Morgan Liddick: Perhaps among the wrapping paper we will find virtue
And On the Right
So this is it. The culmination of our traditional season of unbridled avarice. But as we tear into the mound under the Christmas tree, scattering paper, ribbons and flimsy boxes like a Texas Twister plowing through a trailer park, perhaps we all ought to pause and consider that this holiday should offer us more than six trash bags of cleanup, a mound of credit card bills and a blinding eggnog hangover. A lot more.
All season long we’ve been bombarded with those little morality plays called commercials. You know the type: They promise the fulfillment of every dream and fantasy. You can be young, beautiful, rich and clever. You can be adventurous, the center of attention. Your family can be perfect ” witty, fabulously-dressed, polite and well-fed. After all, you deserve it. You deserve it all. And the only requirement is that you buy. …
Well, you fill in the blank. Preferably with a piece of plastic, so you don’t gum up the wheels of commerce by pausing the minute it would take to write a check.
Is this really what we’ve come to? One hopes not, because there’s a lot more to this holiday than an extra day or two off, greed and tryptophan.
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It is true that at this time of the year people are often moved to charity. We devote part of our budget for the season to those who have less than we ” and here in Summit County, there are not a few of them. Unfortunately, we sometimes look on this sort of giving as just another part of a vast and highly-choreographed Christmaspalooza. We forget what the object is, and neglect the lesson to be learned from selfless giving.
Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge got that exactly right: Real charity is always done in secret. Like the turkey sent to Bob Cratchet on Christmas Day, it carries no name. And it doesn’t ask for a tax receipt. If it does, then it’s not generosity of heart. It’s something else.
There’s another aspect to this holiday; something separate from our concentration on the present ” or the presents; separate from our search for self-satisfaction and our efforts to offer cheer to our family, our friends, and even to strangers. Separate, but related. There is what you might call a back story, and in one form or another, we all know it.
The date is uncertain, and accounts conflict somewhat. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that something extraordinary happened in Palestine, circa 6-4 BCE. In terms of its eventual effect on our world, one could call it transformational.
Perhaps the most remarkable quality about this event was not that it was a virgin birth; that was an element of several religious cults at the time. Nor was it the peculiarity of an immanent and transcendent god taking human form; the popular mythology of the day was full of that sort of stuff. Nor the fact that the babe was destined to suffer and redeem mankind; Mithraism, the most popular religion in Roman Asia, had already laid claim to that one, as had the more ancient Osiris Cult of Egypt.
No; what set this event apart was that when it happened, almost no one noticed. Where did it take place? Out of sight, in a barn. By all accounts, who was there? The three principals, of course; after them, only the invited guests: a few who had been paying attention and were clued in, and then … shepherds.
Shepherds. Not a particularly brilliant occupation in the Palestine of 4 BCE. In fact, a pretty drudge job. Follow sheep around all day, gather up the ones that wander off, chase away the occasional wild dog. Eat what you can get, when you can. Note much respect or social standing accrues to a shepherd. Today, they might be housekeepers. Or landscapers. Dishwashers. Parking lot attendants. But they got the engraved invitation to the event of the season.
How about the elites of the day? The religious and political leaders? Nah. They were all looking the other way, expecting something else. Why get involved with an obscure birth in a backwater, one-horse town? The rich? Out massaging egos with the purchase of a new villa. The philosophers, writers and all the other smart guys? By the time they looked up from their books and figured it out, it was all gone. The event wasn’t for them, not a one. It was for the shepherds.
Something to ponder as we tote up our Christmas haul.
And God bless us, every one.
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