Left Justified: The true spirit of Christmas

Left Justified: The true spirit of Christmas

By Stanley Campbell

Presents. That’s what Christmas meant to me: gifts showered on top of children. And I was the biggest kid. But, somehow, I knew there was more to it. I was raised Roman Catholic, and sometimes I would get taken to midnight Mass and be led up to see the manger scene and look at the baby Jesus. I have to admit, I was always ready to get home and rip through the wrappings of the boxes under the Christmas tree, but that little statuette of a baby surrounded by animals made me feel spiritual, like there was something else other than my lusting after new stuff.

But I quickly lost my faith while I was in the Army, in Vietnam. I can distinctly remember the loneliness I felt on that Christmas Eve. Anyone in the military shares that feeling of aloneness, even, or especially in a large company of men away from home in a strange and sometimes hostile land. I was proud of my service, but there I learned to hate war and to question my government’s policies. If nothing else, that was probably the best Christmas present I ever received.

Coming home, friends meant more to me than anything. The family disagreed with my view of the war, and I was estranged until we got over our differences and accepted each other’s faults and celebrated our common heritage. Then Christmas began to grow even more important.

I finally came back to the church. Someone gave me a Christmas present of Christian music: Keith Greene, who sang about a God Who hated war and loved the poor, and I stood up! There are few gifts that actually give a change of heart. I was blessed.

Christmas is one of the few times when our materialistic society thinks of things spiritual. Sure, the stores are screaming for your money, and the kids are screaming for the latest toys, but the message of giving is there. The message of hope and light in the darkness is there, for all to see. Christmas is at the coldest and darkest time of the year. Astronomically, on Dec. 22, the sun gives off the least amount of light to the Northern Hemisphere.

The native tribes who kept track of such things as the location of the sun were always worried that it would not return. But those who learned the cycle of our star—the warmth of springtime replaces the snows of winter—found the truth of our earth and life. Such a magical time winter is, especially if you know the snow will melt.

Even as the light is returning, we celebrate with lighting our night. ComEd likes that. But I’m happy to see lights, not only surrounding the houses, but also the light that seems to emanate from people’s souls. Perhaps fear of the dark and death drives us to worship light and life more and to be grateful for what we have. Maybe the Scrooge in us will surrender to the light of love, and we will depart with our hard earnings in return for the light of gratitude.

I wish the best for us and the peoples of the world. I wish we, as the strongest country in the world would give of our wealth instead of our strength, that we would share bread and not bullets.

I pray that the most sacred city in the world, Jerusalem, will find that true peace and acceptance of all the different faiths that live there. If we can find a way to live together in that beleaguered but holy city, we can find a way of living together throughout the world. And, finally, may you find that light of true love through your generosity to those around you this Christmastime.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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