US politics have become a mighty toxic environment these last few years. However, this is by no means unprecedented. One of the myths many hold is the sense that these are the worst of times. Perhaps this comes from a prideful place, making us feel as if our lives will matter more if they are viewed through a lens of hardship and angst. But what if we took a moment this holiday and just stopped all the buying, eating, and shopping — and took stock of what we really need this Christmas?
Christmas Spoiler Alert: You Can’t Get It With MasterCard
In its brief history, the people of the United States have lived through wars great and small, pandemics, pestilences, assassinations, and large-scale civil unrests. Those from the Greatest Generation, Civil War, or Revolutionary War era could tell us a lot about the worst of times. These last few years most assuredly are not the worst of times; some even argue this may be the best time to be alive.
Still, things have been tough. Inflation, post-COVID stress, and interest rate hikes don’t make for a joyous holiday season. Listening to the ladies rail on The View about conservatives or watching the insipid Duke and Duchess of something-or-other whine about their lives on Netflix can be loathsome, but should be put in perspective. Yes, these are trying times, but they are not times that try men’s souls.
Twenty-first-century Americans complain endlessly about the media – but this, too, is nothing new under the sun. Thomas Jefferson had a few choice words about the Fourth Estate of his day: “The firmness with which the people have withstood the late abuses of the press, the discernment they have manifested between truth and falsehood, show that they may safely be trusted to hear everything true and false, and to form a correct judgment between them.” Yep, fake news existed long before CNN.
Back in the 1990s, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas wrote a book called The Things That Matter Most. In it, Thomas argued that “faith in a personal God who is knowable, family, freedom to pursue one’s dreams, and keeping most of the gain one gets through hard and honest work,” as one reviewer put it, are the things that matter most. Some books you read and forget, but not this one. Thomas speaks of how hearts and minds relate to the soul, and his message sticks because the themes are timeless and important.
Before we go too far down this reindeer trail, here’s the point: What America really needs are the characteristics displayed by the one whose birth we celebrate. These include, but are not limited to, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. The birth of the Christ-child revealed to the world that we need to be about serving, helping, and working to heal others. What we really need this Christmas is a lot more Jesus and a lot less of letting the world dictate how we think and act.
How can we heal? We are not God. However, showing someone compassion or forgiveness – maybe even with a dash of grace – can be very healing. The toxicity of our culture and politics becomes worse when we respond to people in kind. Letting someone else’s behavior dictate ours is a human response, but it rarely improves things.
In the children’s classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss tells a tale of the mean Grinch who was eager to make others miserable by stealing all the gifts in Whoville. But he woke up to the sounds of joyous singing instead of melancholy. The Whos chose not to respond to him in kind, and his inability to control their behavior forced the Grinch to rethink things. “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”
So this Christmas, focus on the things that matter most, the things we really need are there for the taking, and they come from Jesus and perhaps the good people of Whoville as well.
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