We have much to learn or at least remind ourselves—we should not anesthetize revealing moments. So let me begin my annual year-end column by wishing you a Merry Christmas. But, let me add that as other important moments of religious observance occur, we should pause and reflect on the events and messages as well.
Or to put it another way, the noise of the world is always with us. We are continually told what to believe, promote, buy and borrow. We shouldn’t be surprised then when an important moment of reflection is turned into a commercial affair.
There are eleven federal holidays. A few celebrate a turning of the calendar, some are paired with events and almost all are underscored with commercialism. Three are more personal as we celebrate George Washington, Martin Luther King and Christopher Columbus—each giant figures in our history, but also quite human in their ambitions and patterns of living.
President Washington, following his election as our first President, began a tour that concluded with his inaugural in New York. He visited the Mid-Atlantic and New England states—states of the new union.
Washington’s fame bordered on the mythic. He led the Continental army which defeated the British. And then was elected the United States first head of State. At several of his stops young boys were heard to exclaim, with surprise, “He is just a man.”
Historians continue to dig and each new narrative angle generally contains information revealing the leaders humanness. Perfection is not only elusive, it is out-of-reach. Before long we are left asking whether glorifying a person is a sensible thing to do.
Ironically there are “culture influencers” who attempt to erase Jesus Christ from Christmas. Their preferred greeting is “Happy Holidays”. Yet, across virtually the entire spectrum of the faith community Jesus is revered. His teachings are inspirational and aspirational. The world, our world, is often dark; we should welcome the light each December.
Miroslav Volf, Founding Director, Yale Center for Faith & Culture, extends 1 John 4:20 in a telling expression: “Since God is invisible, love for God is invisible as well; unlike God, though, the neighbor is visible, and love for neighbor is visible as well. Since the love for neighbor and for God is one, “those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen”.
While all of us can agree that too often religion is used to elevate humans and their ambitions, we should look beyond the noise. We should encourage the visible affirmations of faith.
Charles Dickens revisited the seasons light in The Christmas Carol. As Scrooge re-visited Christmas pasts he was able to defeat a lifetime of selfishness to become a new man with an entirely new outlook of life. Scrooge was touched and then transformed.
I hope for you that this Christmas is filled with love. Merry Christmas!
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.