Merry Christmas! God Save You!

To Christmas or not to Christmas, that is the question: “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.” So dramatic, that Hamlet. Yet, this is what my inner dialogue has been focused on these last few days. The news too often reminds us that no one is safe, not even in a little town like Owensboro, KY. Regardless of the things we do to pretend, life is fleeting. It can be snuffed out at any second, even at Christmastime. It’s enough to make you want to not participate in Christmas at all; to let it die, to sleep, to end the heartache and shut out the light. That’s the temptation, and likely the reason so many people choose Christmas as a time to die.
Christmas is an idealized dream world. We have been conditioned to think that Santa Claus is coming to town, and every boy and girl child will wake up happy and excited. Many do, but as we are reminded every year by holiday classics like “A Christmas Carol,” there is just as much suffering on Christmas as any other day of the year. The Sir Patrick Stewart incarnation of Scrooge from the 90’s is my personal favorite. When watching it the other night, as I do every season, I was still struck by how many Scrooges I come in contact with throughout the year. Sometimes I even see him in the mirror. It’s easy to let a storied character like that become a caricature of what they actually were intended to be: a depiction of a real person, not a cartoon. Sir Patrick’s Scrooge is very human, and that’s one reason I like him so much. The other reason is that his version of the story focuses keenly on the broken heart that caused Scrooge to become the person he was. The sub story that the Ghost of Christmas Past tells us is of a young Scrooge who became such a heartless old miser. His young heart was broken by the death of his sister, and then by the loss of his true love. The first was the uncontrollable truth that is life: death waits for us all. The second was even more damaging because it was self inflicted. Villains aren’t born. Life makes them what they are. As a young man, Scrooge chose to focus on the financial failure that he perceived himself to be instead of on the riches of young love. By choosing material wealth as a prerequisite for love, he lost the more precious of the two, and then he did what so many of us do by hardening his heart. His love gone, he was left with nothing to focus on but himself. That is always a dead end. Enter the Ghost of Jacob Marley, and the Christmas miracle that would save Scrooge.
A friend remarked to me in a correspondence this week (yes, some people still correspond) that he was using Christmas as a time to focus on the outward instead of the inward. That’s what Scrooge learned to do in one night from his ghostly friends. Most of us don’t have that advantage. While it would be horrifying to be visited by ghosts and given future knowledge of one’s destiny, it would be easier than learning things the hard way in real life. Still, we can take cues from our community rather than ghosts on how to focus on the needs of others. Some people collect food for the homeless, some support toy drives, others go visit a shut-in. Everywhere you look, there are people trying to ease suffering this time of year. All you have to do is take a hint and join in, or harden your heart and sit in the darkness like pre-miracle Scrooge. It’s a choice.
Back to Hamlet… In thinking about hardening my heart this Christmas and focusing on the fact that it’s just a dream, just another day… I was reminded of the Scripture that says “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” And that is the true meaning of Christmas. After all, it’s His holiday. Life is an unpredictable mess each and every day of the year. There are wars and deaths and crises of every kind. Christmas is a season to set all that aside and “let your heart be light.” While your troubles may not be out of sight for long, it is a season to forget about your problems and focus on the troubles of others for a little while. It’s not a cure all, but a salve that certainly soothes the pain a little. Scrooge’s boisterous nephew, Fred, reminded us of that. Christmas never put a scrap of gold in his pocket, but he believed it had done him good, and would do him more good. “So, God bless it!” I wish all my readers a sliver of joy this Christmas even if it’s just for a day, and as Fred exclaimed, “Merry Christmas… God save you!”

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