Here's Something: Christmas offers a gift even better than tax reform

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Last week, I wrote about Israel and the Middle East peace process. While writing that column, the Bible verse, “Peace, Peace; but there is no peace,” came to mind quite often. Everyone is talking about peace and the peace process, but they are far from finding peace in Israel.

This week, the phrase running through my head is similar: “Christmas, Christmas; but there is no Christmas.”

It’s amazing how much Christmas we are bombarded with each year. It’s great that people decorate their houses, that shops put up decorations and slash prices, that community groups hold events with Santa and that we enjoy fun movies like “Elf” and “The Santa Clause” with the family. But there’s so much Christmas going on that it’s easy to forget what it really means.

Christmas is a funny thing, really. While our culture treats it as the biggest religious holiday of the year, it really isn’t the biggest day in Christianity. Easter is the bigger deal. Christmas is important, to be sure, because Jesus’ birth fulfilled lots of Old Testament prophecy, including Isaiah’s prediction that “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”

But the Easter resurrection story is what Christianity revolves around and depends on, and it’s what makes Christianity different from all other religions – that God was the only one who could pay the price for our sins (through Jesus’ dying on the cross) and that no amount of good deeds or godly living or devout works could win us divine favor.

This is a foreign concept for many people. It’s no wonder that Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and all the other -isms preach works-based ways to salvation. They preach that we can please God through our own actions. But Christianity, which says salvation is a gift, requires a mind-blowing leap of faith to accept.

But while Easter is the greatest story ever told, the Christmas story, recounted in Chapter 2 of Luke, is a pretty amazing story, too. It involves crazy things like God impregnating a virgin girl. It involves a triumvirate from the Orient hiking their way across Middle Eastern deserts to Bethlehem to give a recently born child expensive presents like gold and incense and myrrh. It involves the son of the creator of the universe being born in a humble manger where beastly farm animals usually were born. It involves the paranoid king of Israel getting so freaked out by the threat of a new king rising up that he demands all boys under the age of 2 to be killed in an effort to head off his own demise. Yeah, the Christmas story is a cliffhanger.

But the way we celebrate Christmas has nothing to do with the Bible, except maybe the gift exchange on Christmas day, which symbolizes how Jesus was God’s gift to mankind. Other than that, Christmas has more to do with celebrating Santa Claus than anything else.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I like jolly ol’ St. Nick and his reindeer. I like the idea of chestnuts roasting over an open fire. I like sparkly Christmas trees in the living room. I like stockings and sleigh bells and blow-up figures on front lawns. But let us not confuse real Christmas with the culture’s version of Christmas. They’re two totally different things.

Christmas, as the history books tell us, was fairly inconsequential not too long ago. The day barely registered on the holiday scales until Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” brought it to the fore in 1843. To me, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the three ghosts of Christmas is almost as good as the Christmas story in the Bible. It’s the best non-religious Christmas story ever told.

In it, Scrooge is us and we are Scrooge. We live our lives as if our work and daily chores are the only things that matter and then one day we wake up, as Scrooge did, and realize that we’ve just wasted years of our lives pursuing ultimately meaningless things. But even as an old man, Scrooge was able to turn his life around to focus on something better. He became more loving, more open and more attuned to the deeper meaning of life.

The Biblical Christmas story is similar. Receiving God’s gift to mankind wakes us up to real meaning of life. I hope you enjoy a merry and meaningful Christmas, and I bet it’ll be even better than the tax reform package that President Trump said would be the best gift we’d ever receive.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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  • Just Sayin’

    I cannot help but find an interesting and perhaps telling tidbit in today’s article.

    “In it, Scrooge is us and we are Scrooge.” writes Mr. Ballentine. Well, perhaps Mr. Scrooge was the character you felt most kinship with in the story.

    As for me? I always felt that Bob Cratchit was the character that the reader was supposed to identify with. Perhaps that’s why we so rarely see eye to eye.

  • Chew H Bird

    Hopefully the author realizes that Jesus was actually born in April, not December, and that Luke was written about 90 years after the death of Jesus… If not, I ask the author to think back 90 years ago and inform us of his family stories in similar detail to those written in Luke.

  • mainereason

    More moral platitude served with a healthy serving of ambiguous contradictions. “It isn’t really both, but its not one or the other. Either way, I like to think that it’s a little bit of both…… usually” Here’s Something, how about a coherent article now and then… but
    then again maybe that’s just my scrooge talking.

  • Linda Gouldrup

    You’ve made my Christmas with your marvelous article. Previous comments demonstrate their own misconceptions about the authentic Christmas. Of course the Christmas Carol is all about Scrooge and the remarkable change wrought in his life. Unfortunately there are many who can not believe…Faith is a gift. One only has to receive it. God bless us, everyone!!

    • Chew H Bird

      We all have faith. It is the beliefs that differ.

      • Linda Gouldrup

        We are talking about Christmas…distinctly Christian.

        • Chew H Bird

          Christmas was originally a pagan holiday adopted by the church at the time to maximize acceptance. Jesus was actually born in April…

          • Linda Gouldrup

            While the date may seem arbitrary, the reason was not. The early church was reaching out to pagans who were being converted to Christianity, but reluctant to give up their practices. Like Valentine’s Day, the date was chosen to replace pagan worship, not ‘adopted’, as you say. You seem genuinely interested in this topic so I refer you to multiple Q and A’s about Christmas. God bless your search.

            https://www.gotquestions.org/was-Jesus-born-in-September.html

          • Chew H Bird

            Based on astronomical events, Jesus was born in 2BC, on Saturday April 6th…

          • Linda Gouldrup

            the date of 2BC is generally accepted by Bible scholars, in part because Herod was still alive but died shortly after and because of a general census to count the known world under Rome. Disagreement exists on the origin of the star so I don’t give credence to conjunctions of astrological events. The wise men visited Jesus in a home after his return to Bethlehem from Egypt after Herod’s death, up to 2 years after the nativity.
            I’ve enjoyed our discussion Chew H Bird. Faith in God brings hope. Careful reading of the scriptures brings hope and peace.

          • Chew H Bird

            “Careful reading of the scriptures brings hope and peace.”

            I agree with this. Merry Christmas. FYI: Disagreements are normal with most aspects of life and history. As the Gospels were written and translated by many different writers, (Apostles not Disciples), and edited and revised by the church, I tend to believe there is a basis for the stories contained but suspect many of the details are less than accurate. Nice discussion.

          • Linda Gouldrup

            Thanks, Chew H. Bird….I’m interested in the origin of your name…my first guess is that it may reflect a native American heritage as my own history goes back to the Penobscots of Northern Maine. But I am probably way off base there. God bless your search for truth. It does exist. And
            have a very merry Christmas!