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"What part of Christmas do you find most stressful," I asked my secretary the other day.
"The shopping," she said, without hesitating.
"The shopping," those two words just about cover it all.
The traffic - trying to find a parking place, struggling to drive from one store to the next, and the crowds, rushing to get in line, scurrying by other shoppers in the mall - all come with the shopping. It's an all-inclusive non-bargain.
And, unless you have the patience of Job or the placidity of the Dali Lama, you're most likely to bring your little gift bags of shopping stress and strain to your home, or work, or even - dare I say it? - your house of worship.
December - the month when Christians are supposed to be focusing on the birth of the Christ child - is not immune to the same conflict and discord that characterize the world the other 11 months of the year. December just seems to get hit hardest that way.
The angel's words to the shepherds, announcing the birth of Jesus, seem to mock our frequently misplaced priorities: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" Luke 2:14).
"Yeah, right!" our cynical side snickers.
But wait! There's still the possibility of a peaceful Christmas. We don't have to stumble through this season, arriving on the 25th, battered, bruised, frustrated and drained. We are, after all, in charge of our choices and ultimately, our feelings.
Just as a swimmer in turbulent waters finds calmness beneath the surface, we too can find peace if we will only take a deep breath and dive deep, descending to the epicenter of Christmas, the ground zero of the whole tradition, the place where it all began: the night a baby was born in a manger.
For those who choose to celebrate a Christmas with Christ in it, this is where it begins and ends, if they are to find a peace that produces unity not division, hope not despair, light and not darkness.
That peace brings a sense of well-being and purpose not only to families upended by the world's agenda, but also to houses of worship as well, and it has the potential to galvanize a united front of Christians standing in unity at the common ground found in the manger.
In this world where political agreements are stymied by entrenchment, where once-married couples fight custody battles, where the have nots camp in protest of the haves, people yearn for solutions. Christmas can be a most opportune time for the Christian community to demonstrate a unity based on the peace found in the one they claim to follow.
Father Jonathan Morris, speaking recently on the talk show hosted by former evangelist Reverend James Robison, urged Protestants and Catholics to find common ground. Father Morris, a frequent contributor and analyst for the Fox News Channel, and who currently serves as one of the vicars at the Basilica at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in New York City, issued an impassioned plea for Christians to work together. Speaking to Robison, Father Morris said, "Not that you believe every single theological thing that I believe ... but we have so much in common, we have one person in common, that is Jesus Christ ... (so) we have to work together, we have to have courage to walk together no matter what anyone says."
Maybe a start in that direction could be made if Protestants stepped inside a Catholic Church and Catholics stood in a Protestant church and sensing the traditions of the place, found a manger scene, or at least a picture or image of the Christ child.
Having done that, maybe believers could try gazing at the scene and perhaps even imagine the smell of the dirt the in that cattle stall where Jesus was born. It's the dirt from which we all came; it's the dust to which we all return.
But in the manger we find something beyond ourselves, something that unites us as we encounter Jesus; we discover in him the common ground that brings peace on earth and good will towards all people.
It's in that common ground that we might just find Christmas, after all.