We here at the Idler household wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas. We also wish you a happy Christmas which is almost the same as merry, but not quite. You can’t be merry without being happy, but you can probably be happy without being merry. Oh, and a peaceful one too, unless you’re expecting to rock out the whole time, in which case, we wish you a loud and raucous Christmas. (It would be hard to get a carol out of that.) If you’re expecting a major haul on the gift front, then we wish you a prosperous Christmas. But don’t think you’re getting a car like those people on television. No one is.
We were thinking about all the different kinds of Christmas you could have because of all the stories you hear this time of year about people who object to public celebrations of Christmas and expressions of Christmas spirit. We think it’s because people who are Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God and was born on or about December 25th and people who aren’t Christian don’t believe that and don’t think they should be made to observe it.
Not being as sophisticated as some of these folks we tend to roll our eyes when we hear this sort of thing. Who doesn’t like Christmas? What are you, some sort of Scrooge? But it might be a good thought exercise, if you are a Christian, to imagine you weren’t. How would you feel about a passage from a 2,000 year old book that tells this story:
A family, consisting of a man and his pregnant wife, are traveling to the town of the husband’s birth because the government requires them to participate in a census. They arrive in the middle of the night and all the hotels are booked. It’s not as if they could have called ahead and made a reservation. There weren’t any telephones. They obviously can’t sleep in the car, the invention of which will take place 1,900 years later, and there aren’t any homeless shelters. Essentially they’re reduced to camping out. Which is quite a fix to find yourself in when, on top of everything else, the missus isn’t just pregnant, she’s about to deliver their first child. Did we mention there aren’t any hospitals or birthing centers or midwives in the immediate area? Life two millennia ago sort of fit the old Thomas Hobbes description: nasty, brutish and often short.
But these are resourceful people and when all other options are exhausted, they find shelter in a stable. It might be a little, let’s say, aromatic, but it’s shelter against the wind, and straw makes a pretty good insulator. So nature takes its course, and as anyone who’s been through it knows, a baby comes when it is good and ready to come and not a minute sooner or later. It won’t be rushed and it won’t be delayed.
People who work the night shift are always up on the news. If you know somebody on the police force or the fire department, you can usually find out the latest and most reliable info. Way back then, it was the shepherds who had to take their flocks of sheep out at night to where they could score some decent pasture. Did they get the news from angels? Maybe. Or maybe they were just nebby. Anyway, if a baby was born in a stable they’d probably want to go check and see if everyone was okay. Later on the more important personages might arrive with material aid for the family.
So far the story is kind of short on formal religion but long on courage and ingenuity. We see how hardship can bring out the best in us. People can summon the wherewithal to deal with the harsher aspects of life. We also learn that others are capable of greater kindness than we thought. They will freely give aid to the weary traveler and comfort to the mother in distress. Human beings don’t have to be beastly to one another.
But then there’s the baby. That’s the unknown part of the story. That’s where it gets a little mysterious. A baby is helpless and vulnerable but also full of potential. So were we all once. But if you’ve ever held a newborn, seen its eyelashes flutter and cocked your ear to hear it’s tiny breaths, you know it’s magic. A new life and a new world. Merry Christmas.
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