Published in Courier Mail 24 Dec 05
`GLORY to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men.” That’s what the angels sang that first Christmas night. Peace on Earth? I doubt it!
In California, two men came to blows after exchanging Christmas gifts. So offended by what the other gave, they each hit the other over the head with a flower pot and ended up in hospital.
Family doesn’t fare much better at Christmas either. One young woman was charged with fire-bombing her mother-in-law’s house, and subsequently burning it to the ground. Apparently she didn’t like her gift either. That promised peace seems a little elusive these days.
In the whirl of events that constitute a modern Christmas, we fill our lives with all the seasonal trimmings, and empty our bank account. The goodwill we sing about in carols evaporates when we venture near a shopping centre car park. (And if you do happen to spy some goodwill in the distance, someone will get to it before you.)
Why does the traditional season of harmony sometimes leave us stressed, unhappy and frustrated?
For those among us who’ve had a less than joyous year, Christmas can often magnify our unhappiness. Bereavement, difficult situations and unfulfilled expectations all weigh heavily upon us as we reflect upon the year that was.
It may just be that we’ve had another ordinary year, in a string of ordinary years, and we long to live with some excitement and passion. It may be that we have experienced a loss which is felt all the more keenly at this time of year. Those who cannot share this season with someone they celebrated alongside last year will bear a special grief.
In the same way that you never feel lonelier than when surrounded by a crowd, you never feel more miserable than when peace and joy are foisted upon you externally.
The angelic chorus of that first Christmas night — “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men” — can sometimes feel like a taunt rather than a promise.
The human heart can quickly pick up when things aren’t right. Just as children know when mummy and daddy aren’t happy, we seem to have an innate sense of how things are meant to be and whether our experience rings true.
And let’s be honest, we know that things aren’t meant to be the way they are.
Relationships are not meant to be fractured. Sickness shouldn’t take someone so young. Food shouldn’t be so hard to put on the table.
That’s why escapist substances such as alcohol or drugs are so popular. That’s why people often indulge in foolish or unsafe behaviour — whether that’s telling your boss what you really think of them, or drinking and driving, or having an affair.
When the heart is not at peace, your world is not at peace.
Someone once said, “Christmas began in the heart of God. It is only complete when it reaches the heart of man.” Christmas is a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that this baby grew to be a saviour who can still bring peace to the heart of men, women and children everywhere.
Whatever your religious persuasion though, the idea of peace is irresistible, and the slight suspicion that this could be what we are missing resonates within us.
Christmas will always be with us. The retail sector will make sure of that. The decorations are lovely, the carols are beautiful, exchanging gifts is a wonderful tradition and a Christmas feast is a welcome part of the day.
The essence of Christmas though is peace — peace with one another and peace within.
Some time this Christmas season then, why not put away the wrapping paper, hide away the “to do” list and take a moment to listen to your heart? For if Christmas doesn’t reside in your heart, then all the trimmings of the season won’t make it so.