Three souls who taught me the meaning of Christmas

With the filth and rancor of the recent election mostly in the rear-view mirror, it seems like a good time to reflect on the meaning of Christmas.  This has become more and more arduous as even the most pious among us can easily get caught up in the parties, the shopping, the gift-wrapping and mass merchandising of the season.

Let’s face it, one is more likely to hear Jingle Bells than O Holy Night anywhere music is played in America.  But the point here is not to relive the good old days when Flexible Flyer sleds sat under the tree instead of imported junk. The point is that in every day and age, there are people who point us toward better places in our society and within ourselves. They become our inspiration, our hope for a more civil society and a better heart that beats within us. 

Here are three people who have taught me afresh the meaning of Christmas this year.

First is my friend Jack. He is a very well-known author. If I used his real name you’d know right away of whom I speak. But the amazing thing about Jack isn’t his writing or his fame and fortune – it’s his dedication to his ailing wife. For years now his beloved bride has been suffering the worst of a bizarre ailment that causes her to go in and out of the hospital. This strong and brilliant woman has been ravaged by an evil illness.  And the burden of care, making day-to-day health decisions, and everything in between has fallen on Jack. At last text, Jack was back in the hospital as his wife suffered a recent setback. Now Jack could easily moan and groan his way through life considering the difficult hand he’s been dealt – but he doesn’t. He bears his burden with love and dignity and soldiers on.

Jack has taught me the meaning of true love.

Second is a gentleman I’ll call Terrell. We first met when my husband I were teaching a class for the homeless at a shelter in the District of Columbia. We taught a career skills class and Terrell was our star student. He was funny and smart and outgoing. By the end of the class we were so impressed by him that I pulled some strings with a friend of mine to get Terrell a job. It was a good one; it paid well and even offered health benefits. We were so proud of Terrell. Then one day the academic director of the shelter informed us that Terrell had dropped off the grid.  He hadn’t shown up for work, stole the shelter’s van and was nowhere to be found.  Later we learned that Terrell had fallen back into the world of drugs. But wherever he is now, I know Terrell is forgiven – not just by me but by the good Lord above.

You see, Terrell has taught me the meaning of redemption.

Third is Jesus of Nazareth. (Yes, I buried the lede.) Columnist Cal Thomas recently wrote:

Two thousand years ago there was another "inauguration" of sorts, one whose goal is out of reach of the smartest political leader. That One had -- and has -- the power to transform lives and fit them for another world. It is a world, according to the baby born in Bethlehem of Judea who became a man and Savior to billions worldwide, that will -- unlike this world and the little it offers -- never pass away.

To anyone who has ever met him, Jesus is the single most transforming presence one could ever encounter. He changes our opinions, our worldview – an entire paradigm shift that is difficult to put into words. But once you’ve had that encounter, you will never be the same.  Perhaps this is best exemplified in his own words from the gospel of John:

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

And then there’s his actions as found in Mark 15:

Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

 The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Jesus has taught me selflessness and humility.

So, to Jack, Terrell, and Jesus of Nazareth, I raise a glass and toast each of you. Love, redemption, selflessness and humility; these are the qualities that inspire, encourage and motivate me to be a better friend, mother, wife.  And they give me reason to be hopeful that our nation and its great people, from every race and tribe – Americans one and all -- will experience true spiritual revival in the year to come.