“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” — Magnificat
“And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.” — Luke
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” — John
WE AMERICANS GO ABOUT our daily lives, and we bitch and moan about hikes in the cost of gasoline and about jobs supposedly going overseas, and we obsess about what some hotel heiress is drinking or wearing or not wearing and about whether some beauty queen will be fired by Donald Trump, and we pretend that we are having trouble making ends meet despite houses full of electronic gadgets and plenty of food in our expanding waistlines.
Oh, woe is us! The country is on the wrong track! Life is just so hard. The Iranians hate us. The Palestinians hate us. The French are sneering snootily at us as they munch their brie while ignoring unemployment rates twice what we have here in the United States. Oh, the humanity!
Truly we are sore afraid.
And just as truly we miss, we fail to see, the miracles going on around us.
The truth is that we are the most blessed nation in the history of mankind. Our economy is incredibly, historically, phenomenally strong. Our freedoms are unparalleled. Our opportunities are almost limitless. Our homeland is safe. Our mortal enemies wield pipe bombs rather than thousands of nuclear warheads. Our scientists conduct robotic experiments on Martian soil. It is easier, less expensive, to communicate with faraway loved ones than ever before, and it is reasonably inexpensive to travel to see them.
Why, then, do we whine? Why are we sore afraid? Why do we not recognize the good tidings of great joy that surround us all in our secular American lives? Why do we not see our riches and our freedom and our opportunities and proclaim the greatness of the Lord who has treated us with such great favor?
If you’ve ever read the Narnia books, you’ll recognize the story of the dwarfs in “The Last Battle” who found themselves in a bright, sunlit field full of delicious food and drink, but refused to believe that they were anywhere other than in a dank, stinky stable gnawing on scraps and slurping slop and drinking barnwater. “You won’t fool us,” say the dwarfs. “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs!”
And, imprisoned by their own minds in their own angry, aggrieved little existences, believing that it was them against the world, they missed the heaven that surrounded them.
When we Americans complain too much, we are like those dwarfs. We see only our own grievances and miss the light and light and love and wonders that are offered to us.
But we should fear not. And grieve not. For those of us who are Christians, we need only reclaim our God-given heritage and accept the great Gift, his great Word among us, to rejoice in the miracle that is life. Life in a stable, wondrous life rather than just pig slop; life in the fields and life amidst our flocks; light from the stars and the heavenly host, lighting the way to redemption.
For those among us who are not Christian, the season nevertheless offers them hope as well. From this birth in a stable grew a particularly good man, a historical, flesh-and-blood man who even if not accepted as savior is yet acknowledged (almost universally, including in the Koran) as a great teacher and moral exemplar.
Lord or not, timeless Word or merely a teacher of timeless words, His messages are clear to all of us: As individuals and as communities of faith, we have an obligation to each other. We must care for those who suffer or want. We must love each other. We must lives morally and ethically. We must rejoice in our blessings, and serve as vessels in which the blessings of this world can be transmitted to, can be carried to and made real for, those who seem not to be receiving them fully.
In short, do that which is right. In the words of some favorite prayers, “Be strong and of good courage. Hold fast to that which is good.” And, in the words of a prayer said regularly at Trinity Episcopal School in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, pray that the Lord make us “gentle, generous, truthful, kind, and brave.”
None of which should be very difficult. None of which is very difficult, unless we of our own sheer cussedness make it so.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of us in these United States believe that what happened in Bethlehem two millennia ago was more than mere good fortune, but rather a miracle and a redemption and good tidings of great joy. Those tidings, we believe, were more than words; they were The Word. The Word was God, and we have every reason to rejoice. In response, our souls should magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior. He has indeed looked with favor upon us, especially upon us in these United States.
Stop moaning, and be joyful. Smile. And love.
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