I haven’t shared my Christmas reflections for the past few years. Christmas should be a time of celebration, and there just didn’t seem to be much to celebrate about our current society or the world situation. Christianity, at least today’s dominant version of it, seemed to be contributing more to the problems than to solutions. But Christmas is also a time of hope—a time to reflect on what could be as well as what is.
Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” [John 10:10]. How do we turn that hope, that possibility, into reality—not just for ourselves but for everyone? The Bible makes it pretty clear that Jesus wasn’t talking about a life of abundant material or financial wealth. He was referring to a life that not only meets our basic material needs but also provides the social and spiritual sustenance essential for a life of true abundance—a life of happiness.
When Jesus was asked about the first commandment for abundant living, he responded: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” [Mark 12:30-31]. As I have written in previous posts, I believe the most comprehensive definition of love is “a belief in the inherent goodness” of the objection of affection. To love, is to act on that belief. A life of abundance is a life guided by love.
The Bible teaches that God is love: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” [1 John 4:8]. The Bible also teaches that God is the source of all love. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.” [1 John 4:7]. To love God spiritually is to believe, by faith, in the inherent goodness of God. To love God mentally is to understand what that this belief requires of us. To love God physically is to act on our understanding of the inherent goodness of God in ourselves and in others—to love.
These basic Christian beliefs can also be found in virtually all of the major religions and enduring philosophies of the world—the Golden Rule. Differences among religions and philosophies relate far more to specific dogmas and rituals than to differences in fundamental belief concerning how we should live. The only major exception is the currently dominant belief that the blind pursuit of individual economic and material wealth is somehow magically transformed into a more abundant life for the whole of society and humanity. This idealistic belief system is less than 100 years old and its believers have nothing to confirm its validity.
So, how do we turn the hope for an abundant life into reality in an increasingly divisive and dysfunctional society. First, we must continue to love those who we know personally—family, friends, neighbors—regardless of whether we agree with their religious or political perspectives. Again, from the Bible, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” [1 John 4:20]. This doesn’t mean that we should agree, or even pretend to agree, with whatever statements others may make or actions they may take. The fact that someone is basically a good person at the core of his or her being doesn’t mean that everything they say or do will reflect the inherent goodness within.
We humans are all fallible beings. We make mistakes and need tolerance and forgiveness. We have the capacity to doubt and to hate as well as believe and love. We have the capacity for selfishness and greed as well as generosity and compassion. Our words and actions do not always reflect the inherent goodness we know is within us. We just need to be willing to see the same inherent goodness in those with whom we disagree as we see in ourselves. The hope is that if we continue to love one another we can learn to live peacefully together, even if we don’t agree on everything.
Our love cannot be limited to those we know personally. From Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” [Matthew 43-45]. Again, this doesn’t mean that we should accept everything others say or do in furthering their particular religious or political beliefs. Discrimination, exploitation, and aggression are motivated by fear, greed, and hate, not love, and are never acceptable actions. We should do whatever we can to protect and support the victims of such acts of oppression. That being said, our only hope for domestic tranquility and global peace is to continue to see the inherent goodness in others—no matter how deeply hidden it may be by their current words and actions.
The Bible also suggests that an abundant life is about loving relationships with the other living and nonliving things of the earth. The Bible proclaims that God created the earth and everything upon the earth, and “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” Genesis 1:31]. The apostille Paul wrote, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” [Romans 1:19-20] The inherent goodness of God is present in the whole of the earth—His creation. A belief in the inherent goodness of other living and nonliving things of the earth is as much an expression of our love of God as our love of other people.
Regardless of our religious or philosophical beliefs, a life of abundance is a life of love: a life guided by a belief in the goodness of each other and of the whole of the earth. To live abundantly is to act on that belief: to love. This is what Christmas is all about: faith, love, and the hope for a more abundant life. In faith and love, there is always hope.
Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for an Abundant New Year