Christmas: What Did it Mean to Us?

by Martin Poehler

The Christmas time of year has just passed. It was a time of peace on earth, good will toward men, and feeling great joy. Or was it? Some people found this time of year to be just the opposite of the love and the joy that is traditionally associated with Christmas.

Most of us sense that at Christmas we should have been joyful and expressed love -- but for some of us it was difficult to do. Instead, at Christmas we may have found we needed to work extra hours because the retail businesses we work in were short-staffed, or they were extremely busy. We may have faced tight deadlines in getting work finished, caused by our business being shut after Christmas. These were deadlines that put pressure on us as we worked to meet them.

Also competing for our time was present- buying. We set aside time to shop for the "right" presents and the "right" number of them for our children, husband or wife, relatives, or friends. So instead of naturally finding joy and love swelling up inside ourselves at Christmas, some of us may have found ourselves getting tense. We may have found tension within ourselves as we sought to keep body and mind together while we accomplished all these tasks we've just mentioned. When Christmas Day and Boxing Day themselves came, we probably spent part of this time with relatives. Some of these relatives we may not get along with. This also tended to bring tension into our lives. The Holiday Season had a lot of activity and an air of celebration -- but deep down, we may have been unsure why we were celebrating or what we were celebrating. "What was the point of it, anyway?", we may have asked ourselves.

The Start of Christmas

Christmas was originally a celebration of an event of great joy: A poor, ordinary woman in Palestine in 6 B.C. gave birth to a son -- the Son of God who had been promised for hundreds of years. How this birth could possibly affect us today can be seen by reading part of one of the stories told about it. Soon after the baby was born, "in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, 'Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.'" [The Bible, Revised Standard Version, Luke 2:8-11]

The angel was telling the shepherds that the birth of the boy Jesus would allow great joy to come to all people. This person who was born could change lives for the good. People whose lives before were racked with fear could now become filled with joy and love. The word "Christmas" comes from old English words that mean "Christ's mass." So Christmas as it was first observed was a remembrance and a celebration of the birth of Christ, and all that it could mean to each and every man and woman.

A Time of Busy-Ness

We know that at Christmas a disproportionate amount of business is done. Some retail businesses got 25% to 50% of their annual takings in the month of December alone. Of course this brought with it a great amount of human activity --both in people working to sell goods, and in people buying presents. Sometimes this activity became frantic. When it did, it seemed that the whole idea of gift-giving as a way of expressing love and joy to others became perverted or tainted. Probably in some cases very little love was expressed with the choosing and the giving of the gift. In fact, in America some people hired others to do their Christmas shopping for them!

Christmas always seems to offer the promise of fulfilling us, but for many of us it never measures up to our expectations. We feel sometimes as if we're "going through the motions" or doing our duty -- or worse, we get tense. On the first Christmas the shepherds felt joy because the new-born baby was God Himself, the world's Creator having consented to come to each man and bring him joy. A change from hopelessness to joy was promised as a man or woman got to know and obey this person who made them and the entire world. It seems as we individually look again at the first Christmas we can each find the meaning and fulfilment we long for at this special time.

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