What is it about Christmas that brings out the best and the worst in people?
In Christ’s birth narrative in the gospel of Luke, verse 13 speaks of the heavenly host breaking forth, unanimously in praise exclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, whether or not you celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus, this month millions of people are, intentionally or unintentionally, focused on Jesus. Millions of people are focusing on keeping Christ in Christmas while others are out to erase the religious significance of the holiday.
Going back to the original question, at least one answer to what brings out the best and worst in people is all of the religious significance surrounding this holiday. You might be surprised to know that not all Christians celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Christ. It should come as no surprise that in this diverse country not everyone celebrates Christmas, period. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah has already past. Atheists from groups such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation are making their seasonal attempts to secularize the holidays. Christmas has become, among other things, a convenient time to play a game of ideological tug of war.
To offer a little perspective from a bygone era, the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914 is often told this time of year. As the British and German forces on the Western front endured freezing, flooded trenches, the Germans were overheard singing Christmas carols as they lit candles and put them on small trees set up on their parapets. This became an unofficial symbol of truce where by Christmas Day soldiers had cleared their trenches and wandered into “no man’s land” to gather and bury their dead. Once this awful duty was completed, the story goes that British, German, and French forces were exchanging greetings and gifts of food and tobacco. It is also told that an unofficial game of football (soccer) broke out between the Germans and the British.
If battle-hardened soldiers could set aside their differences and engage in displays of human compassion and friendly, good-hearted recreation, is it too much for modern idealists to call an ideological truce for the holidays? Why don’t we practice a little “live and let live” human compassion for a few days and enjoy a peaceful holiday?
If you prefer the understated boughs and ribbon adorning your window sills and your neighbor prefers the Clark W. Griswold, grid-laboring lights, respect one another’s freedom to choose while we are still able. If your neighbor doesn’t believe in Jesus, do what Paul said in Romans 12:20-21: feed him/her some of the bounty you’ve enjoyed and don’t be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.
Whatever holiday it is you celebrate or do not celebrate in December/January I wish you peace and goodwill.
Bryan Collins is minister of Central Church of Christ, Dalton.