"Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result
of violent repression. Peace is dynamism. peace is generosity. It is a
right and it is a duty."
— Archbishop Oscar Romero
"I maintain that nothing useful and lasting can emerge from violence."
— Shirin Ebadi, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize Winner
"I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."
— Mohandas Gandhi
"Give peace a chance."
— Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli General, Prime Minister, Nobel Peace Prize Winner
"I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace."
— George W. Bush, Resident of the United States
The worst part is the commercialism, consumerist frenzy, and sheerly exuberant excess of manufactured needs and expectation of ostentation and waste that Madison Avenue has made of Christmas.
Christmas is the holiday most co-opted by American-style capitalism at it’s soul-deadening worst. Rolled out like the yearly launch of the worlds’ most sustained theme product launch, we get the chance to be heartily sick of the whole deal for over a month before it actually happens.
And then there is the politics. The "War on Christmas" mandarins do their dance of indignity whenever the Christmas dogma fails to be followed to the last scintilla of their satisfaction. The predominant religion of America gets a chance to pretend to feel put upon and persecuted in the same way that whites are discriminated against by affirmative action.
Underneath these complaints is the whiff of hypocrisy. Giving selflessly becomes merely a justification for consuming beyond our means and needs. Spiritual contemplation becomes an opportunity for public displays of piety and intolerance. The centrality of family in the rituals becomes the basis for mawkish political appeals that exploit the tired but true theme of "family values" and politicians get to engage in holier-than-him non-denominational religious appeals, such as this one:
But for all that, Christmas is still my second favorite of the holidays (the first being Thanksgiving).
The whole is redeemed by the intentional coming together of families that happens around Christmas. It is like a mini family reunion. A reason and a context for affirming and strengthening our ties to those we consider our families. That is worthwhile and, no matter how mixed with the negative aspects of Christmas I’ve mentioned it is, wholly a good thing in a culture that frequently takes too little time to cherish and nourish those familiar ties.
In a larger sense, Christmas also has the effect of focusing people, regardless of their faith, on the very best aspect of the Christian faith: the spirit and nature of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and how he lived his life as recorded in the New Testiment.
Gandhi once said:
"A man who was completely innocent, offered himself
as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act."
That example of perfect selfless love for all of mankind is an aspect of Christianity that is too seldom emphasized by American Christians, and which can be an inspiration and source of spiritual strength regardless of one’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof.
In celebrating the birth of Jesus — be he man or God or myth — we focus on the potential to be Christ-like that too frequently lies dormant in our own natures. The result can be that special Christmas magic where true selfless giving, unconditional love, and tolerance for all (even, or especially, one’s enemies) becomes just a touch more common a presence in the world. And that is a wonderful thing, indeed.
May all of you enjoy the company and closeness of your families, indulge freely in selflessness and unconditional love, practice radical tolerance, and work for peace on Earth this Christmas season.