Not that I'm wishing adversity on anyone.
We learn to come together in times of crisis, and to be more considerate of one another. In a world that operates at the speed of light, we have learned to slow down, take a deep breath, and absorb life. We have learned again, what we knew as children - that the joy of life is in the details. We have learned that life is fragile, but lives, bound together by commitment and love are strong. And we have learned that helping those who cannot help themselves is a source of immense satisfaction and joy.
Those in need, whether of substance or understanding, are always among us, but to paraphrase the alms collector in Ebenezer Scrooge's office: At Christmas time, "Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices." There are many outstanding passages in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," but the following may be my favorite:
"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. "Mankind was my business! The common welfare was my business! Charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence were all my business! The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water, in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
Jacob Marley, knowing the folly of his own life, visits Ebenezer Scrooge in the hope of turning him from a similar fate. We know the ending to this story, but I have often wondered if, by giving such a gift, Jacob Marley found redemption as well. I hope so.
Adults almost universally see Christmas as flawed -- somehow a shadow of its purer form. Each year we find ourselves longing for a Christmas that calls to us from some vague and distant memory. It is often the Christmas of our childhood, regardless of the generation. It is not the recovery of the decades we are seeking, but of innocence.
As we grow into maturity, the wonder and magic of a childhood Christmas gets left along side the pathway of our lives. We plunge ahead, into the larger world, into its darkness and confusion, believing that we are the better for it. Experience and wisdom gained as adults are their own blessings, but innocence is neutral ground, where once we leave, we never can return.
At Christmas time we find our emotions bittersweet. No matter how many halls we deck, or trees we trim, or carols we sing, there is an emptiness inside, where the joy of a childhood Christmas once was. But Christmas is more than magic and wonder. It is a celebration of selflessness and sacrifice. Christmas is about giving.
It is a popular Yuletide tradition to decry the growing commercialism of Christmas. It seems each year the push for your Christmas dollar gets louder, starts earlier and costs more. But, without making excuse for brashness and poor taste, it should be remembered that today's highly valued gifts are the modern equivalent of gold, frankincense and myrrh -- rare and precious (and expensive) gifts from long ago.
Such gifts have their place at Christmas time, but we should recall that the men who bore these gifts, on that early Christmas, came to honor a child with a greater gift. The birth of the Son of God, His life and His teachings, His death and resurrection -- his Atonement -- is a gift without price. It is a gift of sacrifice and service. It has done for us, what we cannot do for ourselves.
I hope that we can follow this greatest of examples this season. Find a group or a cause or an individual, and give them a priceless gift -- your time, your talents, your understanding, your effort -- in a word, yourself.
In this life, we miss only that which is lost to us, stolen form us, or given grudgingly. The thing is never missed which is willingly given. Such a gift, whether of money or substance, or of time, is replaced by the warmth of genuine love. You will find that your capacity, both to give and to love, is deeper than you have imagined (remember, when the old Grinch learned to give, "his heart grew three sizes that day").
In the end, even Ebenezer Scrooge discovered this and:
"He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.
May that truly be said of us, and all of us!"