THE REASON FOR THE SEASON
Merry Christmas, y'all. Having spent the past several days both working intense though truncated workdays and coming home to a house filled with close and much-loved relatives, one scene stands out as a metaphor for what the season is all about.
Having our oldest son, his pregnant wife and 17-month-old son visiting us from Tallahassee ranks among our greatest joys of the holidays. On their third day here in Dallas the baby was beating on our rather expensive coffee table with something I don't now remember. Several family members remarked that the wood would be scratched and indicated that our son Dylan should stop him. Dylan made the statement, "That's not my responsibility." I gently distracted the baby and then later privately, in another room, asked Dylan what he meant by that. He explained that he was a guest and that it was his "host's" (his parents') job. How can you be a guest in your own home? I asked. He somewhat angrily replied that he was on "vacation" and that it was up to us, his "hosts" to make his stay comfortable, easy and enjoyable. His siblings who live in Dallas, he said, should relinquish their demands upon us as parents for the duration of his stay since they get our "attention" when he's not here, and focus fully on him and his family when they're visiting. He was clearly upset because I wasn't babysitting 24/7 (although he'd have been quite put out if meals weren't prepared to his liking when he was hungry, the TV wasn't tuned to his preferences, and the house wasn't arranged to his convenience).
Whoa. I'd been cooking for eleven people (not including pre-schoolers and including two out-of-town grandparents in their eighties) after working at a very demanding job, performing most of the clean-up, spending the evenings entertaining everyone, changing diapers, giving baths and generally chasing after two very active toddler grandsons, responding to a zillion requests of their elders, and fell exhausted every night into bed post-midnight before rising at an early hour to start the whole process again -- all this while suffering from an abscessed tooth I won't have time to attend to until after the new year, a lame leg (when overworked and tired) resulting from a near-death accident (two weeks in ICU) last Christmas, and a terrible cold. I was ready to deliver a lecture.
As I told Dylan, the good guest who wants to be invited back doesn't add to the host's burdens but shares them. (Aside: this whole guest/host concept is inexplicable to me -- we're a A FAMILY.) A good guest, I said, always offers his help, at the very least not relinquishing his own responsibilities. Can you ever remember, I asked, our family visiting the grandparents and me not only caring for my own five children but also helping grandmom cook, clean and keep peace among our strong-willed clan? Of course he couldn't think of an example. But Dylan is not alone in his tendency to fantasize a perfect experience and then being disappointed to the point of anger that everything doesn't go according to his fantasy. Other family members have quarreled mildly about which video to watch, what board game to play, what to eat, and especially who is getting the most attention at any given moment from Mom and Dad.
Which leads us to the point of this post.
Christ was the perfect guest because he had a servant mentality. Rather than leave the event when there was not enough food, he became the provider by multiplying the fish and bread so that all could partake. He helped His mother at the wedding feast by changing water into wine so the guests would not be insulted at the lack of refreshments. He welcomed the children and entertained them. He invited the loveless and forlorn to the party and when chastized by his followers for doing so reminded them that to the Father, all are His children and equally important to Him.
To Dylan and later to certain of his siblings, I said, "It's not all about YOU. The only way to be both happy and significant is to remember the JOY lessons I taught you when you were small. Jesus (God) first, others second and yourself last." That's the life lesson I most hope they retain. It's the blueprint of a meaningful life.
When right-wing yahoos screech about liberals "wanting to destroy Christmas" I wonder what they're talking about -- it seems they're talking about symbols and decorations, not substance. Division is NOT what Christ was about. Power to belittle, destroy or marginalize our fellow citizens is not what Jesus was born to teach us. In fact, he said that God would delay the "end-times" that so many pseudo-Christians seem to long for, because "He is not willing that any should perish" -- in other words, God "so loves the world" (all peoples) that He wants to give us every opportunity to change, grow and learn to love Him (that is, in His own words, loving our fellow man). That doesn't include killing them for some political or economic strategy. Defense of life against aggression is the only justification for doing so.
To Dylan's credit, he only needed a "refresher course" to remind him that only through kindness and hospitality to others could he truly reap the joy he sought. He's been a helper and peacemaker, and thus a joy, ever since.
As a Christian, I have always tried to emphasize that the birth of Jesus, which is the "reason for the season" would be meaningless if not for the greater celebration, that of Christ's resurrection from the dead, which established his divinity and was both a metaphor and a promise to all who accept Him as the Son of God that we too will live forever with the Father God in his "house of many mansions." I realize that many non-believers rejoice in a season where people smile at one another, forgive old grievances, and receive satisfaction in giving to others, and I join them in those pleasures. But I can't help but think that though they leave Christ out of the experience, it is due to Him and centuries of tradition celebrating His birth, that they recognize the spiritual and human benefits of devoting a few days a year to making OTHERS happy.
So goodnight, dear readers. I'm posting this in the wee hours of the morning when I should be sleeping but can't. I wish you Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and may you find peace and joy in the coming year. I'm convinced that the only way to do so is to "love the Lord your God and your neighbors as yourself."