Every year around this time, I have a familiar experience. I’m out shopping, and I’ll go through the checkout line, and pay for my stuff. When the cashier hands me back the change, they’ll say “Happy holidays,” or perhaps even “Merry Christmas.”
I realize that this comment is not always motivated by the cashier’s genuine interest in whether or not I enjoy my holiday. I’m aware that they may be saying this because they’ve been told to. I can envision the memo from Wal- mart corporate headquarters directing cashiers when to switch from “Have a nice day” to “Happy Holidays,” on the assumption that this will somehow help cement a lasting bond between the store and the customer that won’t evaporate when a Meijer’s opens across the street.
I’m aware of all that, and suspicious of the whole business. But at least once every year, I have a cashier who looks me in the eye and says “Merry Christmas,” and really means it. And it changes my whole day.
There really is something genuine to this whole idea of Christmas cheer. As Dec. 25th draws near, people warm up just a bit. If you’re out and around as Christmas Day approaches, you’ll notice that people are friendlier than any other time of the year. Maybe they realize the waiting is almost over.
People warm up when they are mindful of the Christ child’s birth, and make an extra effort to practice the virtues the angels sing of - “peace on earth, goodwill towards men.”
But consider this - why do we notice this more at Christmastime? Why does this surge in warmheartedness stand out? I think it’s because, despite our best intentions, good will towards men can easily become a seasonal event rather than a standing policy.
When Christ entered our world, he didn’t come to brighten our Decembers, but to transform our lives. It can be hard work to practice good will towards one another, we all have someone that we struggle to share good will with. Let's face it - some people aren't all that lovable. But John the Baptist’s message was that as we prepare for Christ to come into our lives, we can change our ways.
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry provide the blueprint for loving our neighbor in a busy and complicated neighborhood. Christ made a point of seeking out the broken and disenfranchised people of his day - the lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors - and he saw the value in each one of them. And in so doing, He helped them recognize the value in themselves.
This Christmas season, it will be my wish that we recognize that just as faith is a decision, good will towards people is a series of decisions that work themselves out not in temporary holiday cheer, but in the details of everyday life. Wouldn't that make a wonderful CHRISTmas!