CHRISTMAS and calm used to be mutually exclusive to me! Yet one year was a turning point. At work one day I noticed that tempers were fraying and we were all rushing around more frantically than usual, for no obvious reason. Why should there be this sudden surge in hurriedness and irritation? Then it dawned on me: Christmas was approaching.
I realized then that Christmastime all too often comes wrapped up in a packaging of stress, of having too many things to do in too little time. I could also see something of the fact that this material view of Christmas as being an annual season of primarily secular activity--of gift giving, parties, overeating, and even of church attendance more for motives of tradition than devoutness--is not what Christmas is really about.
It also occurred to me, as I decided to pray about the stress I was noticing in myself and others, that the thought of pressure can't really take hold in our thinking without our consent. God is man's true Mind--as the Bible implies--so we don't need to give consent to a thought that clearly doesn't derive from the infinite calm of the divine Mind, God. Rather, we have the option of re-fusing to bow down to irritability and anxiousness on the spiritual grounds that God alone is responsible for determining man's being--not ma-terial factors, such as the time of year. The divine Mind is unshakably calm. And claiming man's true sonship as God's image and likeness assures us that we all reflect His divine and eternal serenity.
As I thought this through, a change took place in me. The hectic pace continued unabated around me. Yet I found myself becoming an island of calm in the midst of it all. I was quietly able to carry out my duties in an unflustered manner, free from irritation or stress. This experience of deep, spiritual calm overriding a very vivid sense of chaos helped me to see more of the spiritual meaning of Christmas as the daily coming to light of Christ--the spiritual idea of God--bringing salvation from sin, disease, and death.
That's not to say that I developed a Scrooge-like aversion to gift-giving, festive family meals, and bright, colorful lights! I did find that prayer enabled me to enjoy these aspects of life in a balanced way once I had given first priority to genuine, heartfelt worship of God. The problem is not so much in the seasonal activity as in the tendency to let it obscure the true message at the heart of Christmas. As the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, warns in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany: ``Material gifts and pastimes tend to obliterate the spiritual idea in consciousness, leaving one alone and without His glory'' (pp. 262-263).
It is this sense of lost spirituality that leads to both the heart-rending family rows that can grow out of close confinement over the holiday period and to the heartbreak of human loneliness felt by those without companions with whom to share their Christmas. Both these forlorn pictures are contrary to the eternal, spiritual truth of Christ's Christmas, the dawning of the spiritual idea in consciousness. This true idea of Christmas leaves us marvelously companioned with His glory, at one with the spiritual, not material, joys of eternal light, harmony, and generosity. Recognizing the reality of these spiritual gifts from God to His idea, man--the true identity of each one of us!--contributes to the healing of family problems and loneliness.
Such healing is the central theme of the life story heralded by the nativity of Christ Jesus. Announcing the Saviour's arrival, the angels promised ``on earth peace, good will toward men'' (Luke 2:14). This was--and is--the true state of Christmas. Calm and Christmas are in reality inseparable!