For that matter, alone, single, standing in a parking lot in a blizzard, what did Christmas mean to me? What was or is this ‘true meaning of Christmas? I don’t know.
Many years ago, I was alone and feeling rather insignificant on Christmas Eve. I decided to take a stroll. It had been snowing since ten that morning, and by the time I dressed, put on boots, pulled a warm coat around me, and headed out for an aimless walk, the snow was driving and deep.
I had no predetermined destination; I walked from my apartment on the west side to downtown. Because of the snow and holiday, the streets were mine. The sidewalk was mine. For a short time, the dark pierced only by yellowish street lights; the world was mine.
I came upon an empty parking lot. One that housed hundreds of vehicles during the day, which was now open and covered with a thick layer of virgin snow. The street lights gave the whole scene a sepia tone, and I felt like I was in an old-timey Christmas card.
Across the parking lot, I saw a figure moving in the blowing snow. A homeless person, I surmised by his ragged garb. He made his way carefully from the sidewalk to the middle of the lot, stopped, found the spot he was looking for, and began to shuffle in the snow, spelling out words.
He had shuffled out the word ‘thank’ when he brought me into his world. “Follow my footprints,” he called to me, “and help me finish this.” I didn't question him, I did as he commanded, and soon I was shuffling through the snow with him spelling out the words ‘thank you.’
When we finished the message, he looked skyward, put his hands together in prayer, bowed, and said thank you to the sky. Who are you thanking? I asked. He gestured to the sky, the snow, the parking lot, me, and the world. “All of it,” he said, “all of it.”
We stood silently, watching the snow fall; he adjusted our message when the snow confused it. After a while, he asked me if I was okay if I had a place to sleep that night. I told him I was fine and asked if he needed any help.
“You helped,” he said, pointing to our message, “you got nice handwriting; I appreciate that.” And then he carefully followed his own footprints back to the sidewalk and wandered away into the snow, into the night, into history.
He didn’t turn and wish me a merry Christmas, and I didn’t extend the greeting to him either. Why would I? I thought. What would that mean to him?
For that matter, alone, single, standing in a parking lot in a blizzard, what did Christmas mean to me?
What was or is this ‘true meaning of Christmas?
I don’t know.
For Unto Us
Isaiah said it first, and then Handel put it to music. “For unto us a child is born, a son is given.” The ‘us’ they speak and sing of is humanity. We, all of us, have been given a child, a son.
Now, it is up to us, all of us, to make sure he grows up straight and tall, gets rides to and from soccer practice, eats right, does his homework, doesn’t get too sidetracked by girls, and is a contributing member of society. We need to nurture this child we have been given. We need to socialize him and open his eyes to the world or possibilities that are out there for him. Mostly, we need to keep this son that has been given unto us alive.
You may say, but I don’t believe. That’s okay; the child and what he symbolizes exists whether you believe in him or not. The child has been given to us a gift and a burden. And we must do all we can to make sure no one forgets. No one ignores this child. No one lets him wander off into traffic or the bad side of town. We are all charged with making sure this child sees the coming dawn. Again and again.
Even if you don’t believe, if you don’t bend your knee in prayer, read the bible nightly, go to church, or take the sacraments, you are still the recipient of this child. And do not doubt it; this is a unique child.
For unto us is given hope, light, goodness, and peace. That is the child we are charged with taking on. It’s more than a swaddled baby in a manger in Jerusalem. It is a symbol of what we can be to each other. What we can be with the world. For unto us a chance is given, a possibility is born. All in the guise of a child. Innocent. Open. Ready. Vulnerable. A child.
Peace on Earth
Ask anyone who has kids, and they will say a baby is wonderful, but they are not easy. They coo and burble, giggle and burp. They see the world with open eyes, absorbing all they can every minute they are awake. But they also cry and scream, accost your sleep cycle, demand and cost. Yes, a child is a blessing and a burden and represents a very trying but rewarding time in life. A child is worth the trouble.
Much like peace on earth.
In recorded time, scientists have determined that the planet has only not known war for about 20 years. And into that is born a child, a symbol of peace. A hope of understanding, communication, and enlightenment. A reason to come together, celebrate, listen and hear.
This innocent and fragile child is a reminder that things can change and grow. That peace is possible. The child was laid in a manger, straw, and animals, not a place for a baby. But there he was, quietly watching the world around him. Silently accepting the tributes and honors bestowed on him. And we gather, gaze upon him, and thank him for this chance.
I have had cynical moments where I said Christmas is coming earlier every year. Thanksgiving is a meal we eat before going to Black Friday sales. The aisles of stores are filled with Christmas decorations starting around Halloween now. It’s become too commercial.
But I wonder if that is entirely true. Yes, stores start selling Christmas in August, but is it all commercialism and greed? Maybe there is more here than we’re seeing.
Maybe we start earlier because as the world gets older and wearier of violence, war, and hate, we just need this birthday party to happen sooner. We need a reminder that we have all been given the job of taking care of this child. The earlier the decorations arrive, it feels like the more we need the peace and love this child symbolizes.
We need to celebrate that we have another chance at peace. Each year, we are given a reminder and another opportunity. Maybe the commercials aren't for dolls or cars, the latest tech gadgets, but they are advertising that we have another chance to do it right, nurture the child, and allow peace to grow up and teach us.
Maybe that’s the true meaning of Christmas.
I don’t know.
If you believe in God and read the bible, the true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus, later known as Christ.
If you don't believe, does Christmas then have no meaning?
No, Christmas has meaning for everyone. The true meaning is within all of us. Whatever that is to you, that is the truth of Christmas. Because Christmas lives beyond the boundaries of religion. Whether you kneel in a giant cathedral among hundreds of faithful, sing and pray, or shuffle a message to the cosmos in a parking lot in downtown Salt Lake City, what Christmas means to you is what matters.
Once again, this Christmas, we are given a chance to hear, listen, understand, and find the peace that will cover the planet. Once again, we are handed the innocent child, eyes wide, mouth growing into a smile, and we think this year. Maybe this year.
I don’t know.
But I continue to hope.
From all of us here at ThoughtLab, we hope you find your true meaning this Christmas. We hope your days are filled with joy and kindness. We hope that you are loved and safe. We hope that you and yours are filled with the joy of the season, that you take in the hope that is on offer and share it with all those with whom you come in contact.
Most of all, we wish for you what the child we have been given symbolizes, peace. To you, your family and loved ones, and the earth at large. Peace.