By Margie Anne Clark
“God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I look forward to the advent of another Christmas spent with my ever-growing family, I am reminded that life is always renewing itself. No matter the ebb and flow of life, I know this to be true. Okay, so I’m an optimist. Always have been. But even so, time marches on, our kids grow up, neighbors come and go, and familiar things fade away in a fast-changing world.
But there are some things that I hope will remain a constant in life, like love of family, dear friends, cherished memories, and of course, Christmas. In these modern times, it seems that the season of Christmas has managed to transcend religious beliefs to include a universal celebration of the human spirit and good will.
I was raised with Christian tenets, but I have always believed in the importance and commonality of all religions which espouse the concept of goodwill towards all people. Pope John Paul II addressed this in his 1994 book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. In it, Pope John Paul II cites in his excerpts, a church document entitled, Nostra Aetate, (In Our Time).
“From the beginning, Christian Revelation has viewed the spiritual history of man as including, in some way, all religions, thereby demonstrating the unity of all humankind with regard to the eternal and ultimate destiny of man.” (Nostra Aetate, I-2.)
Pope John Paul II wrote: “Thus instead of marveling at the fact that Providence allows such a great variety of religions, we should be amazed at the number of common elements found within them.”
Yet in this day and age, it’s easy to forget the common bonds of humanity that unite us. Pope John Paul II cites another expert from the Nostra Aetate:
“Even if over the course of centuries Christians…have had more than a few dissensions and quarrels, this sacred Council now urges all to forget the past and to work toward mutual understanding as well as toward the preservation and promotion of…peace and freedom for the benefit of all mankind (Nostra Aetate 3).”
But the world is a complicated place.
When we look at challenges that sometimes arise within families, between friends, within communities, states and nations around the world, we wonder, can we ever get along in peace and harmony?
But as it says in Galatians, (4:28) all of us are “children of promise.”
Christ himself addressed this when he said to the apostles: “Take courage, I have conquered the world (John 16:33). But he also cautioned:
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke, 18:8).
Life is a paradox. In Christian faith, we are taught that Christ was born to save mankind from sin. Yet, in sin comes the opportunity for grace. The birth of Christ in a lowly manger was honored with grace and profound respect by wise men, kings and shepherds who brought gifts to herald in His journey on Earth. His message of good will would continue throughout his mortal life, when at the Last Supper he told his followers, “Love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John. 13:34)
Because of this, gift-giving seems to be a big part of the Christmas celebration. It’s a way to take time out and give tokens of love and appreciation to those who have touched our lives. In this sense, gift-giving takes on a universal spirit of good will.
But in the hustle and bustle of trying to find the perfect gift, it’s important to take time out to simply be a friend.
A kind word, an act of thoughtfulness and common courtesy can mean just as much or even more than a store-bought gift.
Ralph Waldo Emerson eloquently expressed this in his essay on Spiritual Laws: “If you visit your friend, why need you apologize for not having visited him – visit him now…Be a gift and a benediction. Shine with real light and not with the borrowed reflection of gifts.”
While our traditions and gift-giving are an important part of the holiday season, friendship, love and respect for one another are by far the greatest gifts of all.
Margie Anne Clark is a Los Angeles-based writer. ©All rights reserved.