Christmas is almost upon us. What do you want? I mean: What do you really want?
If you’re like me, you can think of a few gifts that would be nice to unwrap: a good book, a new tool for the workshop, replacements for those brown shoes that sprang a leak last month.
But, if you’re like me, you also have an image in your head of what you really hope for this time of year: your family, relaxing, maybe snuggled together on a couch; darkness seeping in from the window, broken only by the soft glow of a Christmas tree, or, better, a warm fire; the lingering aroma of a just-finished dinner; and, above all else, a contented quiet throughout the house.
Maybe it’s the sepia sketch from a Christmas card past. Maybe it’s the mental picture you get when singing of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, a winter wonderland, or a promise to be home for Christmas. Maybe you’re lucky enough to be recalling an actual memory.
Regardless, the feeling it evokes is more spiritual than material. I’ll bet that the word that comes to mind is “peace.”
Yet — if you’re still like me — you fear that, as in most years, what you’ll get is: Can we open presents yet? Let’s watch “A Christmas Story” (again)! Who’s going to do the dishes?
And the disappointment you feel won’t have to do with getting another tie instead of a table saw, but with knowing that you’ll have to keep waiting for that annually sought respite.
If so, you may find an explanation in the opening words of another Christmas carol:
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
Now, I personally believe the parts about angels and heaven’s all-gracious King. But for those who don’t share my beliefs, as well as those who do, let me turn your attention to the words “goodwill to men.”
The lyricist, a 19th-century Massachusetts pastor, took the words of “that glorious song of old” from the New Testament — specifically, Luke 2:14. But various biblical translations phrase the part about goodwill quite differently. One reads, “peace on earth to men of goodwill.”
Read that way, goodwill — which Webster’s defines as both “a friendly or kindly attitude” and “cheerful consent” — is a precondition of peace. If you sense a lack of peace in your life, or the world more broadly, I submit that you’re first picking up on our collective shortage of goodwill.
I’m not talking about the reason your family can’t sit peacefully in that dark, cozy den of your mind’s eye, for even a few minutes. Yes, our culture overwhelmingly focuses on the material over the spiritual or relational, in a way that creeps — barges, even — into our private-most lives. (And, yes, it may pass strange to receive those words from someone whose livelihood depends in large part on advertisements from the commercial sector.)
What I’m really talking about is the reason most of us wait for Christmastime to even dream of such a thing.
Try to find friendly, kindly attitudes in much of our political discourse. (I suspect it’s the absence of goodwill, or good faith, and not an unprincipled compromise, that most people mean when they bemoan a lack of “bipartisanship.”)
Try, most any day, to identify cheerful consent on our roadways, or on either end of the typical consumer-to-customer service telephone call. Heck, try to find goodwill in the words that come out of your own mouth each day. I know I often can’t.
And then look for ways to build goodwill with others on those days the world around you seems less than peaceful.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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