This issue of The News-Times is filled with Christmas stories from citizens across the county.
The tales range from the simple happiness of a Jennifer Randolph-Ellis finally getting a home with a fireplace so she could hang her stocking, to Bill Scholly's sad memory of a holiday interrupted by death, and all points in between.
Throughout them all is a common thread: Christmas is a time when we regularly gather to make memories. And this year, for some reason, we'll probably remember mostly that we gathered to debate the details about our celebration.
I'm not sure how we've made such a congregational celebration of a Christian holiday celebrating the quiet birth of the religion's namesake anyway, but Christmas has become a time to gather gaggles of people together to eat and swap presents - you know, all the stuff it took hours to wrap, and seconds to rip open.
Of course, I'm beginning to wonder if anyone wraps anything any more. Just about everybody seems to be going the gift-bag route; a present can be bagged and tagged in the front seat of the car en route to Grandma's house.
But I digress. It's Christmas, and if you're reading this you're probably not in church. Second only to the controversy over whether to say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" is the debate over whether to stick to family Christmas-morning traditions and stay home, or abide by the religious observance of the holiday by attending church. In the run-up to Christmas it seemed to acquire litmus-test status for Christians.
As a result, I expect that a great many people will be in church this morning for the wrong reason. They won't be there to celebrate Jesus' birth so much as they'll be attending so other people see them attending.
Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing; after all, Christians are supposed to set examples for other people, including other Christians. But there are a great many "peacock Christians": those for whom their faith is mostly a show for other people to see.
Not to get all religious on you, but the fanfare with which God welcomed the birth of his son on earth was limited to the view of just a few people - some shepherds, a few astronomers. Jesus stuck to this theme later on by teaching his followers that proper prayer is done in private, for God's ears and not those of all the people around you who might be impressed by eloquent words.
For that reason, I expect Jesus would roll his eyes a bit at all the spending and gift-bagging geared toward celebrating his birthday. Much the same way, he's probably not very impressed by the way we spiff up and pack churches on Easter.
After all, he is the one we're supposed to be trying to impress - and a guy who wore homespun cloth and handmade sandals isn't likely to be awed by your new dress and shoes.
Go to church? Stay home? That's between you and the big guy. It shouldn't be between you and the guy in the next pew or the preacher at the podium. Your neighbor's nodding approval of your decision to wait to empty gift bags won't win you any points with the man upstairs, especially if you're spending most of your time in church sneaking impatient glances at your watch.
However you spend Christmas - unless you're ignoring it altogether, if you're not a Christian, which probably means you already skipped back to the sports section by now - take just a few minutes away from the crowd at home, or the crowd at church, to spend time alone unwrapping the original gift from God that brought us to this place in time.
And it's perfectly OK to share this gift with others; Christianity, in fact, highly recommends this re-gifting.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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