Gifts! The last dash to the shops is on as people look for the perfect gift to give to someone they love. As the last of the wrapping paper is used and the gifts labelled and placed under the tree, there comes an opportunity for reflection.
Over the course of my life, Christmas seems to have undergone many changes. When I was a child, it used to be about waking up to gifts mysteriously left at the end of my bed. We gathered around the table to eat a full English roast dinner accompanied by steaming hot plum pudding. Then there were songs about snow, warm glowing fires, and sleigh rides. Often all of this took place on a scorching Australian summer’s day as we wiped away the perspiration from our faces. Years later, the lovingly-wrapped presents and the delicious food took a back seat as the ever-growing extended family sought to maintain contact and spend time with each other.
Fast forward to today. Cultural differences have altered the landscape of Christmas in this country. The sunshine and relaxed life-style have led to barbecues and family celebrations at the beach. On the home front, family members have passed on, others have moved to places far away. For many people it’s a lonely period – even friends can be hard to find.
With all the changes that can take place with ourselves, those we know, and the community at large, it’s tempting not to dread the festive season or want to shun it entirely. I know, because this is how I once felt. The family scene had dramatically altered. My husband and I found ourselves on our own for the first time in our lives. When it happened the next year and the next, it was hard to take. We tried inviting friends, acquaintances, and neighbours but everyone had their own plans. No one, it seemed, needed our company.
When another empty season-of-cheer loomed, I decided to take stock of what I was thinking. Did changes to people and circumstances affect the real meaning of Christmas? Did I have to receive gifts or share a special meal with family and friends to celebrate this special time? In thinking it over, I realized that material accoutrements, food and companionship are outward symbols of celebration – like sending greeting cards and singing carols. It also dawned on me that I had inadvertently substituted these symbols for the real reason I commemorate Christmas.
The birth of Christ Jesus was not the arrival of just another child into the world. His advent heralded unprecedented change for humankind. For me, his coming signalled hope for better health and bodily harmony. Jesus’ rousing command, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” was, and still is, a radical, life-changing message. [Matthew 5:48] It suggests that we can think of ourselves as having the gift of perfect wellness and peace of mind.
Because of Jesus’ shining example of living, I’ve learned of the enduring love of a divine Father. That Love constantly nurtures, sustains and companions us. As a result of Jesus’ teachings, countless individuals, myself included, have found comfort as well as health and healing. We’ve received the everlasting gift of harmony – the kingdom of heaven, that Jesus said we would find already within us.
While the fluctuations of human living may bring change into our experience, and try to cast a shadow over what should be a joyous time of year, they can’t alter the real reason we commemorate Christmas. Thinking about Jesus and what his life means to me in these turbulent times, inspires me to remember that he gave the lasting gift of hope, health and harmony to anyone wanting to receive it. Such a gift can be unwrapped every day. And that’s something worth remembering and celebrating all year round.