On Friday 15/Saturday 16 December, I shall be joining the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic, conductor Maestro Andrew Wailes, at St Paul’s, Melbourne, for the annual ‘Carols In The Cathedral’. It is truly glorious event of words and music for Christmas. This is the text of my reflection: Christmas is that time of year when Christians, around the world, gather together in towering cathedrals and small parish churches, to celebrate, through word and song, the birth of the boy child in the manager 2000-years ago. It seems, no matter how old we are, we never tire of hearing the story of the Angels appearing to the shepherds in the field, and the bright Star which led the Wise Men from the East to the stable in Bethlehem.
Christmas is the most glorious season of the year. It is also a busy time for most of us. We become so caught up in the pressures of celebrating that we tend to place our emphases on the wrong things, and, too often, miss the simple joys of commemorating the birth of the child in the manger; and of the pleasure of sharing with friends.
Finding the real joy of Christmas comes not in the hurrying to get more done; and it’s the giving, not the getting, which brings to full-bloom the Christmas spirit. In this computerised, electronic age of Facebook, Instagram and twitter – which is what I thought birds did in trees, but it seems not – what is the spirit and meaning of Christmas? Is it is to be found in feeling more kindly to one another; in reaching-out with love to help those less fortunate? Is it when our hearts are softened, and enemies are forgiven and friends remembered? The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture-window of the soul, providing all of us with a moment to look-out onto the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than we are in things.
How much better the world would be if we gave each other gifts of understanding and compassion; of service and friendship; of kindness and gentleness; and of tolerance and acceptance, all the while ignoring colour, creed, and race. The second verse of our National Anthem says: ‘For those who’ve come across the sea, we’ve boundless plains to share’.
I wonder if that’s so? To a greater extent, Christmas has been hijacked by cynics; exploited by capitalists; and trampled by consumers. Constantly, the spirit of the season comes under withering attack. For Christmas we’ve substituted ‘holiday season’. The supermarket checkout lines go on forever; we whinge when only one of 10 registers is open; we hunt the elusive parking space like wolves around an injured prey; and cheap-suited Santas charge a King’s ransom for a picture of a child – in many instances, screaming in terror. It’s Christmas, but we’re like the man who goes to the beach but never really sees the ocean.
Most of the issues that drive people apart are petty and selfish.
Christmas celebrations often become the backdrop for renewed acrimony. The real joy of celebration is to be found in a spirit of reconciliation and rejoicing.
Christmas affords a stern reminder that, with just a little consideration, people whom we’ve callously left-out in the cold could have a welcome place with us around the Christmas tree if only we were prepared to be more like the child whose birthday we celebrate.
Christmas provides an opportunity to rid the heart of sadness and gloom. The spirit of hope, brightens and whitens all that it touches. Yet the question remains: What is the real meaning of Christmas? Is it the gifts under the tree; the lights in the windows; the cards in the mail; a Christmas table groaning under the weight of an excess of food; and shouts of “Merry Christmas” to those whom we pass in the streets? Is this really Christmas? For many people, Christmas is a time of sorrow; a season to survive. Depression, grief and loneliness are often exacerbated by shattered family circumstances, and increased debt. Many suffer a sense of failure when they don’t have the money to buy presents for their children, family, and friends. Others are saddened at Christmas when they think of their loved ones, who, for various reasons, won’t be home to join in the festivities. For some, Christmas lunch is a wish of the heart, and not a reality. Yet, Christmas can be a season of great joy.
Once upon a time, there was a man who worked very hard just to keep food on the table for his family. This particular year, a few days before Christmas, he punished his five-year-old daughter, after learning that she had used up the family’s only roll of expensive gold wrapping paper.
As money was tight, he became even more upset when, on Christmas Eve, he saw that the child had used all of the expensive gold paper to decorate one shoe box which she had placed under the Christmas tree. He also was concerned about how she’d come-by the money to buy whatever was contained in the shoe box.
Early the next morning, Christmas Day, the little girl, filled with excitement, brought the gift box to her father and said: “This is for you, Daddy!” As he opened the box, the father was embarrassed by his earlier over-reaction. Silently, he regretted having punished her; however, when he opened the shoe box, his anger flared once more. The shoe box was empty: “Don’t you know, young lady,” he said harshly, “when you give someone a present, there’s supposed to be something inside the package!” The little girl looked-up at him. Her eyes filled with tears which rolled down her cheeks. She whispered: “Daddy, it’s not empty. I blew kisses into it until it was all full.” Immediately, the father was overcome with remorse. He fell on his knees and put his arms around his precious little girl. He begged her forgiveness for being mean-spirited and angry. A short time later, an accident took the life of the child. The father was distraught. From that day on, and for all the remaining years of his life, he kept the little gold box by his bedside. Whenever he was discouraged, or faced difficult problems, he would open the box, take out an imaginary kiss, and remember the love of this beautiful child who had put it there.
In a very real sense, each of us has been given an invisible golden shoe box, filled with unconditional love and kisses from our children, family, friends and God. There is no more precious possession anyone could ever wish to hold.
To each of you – a Happy Christmas.
Tickets: Ticketmaster.com.au or 136 008 Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30.