by Diane Rufino, December 25, 2019
A heartfelt wish for a very Merry Christmas – from my family to yours.
Our wish is that faith and family are strengthened this holiday season and that each of us sees one another not as enemies but as friends, even when the situation would make it very hard to do so. In the end, we need to be reminded that we all claim this state and/or this country as our home, we all value peace and love, and we all have our particular views on just about every issue out there. Tolerance isn’t always easy, but we all need to give it our best shot. As John Kennedy once said: “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
We also are reminded that Christmas isn’t about gifts and parties; it’s about the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our lives have been forever changed because our merciful God sent us his son to live among the Jews, to teach them, and ultimately to suffer and die for everyone’s sins in order that they may be forgiven and have eternal life with the Father. Christmas (and Easter) are the holidays we celebrate to remind us of this most wondrous of gifts. And hopefully we are reminded that we should conduct ourselves to show gratitude for this gift.
We honor the Lord best when we conduct our lives and make choices that reflect the lessons of Jesus. No amount of reading the Bible can substitute for the real life witnessing of his lessons in action. Christ taught us to love one another, to help one another, and to serve one another selflessly. We read these words and these themes in the Bible, but when you see people actually living these words and witnessing the difference they make in the lives of others and also how it blesses themselves, you see the power in those lessons.
John Winthrop brought this message to America in 1630 when he delivered a prayer to the Puritan settlers aboard the Arabella, as they were about to reach Massachusetts Bay Colony. He explained that the only way to convince others of the power of their faith and the benefit of the lessons of Christianity was to adhere to those lessons in their lives and have them guide their communities. He referred to that experiment as “a shining city on a hill.”
In offering a model for the Puritan settlement (“A Model of Christian Charity”), he first offered the reasons for it:
He might have the more occasion to manifest the work of his Spirit: first upon the wicked in moderating and restraining them, so that the rich and mighty should not eat up the poor, nor the poor and despised rise up against and shake off their yoke. Secondly, in the regenerate, in exercising His graces in them, as in the great ones, their love, mercy, gentleness, temperance etc., and in the poor and inferior sort, their faith, patience, obedience etc. Thirdly, that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection.
And then, in explaining how to apply the model, he explained:
We are entered into covenant with Him for this work. We have taken out a commission. We have hereupon besought Him of favor and blessing. Now if the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then hath He ratified this covenant and sealed our commission, and will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it; but if we shall neglect the observation of these articles which are the ends we have propounded, and, dissembling with our God, shall fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnal intentions, seeking great things for ourselves and our posterity, the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us, and be revenged of such a people, and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant.
Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “may the Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.
Several presidents have echoed this “shining city upon a hill” metaphor to somehow remind Americans of their duty and obligations to reflect goodness and Christian charity in the way they live their lives and therefore to influence the character of American communities, including Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. They believed in the best of human nature.
Our faith isn’t meant simply to help others and make us more into the servants that God and Christ intended us to be, but it is also to inspire those who are not intimately knowledgeable or inspired by the Gospels.
The classical pianist George Frideric Handel believed this. He used his oratorios to inspire, including his most famous – Messiah (with its “Hallelujah” chorus). The first London performance of Messiah took place at the Covent Garden Theatre (now the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden) on March 23, 1743, in the presence of King George II. When he heard the words, ‘The kingdom of this world . . . ‘ (Hallelujah Chorus) the King rose to his feet and remained standing until the end of the number. The king stood, most likely, to indicate he recognized Christ was King of Kings. When the king stood, everyone stood. The tradition of standing when the “Hallelujah” chorus commences continues. Following this performance, one of the British lords congratulated Handel on the excellent entertainment. Handel replied, “My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wished to make them better…”
Merry Christmas everyone. We hope that your holiday season centers around the one for who we celebrate this joyous occasion – Jesus. Let’s take his cue and strive to make others better by knowing us and having us take an interest in their lives. We make our country greater when its people are better, and we make the world greater when we indeed shine this light upon the world.