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by Special to    Fri, Dec 23, 2005, 04:00 PM


One of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ is joy, and when I think of Christmas, I think of joy and become, well—joyful. That is to say, Christmas makes me full of the joy at what the holidays bring, and also full of Joy for what the Christ Child means. Some of my fondest memories are of Christmastime. When I was a child there was something expansive in the Season it seemed, in that, it gave to the rest of the year its whole meaning. The year would end on a happy note, and the next would begin that way. There was—and is, of course, the family Christmas tree and the ritual of going out and picking just the right one (and on occasion, getting to actually chop one), loading that perfect tree and then trying to get it inside the house to an appointed spot (trees always look smaller outdoors!). The hard part sometimes was setting it up to make it stand straight, but we always had fun decorating, and I would "help" a younger sibling with pointers like, "Don’t hang all the bulbs on the lowest branches!" So when work and school would finally make way, hours were spent together in the house in sheer enjoyment, looking at the lights and decorations on the tree, squinting to produce still more effects; listening to the beautiful carols you can’t play enough, since they only come out once a year. There was time then to contemplate things taught at Sunday school, and lots of time contemplating bright, paper-wrapped packages beneath the tree; and wondering what the smaller, bulgy knick-knacks at the bottom of stockings hung might be. For me there were also favorite family trips this time of year—to snow-covered peaks of the Rockies in Colorado, to the frosty wood of the Ozarks in Arkansas. Most of all, I suppose, I do remember the love of family and the cheer of the whole community and in places we’d go at Christmastime, as smiles and salutations came from total strangers. The reason I believe was that joy sprang from Joy of another kind: even the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the collective and sincere celebration of His Birthday. How awesome and amazing that Joy remains!

The fact of the Virgin Birth meant that God not only knew about us here on earth, but He also cared for us supremely. He sent His only begotten Son, ‘that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ Jesus awakened, as it were, the soul in man; activated his conscience; and made him aware of the eternal aspect of his nature. After Jesus, there were no excuses—but there was hope like never before. God wouldn’t leave us lost or abandoned, but rather sent His Son, a Way-Shower to humanity. Jesus’ Birth literally signaled that physical conditions and limitations were no object, that we might follow Jesus in overcoming the world. For God our Loving Father—omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent—the One who fills all space and is all knowing and all-powerful—dwelt among us, not only as the invisible air we breathe, but also as another human being, Whom we could see and touch and hear and love back. God visited us in Person through His Son, and His presence changed the world. History could never be the same. Jesus ransomed this world in effect, after betrayal and unspeakable cruelty—and said it was okay too, that we could be forgiven and altogether washed clean.

But the experiences of Jesus’ worldly existence would come later. On that first Christmas morn, it was relatively simple: a moment of complete and unadulterated Joy. The angels sang, and men from the East followed the Star to Bethlehem to find Him there, dressed in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger; and they laid their gift offerings beside the greatest Gift of all. How God picked the lowly to frame His surroundings, the pure in heart to witness the miracle and keep Him company on that First Day. And ever after, the world’s perspective changed: Love became the highest virtue. Man felt the weight and worth of his soul as never before. Indeed, American freedom would spring from that singular moment and the knowledge that came from it, for Jesus demonstrated by His example and teaching the moral worth of every single human being! Every people could be a chosen people, and every person "elect" through adoption. For Jew and Gentile alike, there was no more need of waiting—the light was come into the world. Man would have to regard the Father and consider Eternity in his calculus day to day, its import and its implication for living life on earth. Jesus would grow in Spirit as a young man and, in the fullness of time furnished many examples of the material world yielding inevitably before Him, and evil submitting involuntarily before Him. As amazing as His works and miracles were, what is still more amazing is that God would voluntarily submit Himself to be human, that is, to experience the frailty, pain, temptation and all that the human condition entails. Perhaps we read too much now into that Nativity Scene—all that’s implied, the growth of a boy, the blossoming of a man, the unparalleled career of the Great Teacher, the Friend and Master of man; His crucifixion and glorious Resurrection. For now, He is a Baby—sweet, undefiled, innocent; and one imagines happy, playful, curious, smiling. For the moment, nothing in the world impinges upon the utter happiness: of Mary the most wonderful Mother, Joseph the model stepfather; and of animals and every creature blessed to behold and gaze upon the sight. There is only Joy, in other words. King Herod has his evil intent and design to try and kill this Child, but for now there’s no threat, no element, no evil thought can penetrate the stronghold of a palace-manger, where the King of kings heralds Good News.

May this Christmas be a time of joy and Joy for you and yours; may it please your every sense, including your spiritual sense: to smell the scented candles, the crisp outdoors; to taste the cookies and the fancy meats; to listen to a choir singing; to feast your eyes on the colors and soft firelight; but also to feel His Hand in yours, to rest your faith and hope in Him, both now and forevermore. Amen.

Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he ran for U.S. Congress (TX-District 31) in the 2004 Republican Primary.

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