. I am not expecting people to plan a ‘Currier and Ives Christmas’, because those Christmases never really existed anyway. But when we are ready to despair and say there is no hope in the world, it is time to work together for good. We must get past the materialism of our lives. There are so many places that need our money, our prayers and most of all our hands, our labor to make things better. Like anything it is one step at a time. One positive word, one hand up, one hope we work to make a reality. Life is very, very hard. God never promised us life would be easy, but God did promise we would never be left orphaned, never left alone or forsaken. It is that promise we hold fast in a time when we don’t often understand what is happening around us. It is then we can become the love, the forgiveness, the peace in someone else’s life.
It is not an easy task we take up as human beings on this ball of dirt whirling through the universe. We may not live to see our hopes fulfilled for a peaceful existence for all people on this earth, but when we learn to understand each other, to console each other, and to love one another then ‘the work of Christmas’ has truly begun.
The Work of Christmas
Poem by Howard Thurman
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
From "The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations" by Howard Thurman. © 1985 by Friends United Press. Used by permission of the publisher.
When mom was getting ready to go out somewhere she would inevitably ask dad, “How do I look?” With a peck on her cheek he would answer, “You always look beautiful to me.” Recently a young man preparing to start a ranching life with his young bride was asked when he thought she was the most beautiful. “When she is operating machinery,” he responded quickly. Now both these men were very wise. Their answers were not going to get them in trouble. Even though we know the truth about how we look at any time, we women always respond to a man’s compliment. It was just the same when mom was straightening dad’s tie and giving him an appraising eye before she sent him out the door to teach each morning, with love in her eyes and a peck on his cheek.
Maybe I have been thinking about the line “seeing with the eyes of love” because I’ve been traveling of late in places where the milling throngs are representative of everywhere in the world. I was amazed at how seldom I saw anger or frustration or heard heated words whatever language. People were hot and tired. You could tell by looking at their faces. But even when dealing with tired or fussy children there was an incredible amount of patience.
We took turns standing patiently and quietly in rest room lines and food lines. We offered to take pictures of each other so you had a group shot for your album. If someone dropped something, someone picked it up so you wouldn’t lose it. If you caught someone’s eye you smiled. The day after the Orlando shootings we were sitting in a hotel lobby with many others eating breakfast. All eyes were on the television and the horrific shots from the carnage. People spoke quietly while others read the newspaper headlines that lay scattered around the lobby. As we continued traveling we soon noticed the many flags at half staff and also graffiti comments remembering the fallen. As in other times in America’s history, when tragedies occur, we seemed to be as one.
Seeing “with the eyes of love”. I watched a group of Japanese tourists help one of their own, a disabled young woman. I saw seniors pushed in wheel chairs or walking with children or grand children or with walkers and no one pushed them aside or bumped them if it was possible. The same care was taken of young parents with small children. The watchword seemed to be “No rush.” As I was descending a couple of stairs I stumbled slightly and immediately an older gentleman shot out his hand to grab my arm and let me lean on him for an instant before we both moved on. Chivalry is not dead!
Seeing “with the eyes of love” is a way of living life not just an occasional thing. No one is too old or too young or too poor or too rich. St. Paul says, “There is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, but all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Seeing “with the eyes of love” was in evidence all around me. It was seeping into my bones. It was very good.