Christmas has become so wrapped in tissue paper and ribbon, so dominated by commercialism, so identified with parties and merriment that it is easy to forget what we’re supposed to be celebrating.
Still, most years there are enough examples of a healthy Christmas spirit to get us through the days. Every December there are stories of individuals and groups — both secular and church -affiliated — that expend time and energy to make the lives of the less fortunate a little bit better. This year was no exception.
And yet, this year is exceptional because of the tragic events in Newtown, Conn., where one young man for reasons yet unknown and for reasons perhaps never to be known forced his way into an elementary school and targeted small children for death.
It is difficult this year for anyone to look at the faces of the children around us as they react to the joy and wonder of the season without at least a momentary thought of those children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Or without thinking of how lucky some children and their parents are — and how cruel life can be to others.
This year as perhaps no other in recent memory, the final phrase of “Silent Night” is more poignant than ever before. In churches throughout the land, the words “sleep in heavenly peace” will touch a newly exposed nerve.
And yet we all know that life must go on, even in the face of almost unspeakable pain. The parents of 20 children in Newtown face a challenge that few can imagine as they try to rebuild the lives of their families. Indeed, that is a message of the season, a message that crosses, even, religious lines.
These are the earliest days of winter, which means that every new day brings us closer to the rebirth of spring. We are all assured that longer, brighter days lie ahead.
And so, while one of the most recognizable Christmas carols speaks of sleeping in heavenly peace, others tell of joy to the world, of peace on Earth and good will toward men and of angels singing.
Those songs reflect the way we all try to act in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day. And whether our acts of kindness have been elaborate and expensive or as simple as sharing a kind word or dropping a coin in the Salvation Army kettle, we are all better for it.