^ the tree, the light, and the presents = good will to those we love an d to all men
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There is mankind at its worst, mankind in the ordinary, and mankind at its best. If today means anything, it means celebrating mankind at its best. That is what those who believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God celebrate in him. How can a human being be better than to be God’s only begotten son ? Believers in Jesus believe that there is a “best’ in human life, that it has been witnessed, that it will come again. But first of all, that a best human being was born, because being born is proof that he existed; that it is possible actually to encounter the best of human beings.
Today is the date that the Christian polity, under Emperor Constantine’s guidance, set as the date of Jesus’s birth. His actual birth day was not known. Nobody recorded it; when Jesus was born, he was born a very ordinary child to a very ordinary family. No early writing mentions the day of his birth, because none of the writers of that time (excepting possibly the beloved disciple in John) knew Jesus personally; and those people who did know him did not follow him because of what day he was born but because of what he was doing, decades later, when they recognized that he was very special. Thus the Church gathered 300 years later in synod assigned a day to Jesus’s birth. It was no ordinary day. On December 25 began the Roman world’s most important festival, the very pagan, very raucous, but entirely celebratory festival, the lupercalia. That festival celebrated the lengthening day after the Winter Solstice ; the return of the sun, of light, of planting season and bounteous harvest to come. It was a festival of hope, of optimism, of — good will to all men, that all might propser from the coming of the light.
By decreeing December 25 as the birth day of Jesus, the Church made Jesus’s birth a symbol of the light, of all best things. And so it has been ever since. The addition, much later, to December 25 of the St. Nicholas story — of the giving of presents — simply reiterates what Constantine and his bishops had in mind. The day symbolizing Jesus’s birth is to be a day of ritual bounty in honor of the bounty to come — to all men, in good will.
It really seems a miracle, that a bishop of Constantine’s day, St. Nicholas of Myra, became — via German folklore, of all things — the jolly German burgher named “Santa ‘Klaus,” a jolly symbol of the happiest day in the lives of everyone he visits this morning. But so it is. Santa really does live, doesn’t he ? And for those who, despite the history, think Santa just a cute invention, I refer you to the immortal 1890’s newspaper editorial “Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus.’ in which the writer assured his reader’s 10-year old daughter — for such she was — that Santa Claus (as we call him) is as real as happiness is real, as good will to all men is real.
You do not have to believe — in the Church that Constantine gave legal recognition to, form and process; and which well before Constantine’s day had taken to heart and soul the life and works of Jesus of Nazareth for proof of God’s good will to all men — to accord good will to all men a central place in your own life. You are not on this earth alone. None of us is here alone. We depend on each other in almost everything, every day; each of us accords respect to every one of us wherever we meet, when instead of injuring or being mean to someone, we encounter them with courtesy, patience, a smile, hospitality, a collaboration, a purchase, a conversation. We do this almost without realizing. It is second nature to us as members of the human community. but especially on this day set aside to honor — even worship — the best of men and the best in men, we restore the health of our souls, the clarity of our vision, the strength of our purpose, the charity and courtesy that we give to our fellows — no matter who we are or what God we believe in .
And of course the presents and the Christmas cards. Dear readers, take this little message as our Christmas card to you. You can even sing it : “Good will to all men, the light is come !”
—- the Editors / Here and Sphere