By Bruce Stambaugh
Make no mistake. The celebration of Christmas is a paradox. It always has been, and likely always will be.
I sensed that conundrum even as a child. Amid all of the glitz and glamor, the singing and shopping, all was not right with the world. Even in my limited adolescent life encounters, I saw extravagance and excess rub shoulders with poverty and despair.
As a young person, I had trouble reconciling such diametrically opposed situations. That didn’t prevent me from tearing into my presents, emptying my bulging stocking hanging by the fireplace, or enjoying the scrumptious meal our devoted mother had fixed.
We celebrated the season of sharing at elementary school, too. Before the classroom party, we often made simple decorations that I later volunteered to deliver to a local nursing home.
I’m not sure how much cheer the painted plaster ornaments or the looping strands of colorful paper chains gave the residents lying helpless in those hospital beds. The scene certainly left an indelible imprint on my young mind and soul.
I took seriously the Christmas message of a different kind of king ruling my life. Growing up in the shadows of World War II and in the daily doings of the Cold War, I felt the chill of unsettled political consequences. I didn’t pretend to understand them.
I just knew my heart, mind, and soul were open to something better, more meaningful, more fulfilling to not only me but also those I encountered. The Christmas story awakened in me as it did the shepherds eons ago.
As I grew and more fully understood that precious bit of history mixed with lore, wonder, and interpretation, I more clearly saw the point of Christmas. Life is full of contradictions, uncertainty, disappointment, hypocrisy, and greed. My duty was to counter the bad with the good wherever and whenever I could.
That belief guided my life. It stirred my career in education. It thrust me into community service via fire and rescue and as an elected official. I enjoyed helping people, and still do. I receive great pleasure in assisting others in need.
I’m no saint, however. I know I made mistakes. I am human. But I did what I could, working with those around me to get things done, mostly for the benefit of others.
So here I am nearly seven decades on this earth, still applying, still pondering that Christmas story of long ago. In so doing, I loathe that others are denied the privileges that I enjoy simply because of their beliefs, their skin color, their economic status, and their dire situation only because of where they live.
Citizens in Aleppo, Syria, Frakes, Kentucky, and Millersburg, Ohio know what I mean. Folks everywhere are hurting, and all the Christmas hoopla doesn’t always heal their hurts. The avalanche of carols, merriment, and partying might even inflame those problems.
The holidays can depress people more than they already are. They miss loved ones who passed on too close to Christmas. I can identify with that, too, having lost family and friends during the holidays.
Christmas is a time to ponder. It is an eternal gift that is unwrapped daily. A genuine gift of Christmas celebrates while serving, gives while receiving. It corrects injustices.
If you know a person who is down-and-out for whatever reasons, send them a card. Call them. Visit them. Feel their pain. Hear their cries.
Those are but a few reasonable opportunities to explain and experience this paradoxical holiday we call Christmas.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2016
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