It's an exceptional landscape that Christmas heralds. At once, glorious and manipulative to its core. In regard to the latter, a storeowner once famously observed that if Christmas didn't exist, retailers would have to create it.
That seems sad but true in today's society, where so much emphasis is placed on materialism and financial status. Plainly, Christmas ought to be a time of reflection, a time to recall those sage words of St. Augustine: "What does it profit a man to gain the world, if he loses his soul?"
It is little wonder that those who measure their wealth in material things are often the emptiest this time a year. Television presents them with a steady stream of programming dedicated to the truly beautiful possibilities of life - love, family, God; they wish for this same warmth in their own lives, yet do not know how or where to find it.
Rather than lessening their anxiety, the single-minded pursuit of material goods has only exacerbated their angst. As they acquire these material goods, their souls become more restless and unfulfilled because they have set their sights on nothing else. They find little comfort in the wealth they've amassed and have lost their connection with their fellow human beings. When tragedy strikes, they have nowhere to go.
One way for them to find rest is by going to church, which gives a sense of peace through the knowledge that all gathered there are equal in God's sight. Yes, we are all sinners, but church helps us stay focused on what is most important in life, reminding us that we have a community to assist us through the hard times.
Many feel that they have no need to attend church, or do not realize their own restless longing for God. It is in church that we realize we are no more important in the eyes of our Creator than our poorest brothers and sisters. For He does not judge us by our status in society or the stocks we own, but by the goodness of our spirit.
If we feel envious of our neighbor because of his or her possessions and social status, it is through participation in the church community that we come to recognize that our Creator has blessed us by giving us one another. We must strive to be our brothers' keeper and remind everyone that the greatest power we have is to touch and care for the human spirit. We sometimes forget this power and fail to share what we have with one another through word, prayer and deed. Sometimes this giving can take the form of a single, kind word on the street to brighten a stranger's day or by serving Christmas dinner at your local homeless shelter or nursing home.
Our actions also serve us in reverse. We realize that by giving, we receive more than money can buy. When we give material wealth, it is just something to be gained and given without worry that we have lost something of ourselves. We can replace a car or a house, but a human life is priceless. In this life, we can only lose ourselves when we try to gain the material things of this world.
When will we wake up to the reality that all we truly possess and all we truly need is love and compassion for one another?