A Good Time
Green leaves and brightly colored flowers, scents and sounds of warm summer days are long departed and darkness pushes against a stingy sun. Yet, Advent and Christmas mark a good time of the year – the most wonderful time. This is a time to examine our lives and to increase the goodness therein. A conundrum of these morally vague times surrounds the very definition of goodness. What makes this season one that awakens the desire to feel good and to do the good? Do people even understand the term?
Definitions of goodness refer to expressions of moral rectitude, virtue, and kindness. All of these defining terms are open to interpretation and even distortion. Is the meaning of goodness relegated to a state of ambiguity or relativity?
One avenue to reaching a resolution comes from a grave at Westminster Abbey that was opened to receive its distinguished occupant in June of 1870. The name chiseled on the stone is that of Charles Dickens. My reference, as you may have assumed, is to a very alive Dickens who in 1843 wrote his famous story, A Christmas Carol. His narration of the encounter between Scrooge and his nephew Fred illumines the pathway toward answering our query about the meaning of goodness. Scrooge reacts to Fred's joyous demeanor regarding Christmas, "Much good has it [Christmas] done you." Fred utters this deep and thoughtful response: "There are many things from which I have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew, "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure that I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – apart from the veneration due its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that – as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time. The only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, although it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!" Through his character of the convivial nephew, Dickens makes the point that Christmas evokes a consensus of good will among people. The anticipation and the celebration of the birth of Christ unlock the meaning of goodness.
Everywhere in the Infancy Narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke one finds examples of goodness – both divine and human: God reveals his love for humanity in the totality of entering our human nature to save his creation from sin and death and to open the gates of eternal life for us; Mary, in the goodness of her heart and soul, accepts God's plan for her; Joseph, in his goodness and righteousness, bows before the mystery of God's power. Goodness within Joseph and Mary exhibits the deepest qualities of worship for the God they loved, a profound decency, the highest mutual love, respect and trust, and an unflagging commitment to each other and the holy mission of their lives. Out of their innate goodness and faith a Holy Family came about.
Assuredly, one may interpret Christmas as the definition of goodness. God is the author, the teacher, and the prime example of pure goodness. The birth of Jesus is the culmination of the most authentic and sincere presence of goodness manifested in human nature. Authentically good people are called to plumb the very depth of that goodness and to freely accept the Will of God for them.
Desiring goodness is the heartfelt hope, within the activity of living, of fulfilling the expectations of the God of goodness. Human freedom is a two-edged sword. God along with each person on earth trusts that the individual will be governed by the duty to choose the good in all aspects of life. Determining to live a life of Christ-like goodness is to live a daily Christmas bearing joys and satisfactions beyond measure. By this effort, one can conclude – in the words of Scrooge's nephew – that Christmas "has done me good and will do me good" throughout one's lifetime.
How odd to consider that in all the Christmas sermons heard in a lifetime has one of them ever focused on the "goodness" of Christmas? Themes surrounding God's love and mercy, human generosity and caring, family joy and togetherness abound in Christmas homilies. These topics give evidence to goodness made visible in the celebration of Christmas…but Christmas as Goodness itself? Perhaps, in this world where one is vulnerable to a host of evils, this Christmas will call for thoughts and prayers for the ultimate victory of goodness – the victory of Christmas.
Our very best wishes for a beautiful and blessed Christmas!