Christmas Tidings

I’ve a bit more shopping to do before Christmas. I know it’s late for this sort of thing, but my excuse has always been that I’m a guy, and that’s just how we do things. You know, drive around the mall parking lot for hours looking for a parking spot on Christmas Eve, just so we can find the perfect gifts for everyone on our list. Except that we have absolutely no clue what those “perfect” gifts might be. I’ve met a few guys who do early Christmas shopping (you know, before Dec. 1) but I think they are genetically modified…

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Our slogans for the season tout peace and goodwill. Of course, those traits vanish when two drivers head for the same parking spot, or a brawl breaks out at Wal-Mart over the last favorite toy available…until tomorrow. We are not a species constitutionally given over to peace and goodwill. We are not content. I am not content.

One of the principles I learned in management class many decades ago was that money is always a dis-satisfier. No one has ever said they have enough money with a straight face. Of course, there are varying degrees of this monetary dissatisfaction. Some are more driven to be dissatisfied than others. This is not unusual, or even a purely human phenomenon.

I’ve raised and tended to animals all my life. I bet when you read that sentence, the thought of cows and sheep contentedly grazing on a hillside pops into your mind. Or perhaps the hours spent tending to a weak newborn, or cutting hay in the summer to insure the animals have enough to eat in the winter. Yes, these are all accurate pictures. Then there is that old saying, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Yeah. Always.

I’ve spent more time chasing animals back to where they should be than any other activity on the farm. Given the right pasture and rotation, cattle tend to be the most content of the animals I’ve kept. Horses are pretty good too, though they are pasture killers. Both will exploit any weakens in a fence the moment they become dissatisfied.

And then there are sheep. Specifically, my sheep. They are a breed specifically designed for meat, shedding their wool/hair, and apparently, breaking down fences. They are simply not contented animals. I’ve had them destroy older barbed wire fences that have held cattle and horses for years. They laugh at an electric fence, their wool being a perfect insulator. If they want something on the other side of a fence, they will figure a way to get to it. I’ve had them push through a seven-strand barbed wire fence – brand new. Frustrating.

My youngest daughter is the farm shepherdess. Her physical education consists mainly in rounding up the sheep from where they shouldn’t be. My temporary answer to all of this has been to expand the list of places they can be. Off-limits now consist of the highway, the neighbors’ flowers, and my front yard (most of the time).

Contentment is an elusive commodity. If you’ve acquired it, congratulations. You’re at peace. The rest of us, not so much.

When the angels proclaimed peace and goodwill to the shepherds in the field, what were they saying? My take is that with the presence of the Christ child, the Almighty had entered our world in a unique way in order to bring about a peace that would reflect His character. Jesus became God’s unique expression of peace and love to His creation.

What we sometimes miss in the story is the fact that Jesus spent the first 30 years of his life preparing for the last three. Or perhaps we can say, maturing.

The fact that I have not arrived at the point of contentment and peace only means that I am still on a journey and the question isn’t so much about the my present location (in the weeds…) but the road and the destination I’m heading toward. John Bunyan wrote a book a few years back entitled “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” It’s about the journey, folks.

Western Christians tend to be pretty cerebral about their faith. Just browse the R. Catholic catechism. Eastern Christians are a bit different. Faith in the east has always been harder as it’s been up against other well-formed, dominant religions for centuries. It is a faith lived out against the backdrop of conflict and persecution. It is truly a life lived in prayer for “our daily bread.”

I’m tempted here to get all theological and write about Dante, theosis, and yoga. But nope, need to keep this focused. Just like the rest of life. Perhaps the key to finding peace this season isn’t so much looking at the big picture (“look at all the grass on the other side of the fence”) as focusing on the small. Here. Now. Our daily bread.

My wish this season is for each of us to be in the moment, but to also realize you are on a journey of incredible importance. You are loved, not by an impersonal force, but by the Creator who has plans for us for peace and goodwill.

Merry Christmas!!!