Joy to the World

joy-to-the-world

Tis the season to be jolly, but for many people there might seem little to be jolly about.  In one of the most famous holiday stories of all time, the central character Ebenezer Scrooge gave what has become an iconic line about the holiday season.  Scrooge said:

“What’s Christmas but a time for finding yourself a year older and not a day richer?  There’s nothing merry in that.  If I could work my will, nephew, every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Not exactly a fan of Christmas, Scrooge may have echoed sentiments that lie dormant in many of us.  Over the years, it seems the holiday season starts earlier and earlier.  There is more pressure than ever to buy the right gifts and to spend increased amounts of hard earned money on presents for friends and loved ones.  The airwaves and pulpits bemoan the crass commercialism that accompanies so much of the holiday season while at the same time making sure that all commercial breaks are properly inserted between the “holiday messages.”

Our churches are full of giving trees, toy drives and Christmas shoes boxes.  Perhaps giving more at Christmas to some mysteriously perceived needy children in dire need of more toys will make us feel better about ourselves for ignoring the poor and needy for the rest of the year.  Even at church, the message that Jesus meant for us gets diluted with the drive to fill the toy box.  Do we even know any more what message Jesus wanted us to hear?

the-gospelJesus talked about the three classes of good people.  The first class hears his message but has little time to do anything about it.  The second class hears the message and when convenient they try to help others and spread the message of Jesus.  The third class commits their body and soul to sharing Jesus’s message.  The third class of men/women make a commitment to doing this year round and 24/7.  For the third class, it is not a onetime thing or something to be done when they have time or are not busy.  It is a lifetime commitment to share his message with the world.

“The title, Three Classes of Men, stands for three kinds of persons in any walk of life. They might be three classes of religious or priests, husbands or wives, workers or professional men.  However, classified, they represent three levels of volitional disposition to sacrifice whatever is less than God and stands in the way of His more perfect service and love.  Viewed from another aspect, they are three states of spiritual detachment which in ascending degree dispose a man for the reception of divine grace.  Implicit in the meditation is the belief that no matter how entangled in secular pursuits and impeded in the way of perfection, a person can rise above this condition if he takes the trouble to recognize these impediments and is humble enough to pray for help to overcome them.” — Three Classes of Men by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Most of us will watch at least a few moving holiday stories before December 25th.  From Miracle on 34 Street to the story of the Christmas Truce during the fighting of WWI, we will hear many heartwarming tales of kindness and love.  Most of these stories are similar in theme to the Christmas Carol.  An individual who has utter contempt or callousness for the Christmas message somehow finds redemption through the love and compassion of others.

quote-the-life-of-jesus-christ-is-a-message-of-hope-a-message-of-mercy-a-message-of-life-in-max-lucado-90-79-19The Joy of Christmas is a state of fulfillment, contentment and gratitude.  Through the love of others who give selflessly of themselves, we can all be free to experience a Joy that cannot be bought or traded.  It is one of the reasons that giving and not receiving is said to be the true path to happiness.  During the holidays, we are excited about the chance to give to others.  And nowhere is that feeling of giving more delightful than in watching the face of a young child receive something that we know they really wanted.  However, Joy to the World should mean more than just giving toys to tots.  There are physical gifts which we can give but there are also emotional and spiritual gifts as well.

thank-you-fatherI am frequently critical of all the toy drives that I see going on at Christmastime.  Not just because I think most kids in America have more toys than they know what to do with, but because of the message that this sends.  Why not I ask, have a “books for tots” drive?  Why not give books for a present?  Why is it always about toys?  We become so narrowly focused that we lose sight of the larger picture.

Christmas is about Joy.  But Joy does not just come from toys.  Joy comes from learning.  Joy comes from sharing.  Joy comes from helping others.  Joy comes from being present when needed by others.  Joy is not just a physical phenomenon; it is a spiritual and emotional phenomenon.  The Message of Joy that Jesus wanted to bring into the world was a message about peace and love.

I see a lot of talk these days about putting the Ten Commandments up on scrolls and even billboards.  Here in Arizona City, they have erected a billboard with the Ten Commandments printed on it.  To the best of my knowledge, Jesus said

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:17-20

acts-kindness-inspiremoreThus, Jesus did not come to replace the commandments but he did come to go beyond the commandments.  God brought the commandments to Moses but the message that Jesus brought to us is in addition to the commandments.  Jesus extended the Ten Commandments with a list that has come to be known as the Eight Beatitudes.   A beatitude is something that gives one both happiness and blessedness.  Jesus gave these Eight during his famous Sermon on the Mount:

THE EIGHT BEATITUDES OF JESUS

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

message-to-the-worldI am continually surprised by so-called Christians who seem to revel in the Ten Commandments but treat the Eight Beatitudes as though they were bastard children of Satan.  When was the last time you heard anyone wanting to put up a statue or sculpture or sign with the Eight Beatitudes on it?  The Message of Christmas is the Eight Beatitudes.  The Joy that Jesus wanted to bring to the world can only come by following the Eight Beatitudes.  If you call yourself a Christian but you do not practice these in you daily life, then you are not spreading the Gospel of Jesus.

In this present climate of fear, bigotry and uncertainty engendered by the recent US Presidential race and outcome, the message of Jesus needs to be repeated and spread as never before.  If there was no Joy in Muddville when Casey struck out, there certainly will not be any Joy in the World until all of us, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Baha’i  and others start believing in and following the Eight Beatitudes.  I am not saying this to try to convince anyone to be a Christian.  The kindness-quotes1words of the Beatitudes go beyond any one religion.  They speak to a way of being in the world and a way of treating other human beings.  Just as I have found valuable teachings in other religions, I think more Christians should be willing to share the Message of Jesus in the Eight Beatitudes.  Keep in mind though, that sharing this message will never work unless you also live by the message.  You must be the change you want to see in others.  Do you know what the famous Indian Chief Sitting Bull said when asked what he thought of Christianity?  Chief Sitting Bull replied: “I have read your Bible and the religion seems good but I do not see many White people practicing it.”

Time for Questions: 

  • When we denigrate people on welfare and refuse to support the poor and needy what Beatitude are we ignoring?
  • When we want to wage war on other countries to support our lifestyle, what Beatitude are we breaking?
  • When we have no time for immigrants and refuse to shelter those needing respite from tyranny and injustice, what Beatitude speaks to this?
  • When we practice racism and discrimination towards those who are different from us in thoughts, words or deeds, what Beatitude are we not following?
  • When we fail to speak out against bigotry and hatred, what Beatitude would challenge our behavior?
  • When we fail to treat others with honesty and integrity, what Beatitude are we disdaining?
  • When we fail to give compassion and comfort to those in need, what Beatitude should we be thinking more of?
  • When we practice narcissism and think we are better than others, what Beatitude would Jesus tell us to look at more closely?
  • Which “Class” of people do you belong to?

Life is just beginning.

“The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness.  It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.” — Thomas S. Monson
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Dear Friends, Family and Loved Ones,

Benjii our sheepThe year is 2015.  It is the Year of the Sheep.  Sheep are gentle and calm and we love their wool.  We bought a sheep this year and named him Benjie.  He lives in the living room and keeps us company.  He is very low maintenance.  It is hard to believe that the end of 2015 is only a few days away.   My blog this week will be our annual Holiday letter that Karen and I both write and send out through a variety of media including snail mail, emails, hand delivery and my blog.  Each year, we use this letter to sum up our lives and the events or people that have had an impact on us during the year.  Probably not very exciting but this was 2015 for us.

Karen and John

Karen and John

It is 5 days before Christmas as I write this.  We celebrate the holidays each year rather traditionally.  Karen loves to bake Swedish cookies that she learned from her grandmother and also make a ton of lefse, much of what she gives away to a coterie of fans who swoon over it.  Myself, I would rather have fruitcake which I now buy each year from Costco.  I have many fewer fans for my fruitcake.  Less presents under the tree each year and gift cards now seem to be the order of the day.  We spend evenings watching old Christmas specials on Netflix which help get me in the mood for the holidays.  Christmas was never a really big deal for me like it is for Karen.  One message that seems to keep emerging from most of these movies:  Christmas is really not about presents, travels, accomplishments or awards.  Its real meaning is the love of the people we care about.  In this respect, 2015 was a good year.

Xibo and Dan DanKaren and I made a trip in January to see some very good friends in San Francisco and Karen’s son, Kevin.  Karen juggled her time to be able to spend some good time with Kevin and even get a glimpse of his new job at LinkedIn.  When we came back to Wisconsin, Karen was able to get some time in with her daughters Julie and Susan.  Karen and Susan went out together to visit my sister Jeanine in Rhode Island for the 4th of July and had a grand time.  Alas, the grandkids seem to have mostly flown the nest (Is there an empty next for Grandparents?) and it is hard to tag or catch up with them.  Nevertheless, Logan, Garrick (now engaged to Kat), Sam and Zach all seem to be pursuing the typical life of most young people today.  They are either in school or working and trying to really figure out what they will be when they get old like us.  We see them occasionally like ships passing in the night. I suppose our snow birding between Arizona and Wisconsin also complicates the matter.

megan and karenKaren and Megan now have a good thing going and each year around this time they get together for several days of baking.  It becomes a mother and daughter day to schlep flour and sugar all other each other’s kitchen since they alternate houses to flour.  This year we will finally get to meet Megan’s new friend Dave.  After cookie baking this Saturday, we plan to go to one of his gigs and listen to his band.  Dave is a guitarist and singer with a popular cover band named Furious George in Phoenix.

Curves Group

Karen and her friends at Curves 

If relationship wise, we were doing a balance sheet for 2015, on the whole it would be very positive.  However, it was not without its losses.  Both Karen and I lost some good friends this year.  Death seems to be something that becomes almost omnipresent these days both on a personal level (with more and more loved ones aging) and on a social level with the media constantly showering us with episodes of violence and mayhem.  Perhaps, something I should not bring up at Christmas time, but as Jesus was about bringing love into world, maybe it is something to reflect on.  I have to admit, my blogs (see www.agingcapricously.com) have been more and more about the evils and vices that I believe it is our personal responsibility to confront.  As I age, I wonder how I can do more in this respect or if I am even doing enough.  Am I making a difference or just annoying people?  I try to balance a certain amount of negativity in my blogs with a decent dose of let’s say “positivity” if there is such a word.  One of my most popular blogs was on the subject of gratitude.  I am certainly grateful for the good health that has blessed Karen and me this year.

Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble

Karen and the Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble

Karen and I are both working part-time.  I continue to teach both residentially and on-line.  Karen passed her certification test on the new ICD-10 coding procedures in September as well as doing some home health consulting.  I am envious that at 71 years of age, she has more job prospects than I had when I was 22.  She has so much work in her queue that I have to keep reminding her to have fun and enjoy her retirement.  In actuality both of us would go crazy without some regular work to keep us focused.  I guess neither of us has ever learned how to play well.

On the other hand, after years of practice, music camps and many music jams in Minnesota, Arkansas, Kentucky and now Arizona,  Karen has become an excellent dulcimer player and enjoys playing with dulcimer friends in WI and just south of here with the Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble.   In the last two weeks, she has played at a fund raiser for the local library, a Red Hat women’s group and an Episcopal Church bazaar.  We don’t have to worry about taxes though as these are all free gigs.  I keep encouraging her to keep it up though as someday there might be a talent scout out there and she could be the next Lady Gaga.  Carnegie Hall here we come.  I can pick out her outfits.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all.  My God bless you and keep you with good health and much happiness.

John and Karen

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