It’s hard to know what matters today. Faced with the cacophony of politics, science, suffering, and a new calamity in the world, we’ve lost our bearings. People, you’re sure that you knew have opinions you don’t recognize. Actions dependable as solutions no longer seem to have an effect. And laying in your bed at night, praying for the alcohol, sleep aide, or your “novocaine” of choice to kick in, you wonder if you’re going to get through this.
It’s the perfect time for Christmas.
People I love range from fundamentalist Christians to atheists, Muslims to Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, and seekers. And whether you think the Christmas story in an ancient book is literal, a parable, or a myth, I offer it has something for us in 2020.
The story of Jesus was written in a time of racial oppression, high taxes, corrupt governments, rampant disease, and the powerless poor; it’s a mirror of today’s world. The birth of Jesus in a manger today would be like a world-changing leader born in a dirty back corner of the local mall parking garage. Jesus’ birth is the story’s absolute apex, but the power is in what the writer says the story means.
An article I read last week said a great lesson to teach children to und
erstand gift-giving was to tell them that a gift is a thought. When the child opens the gift, you can then ask what they think the giver was thinking of them. (This doesn’t apply to secret Santa parties.)
Jesus’ parents, young and poor, arrive in Bethlehem to pay taxes. They know no one, they don’t have a plan, and Mary is in labor. Out of time and options, a “BnB” owner offers to let them sleep in his “garage.” There among the manure, mold, and bellowing animals, Mary gives birth alone. But if a paradigm-altering person was the gift, what was the “gift giver” thinking about us? We don’t have to wonder.
The writers believe they know. They think that the God of the universe decided he couldn’t be ambiguous. The message and meaning couldn’t be left up to chance. People misinterpret things. They question reality. They let their pain twist the meaning. A gift is a thought. Here’s what God was thinking. (If you’ve seen Charlie Brown’s Christmas, you’ve heard this all before. Imagine reading it in the voice of Linus.) From the book of Luke:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
The Angel announces they’ve received a gift. They should open it. Go check it out. But a gift is a thought, and what does it mean?
If you want the world to hear you, bring in a choir!
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.’”
“…and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
In a world frighteningly similar to ours, when power and fear ruled, and survival was the greatest hope, what thought did God think he needed to send “a multitude” of angels to tell a bunch of smelly shepherds?
Be at peace; I offer only goodwill.
Can you imagine how that felt to shepherds?
In a fragile world, feeling utterly powerless to the whims of governments and gods, to be offered peace and goodwill, would be shocking. But it would also be a gift.
No matter your faith or lack thereof, we need to offer each other the gift of peace this year. And we don’t need to give peace just because our world needs it but because when you give peace, you get it back in return.
Who in your life needs an unambiguous message of peace from you this holiday season?
Who needs to hear the clear tones of goodwill?
To my friends who didn’t vote the same as me, I offer peace.
I offer peace to friends who want to defund the police and my Police friends who feel vilified.
To those on the receiving end of my arrogance and pride, intentional or not, I ask for forgiveness and offer you peace.
To loved ones wrestling with generational scars of injustice and those who are still blinded by their pain, the surest way through is peace.
The greatest gift you can give and receive in Christmas 2020 is a message of peace.
I mean it literally.
I dare you!
Pick seven people from your phone, text them, call them, or email them.
“I love you. Peace.”
They might think you’re a hippie, but who cares.
If you’re feeling courageous, text people that you’re estranged from. No explanation.
“I love you. Peace.”
Maybe the people who need to hear from you are the people you lead.
Today, take a moment and write a personal message to each. Use people’s names. It doesn’t have to say anything more than, “Glad you’re on my team. Your contribution matters. Happy Holidays.” (The number one thing employees said they wanted last year from their employers was appreciation.-Gallup Poll) Appreciation can be a form of peace.
It’s hard to know what matters today. Faced with the cacophony of politics, science, suffering, and a new calamity in the world, we’ve lost our bearings. The one thing we can know for sure, inspired by a story lived millennia ago, in 2020, the greatest gift we can give others and ourselves is peace.
I love you guys.