Sleeve Notes 101: 12/24/2006 - 12/31/2006

Thursday, December 28, 2006


“Silver Bells, Silver Bells, It’s Christmas time in the City…” “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…” “Hark the Herald Angels sing, glory to the newborn king…”

Sounds of the season greeted me as I meandered through Cerritos Town Center. In shop after shop I was invariably wished a “Merry Christmas” as those paid to separate me from my hard-earned dollars rang up my purchases. From the swankiest stores to the little ma-n-pa shops, everyone seemed intent on wishing me the best Christmas ever.

As I drove along the broad, tree-lined avenues that surround my home, I was struck by how many of my neighbors were in the Christmas spirit. Tens of thousands of dollars had been spent on lighting and decorations. Nativity scenes dotted various lawns. “Merry Christmas” screamed at me from so many of my neighbor’s lawns and in so many shapes, sizes, varieties and colors (not to mention the many different types of lighting used) that it was hard not to get a little worked up.

For those who know me best, you know that I’m not a big fan of Christmas with all its crass commercialism. For the past several years the lead up to Christmas has been made especially tiresome because of the need of certain of these self-proclaimed Christmas guardians to claim that a war on Christmas and Christians has been declared. Likening themselves to the martyrs of ancient days, these self-proclaimed guardians of “tradition” have bullied even the news-media to accept this far-fetched notion that the Christ of Christmas is being done away with.

Call me a skeptic, but I greeted the news of this little “war” with full salt-shaker in hand, and with good reason. The beautiful carols of my childhood still ring out. The Salvation Army bell ringers still greet me in front of nearly every store. Wishes for a Merry Christmas are still arriving, sent from stranger and friend alike. What war?

Ah, but to listen to Bill O’Reilly, of Entertainment Tonight fame (yes…he was originally a purveyor of celebrity and entertainment gossip), tell it, or to hear Jerry Falwell or Jim Dobson (of “I see gay people!” infamy), one would think that Christ and Christmas were in their last throes. Über-Conservative sexpot Ann Coulter was all over the airwaves in the lead-up to the Holidays talking about the exclusion of Christians from the fabric of America. Did I miss something?

This Holiday Season, as I have spent time reflecting on what Christmas is all about (and for those confused, it ain’t about the presents or the trees or the lights or the parties), I have begun to really pay attention to Jesus’ teachings from what we know of as the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God” - Matt 5:1 (NIV). As I have thought more and more about this teaching, another scripture has begun running around through my mind; II Peter 2:1 (The Message) says: “But there were also lying prophets among the people then, just as there will be lying religious teachers among you. They'll smuggle in destructive divisions, pitting you against each other - biting the hand of the One who gave them a chance to have their lives back!”

Those that broker in war cannot truthfully be called peacemakers. These purveyors of war have skillfully smuggled “in destructive divisions pitting” us against each other. Why? Could it be because they worship another god? Has the allure of money, power and prestige become more important than humbly following in the path that Christ blazed?

Galatians 5:17 (KJV) says that we have been “called unto liberty” but that we aren’t to use “liberty as an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Being a Christian, or follower of Christ, carries a responsibility to serve others. Apparently ministry after ministry and pundit after pundit are more interested in serving themselves and their bank accounts…all in the name of Christ.

This week we lost a great American President…Gerald R. Ford. In today’s society, men like him are rare – both in politics and in church leadership. Men who are willing to cross the ideological aisle and work with those with whom they may fundamentally disagree. And yet, perhaps all is not lost. I listened to Pastor Rick Warren this past week talk about the level of civility and discourse in our country and how it has seemingly disappeared. He then said that it doesn’t have to be this way and in fact is modeling it in his own life.

During this lead-up to a brand new year, I’m working hard at taking Jesus’ words to heart…“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God!” Real happiness in the New Year won’t come from building my empire…it will come by being a peacemaker and by serving others.