It’s that time of year again. Shoppers scurry from shopping center to shopping center, spending, spending and spending. Not to be trite, but it seems Christmas has been transformed into a festival of stuff.
Maybe Lawrence S. Wittner has a point when, in his article “Worshiping Materialism at Christmas,” he states, “Ironically, by not opposing the corporate cultivation of untrammeled greed among Americans, the churches have left the doors open to the triumph of America’s new religion – not liberal secularism, but shopping.”
A story of which I do not know the origin and one to which I often return at this time of year reminds me of the true meaning of this season we are in the process of celebrating.
May I share it with you?
There lived in northern Maine a man, his wife and their children. The wife was a devout Christian. The husband would have little to do with faith or the silly idea that God would come to earth as a human being in order to save humankind.
It was Christmas Eve. A brutal winter storm was brewing as the wife and kids braved the cold, got into the car and headed down the road to the small country church for the Christmas Eve service. The husband had no interest in such a service and threw another log on fire as he sat back to enjoy a quiet evening at home.
The father, half dozing, was startled by a thumping on the large living room window directly across from the fireplace. Getting up to see what the source of the sound was, he was shocked to discover it was a flock of birds, apparently seeing the warm glow of the fire, seeking to escape the bitter, freezing cold of the storm, some thrusting themselves against the clear glass.
Being a lover of nature, his immediate thought was what could he do to help save these creatures of nature. His mind ran to the small barn near the house and the light in the barn. He thought, “If I go out and open the doors to the barn and turn on the light, maybe the birds will see the light and go there for shelter.”
He did so but to no avail. The birds continued to fly toward the warmth of the fire, breaking wings, falling into the cold snow, injured and dying.
The man then thought, “Maybe if I take some bread crumbs and spread them in a path that would lead them to the barn and the light, they would follow the trail of food and then find the safety and shelter from the storm.”
This he did, and again, to no avail. The birds just kept flying into the clear glass window seeking to save themselves from the bitter winter storm.
Finally he concluded there was nothing he could do. He slumped back into his easy chair saddened that he was helpless to save these beautiful creatures of nature.
Then the thought flooded his mind, “If only, for a few moments, I could become a bird and speak the language that birds speak, I could lead them to safety and save them.”
Suddenly, from a distance down the road, the bells of the little church began to ring out “Adeste Fidelis.”
Indeed, for a few moments in the history of humankind, God became one of us, spoke the language we speak. And as we thrust ourselves against the windows of our own efforts to save ourselves, he speaks our language, a language of love, compassion, of forgiveness and self-giving.
To truly celebrate his coming in this Christmas season, let us feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, give and receive forgiveness, welcome the foreigner into our neighborhood, share what we have even if it means we will have to do without.
In so doing, we are speaking his language with our actions as we honor his coming to be one with us as the Prince of Peace.
The writer lives in Princeton. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.