There is no doubt that in the last fifty years, most of our holidays have been heavily commercialized, but this in no way justifies us in turning against the sacred convictions for which most of these holidays stand.
All people have their festivals. They have to have those occasions in order to give an opportunity for individuals to express themselves in a clear and definite manner.
To be honest, we need these types of common activities. We need to get together in the spirit of friendliness, of good fellowship, of veneration and respect for things of value and for the simple enjoyment of the various occasions that nature produces which are suitable to our appreciation.
Actually, a festival is a symbol of man’s participation in some form of gratitude, appreciation, friendship, kindness, generosity or mutual good feeling.
So when the time comes for us to celebrate any occasion, we should make the most of it. Some might say that such remembrances are childish, but anyone who thinks humanity is grown up, is also making a grave mistake. Because the truth is we are all childish, and perhaps it is our childishness that makes life endurable to us all.
Everything depicts on why we are here. If we are here to build apartment houses, and great structures of glass and steel, to compete with each other, then the child is certainly at a disadvantage. But if we are here as a movement in a great journey to build within ourselves a consciousness of great value then perhaps the child is better off than we think. Perhaps if we could have more of this child quality going into maturity we would not have some of the terrible problems we have today.
Perhaps it is the child that really represents the true maturity of the race, the unspoiled human being. In the child, you have very little of these terrible antagonisms and animosities that can be cultivated only by association with adults.
The child is not intolerant. It is not a religious fanatic by nature. The child is not corrupt by disposition — with a very few examples to the contrary, for occasionally we do find the very difficult child. But for the most part, children brought up in normal environments, are by nature well intended and properly disposed toward life. Gradually we destroy this.
But, we need the child life, the child heart, the child joys, and with such a holiday as Christmas, whether we wish to admit it or not, the adults are having just as much pleasure as the children. Perhaps, it is a good plan then, to make the most of every opportunity to express beauty and kindness and to reveal personal generosity. If we do not preserve these values, we really are going to destroy what is left of our civilization.
So much of our religious life is only abstract. We have golden rules we seldom follow; we have beautiful thoughts that we can quietly meditate upon, but which are disrupted by every practical event of life; we have determination to do wonderful and kindly things in a spiritual way, and then our personal feelings step in and we may be anything but kind and thoughtful.
It seems, therefore, that part of religion has always been the process of taking a beautiful idea and making it work, getting it out of the mind and the heart and into our hands and life so that something is actually done about it. But the moment we move these convictions out into visible and physical expression, we subject them to the frosts of circumstance.
If all our virtues are held only as abstract truths in the heart and mind, they serve nothing. They do not even serve us. Abstract truths cost us nothing; they mean nothing to us until we have to make some physical, mental, emotional, moral stand in regard to our convictions. Unless we prove these things to be real in ourselves, they do not help us, and they do nothing for others.
Let’s pause for a moment. We have holidays on Washington’s birthday, Lincoln’s birthday, Columbus Day, Fourth of July, because they stand for principles that we admire and think about.
Christmas is unique in the fact that it represent’s man’s celebration of the ultimate virtues as he is able to understand them — the highest good, the greatest depths of insight. They represent the two great mysteries of life: the mystery of eternal giving, and the mystery of eternal resurrection. These are the great universal truths that touch people of every faith everywhere.
They are not national holidays, they are world holidays, and everyone celebrates them under some name or symbol. They represent man’s relationship with infinite life, and it is perfectly right and proper that on these occasions, we should restate our relationship with the infinite plan, the infinite good, the infinite love; for these are our securities. And, until we are able to live always in the right, it is good that there are days, which the light shines especially bright.
So let us take the Christmas season and try to realize a little more of what it basically means.
We have united two distinct concepts – one is sharing of gifts according to the ancient tradition of St. Nicholas of Myra, and the other is the celebration of the nativity of Jesus.
Actually, Christmas is a symbolic kind of foreshadowing of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, for in the sharing of our goods, coming together in the name of a holy and sacred being to bring joy and friendship and kindness to other people, those who celebrate are really performing a part of the Christian sacrament.
Christmas, therefore, is a time to get certain convictions into practice, and everything actually depends upon ourselves. The Christmas spirit is not something that is bought or exchanged or conferred. It is an awareness from within our own spirit.
Everywhere the Christmas spirit should be regarded for what it is—a spirit moving from within us – a spirit that is going to take things that are not very beautiful and transmute them. If it has no transmuting power, if it simply gets bogged down in the common symbolism we have not achieved much. We must take what has gradually become a physical festival and transmute it again into what it originally was intended to be.
We do this by attempting in the Christmas season to live the principles operative in our relations with each other. There should be emphasis upon the spiritual meaning of Christmas, an awareness that the giving of presents is a symbol of something.
Actually, it is a symbol of two things: our utter dependence upon life itself for everything we have, and the giving of ourselves for the good of others. While we may develop various agricultural instruments, learn to handle harvest and create an economic systems around the produce that we grow, still, ultimately, everything that we use comes to us first as the gift of the universe.
The refinement and merchandising and distribution of products becomes the basis of expense, but everything that we really need is here for us without a price tag. It was put here by nature itself, which makes it possible for all creatures to live, if they will live together in fraternity rather than discord.
Poverty is not a divine institution; it is the result of the inconsistent administration of these things which nature bestows. We are in a position at all times to make sure that all human beings have what is necessary for their survival – perhaps more. So we should give honor on Christmas to this universal availability of the needs of life. We give thanks that nature in its infinite wisdom has provided all its creatures with everything they require. And if we learn the proper ways of distribution, there can be no real need or poverty in the world.
In the ancient statement of the Mass, the lines repeat again and again. “Do this in honor of me,” or “Do this in memory of me.” All the things that we do in connection with the Christian mystery should be done in remembrance of the power of the Divine Giver. When we accept with kindness that which may be useless, we are doing this in the kindness of remembrance of the great principle of giving for which the small insignificant package stands. When we give regardless of the poverty of our material abilities, we give in the name of that which is eternal life. And there is no time in the year in which we should be more charitable than at Christmastime.
Nature gives us every opportunity to see the consequences of actions. Our scriptures, our great structures of idealism are not based merely on someone’s opinion. They do not arise from a prejudice of five thousand years ago; nor have they become obsolete as the result of the infinite changes taking place in society. Man’s spiritual codes have been built upon the quiet observance of common experience.
They are the result of man living with man for thousands of years, observing his ways of action, noting the effects of his conduct upon not only his environment immediately, but upon the whole course of history.
The opinions of the ancients have been summarized wisely in the great commandments of the past, and we know beyond all question of a doubt that the path of selfishness cannot succeed; that regardless of the inducements, regardless of the promises, regardless of the apparent immediate advantages, selfishness leads to the destruction of the individual and the collapse of society as a whole. Some day we have to face this.
Perhaps this Christmas can help us in a practical way, for it is one day that stands for the elevation of principle over profit. Now, it may be that the merchants have made a little profit along the way, but that has no bearing upon us. In our own lives, we have a conviction, and according to this conviction, we have set aside this day to celebrate what some regard as one the most perfect examples of human character that ever lived.
We have set this day aside for the universal respect and admiration for qualities and virtues we all possess but which this one person seems to have been able to manifest perfectly before men. So on this day, we are honoring the very principle that we need today for the survival of our world.
We are accepting the concept that spiritual truth is stronger than material benefit and the conviction that beauty and love are the true rulers of the world. We are elevating and paying homage to integrity, the highest form of honor and honesty. We are also pointing our that perhaps the most commendable of all virtues is truly that man will sacrifice himself–all that he has and all that he is to the service of his brother men in need.
We are honoring on this day a person who exemplifies every quality that we consider to be essential, basically right and eternally true. If we think about it for a moment we would realize how, in a certain way, this person whom we worship or regard is also a symbol of the superiority that we all really seek.
So this Christmas, we should all do everything possible to guard against negative thoughts. Let us be determined that we are not going to think dark thoughts about anything- not about those around us, or about the world, or about politics. Let us use this season to lighten our own thinking, to make it bright within ourselves. And for a few days, if we claim to have any religion in us at all, let us put this religion to work, with the conviction that if we can live it for two or three days intensely that we can set up a pattern of gratitude instead.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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