Christmas. There is no other time in the year like it. We approach it with commercialism like no other holiday in the year. We rush to and fro, from pillar to post, from one shopping mall and store to another, seeking gifts for others that we hope will fit the occasion. Carols begin appearing on the radio and Christmas television specials become as frequent on our flat screens as NFL divisional match-ups.

Children line up for a visit with Santa Claus, our dogs wear brightly colored Christmas ribbons around their necks. And we leave nothing undecorated at this time of the year, not even our cars, their front grills adorned with Christmas wreaths and brightly colored bows. The spirit of Christmas never had it so good!

But Christmas also comes this year with some distressing news. Our nation has found itself bound up in an economic crisis like none other since the great depression. Unemployment nationally hovers at 10 percent and in some States, the number is more like 15 percent. Many of us have lost our jobs and our 401Ks. And much of what was supposed to be our retirement nest egg has become an albatross egg. Congress is as polarized as it has ever been, and health insurance has been front page news for months. Copenhagen gathered world leaders to address global warming and climate change. But economics seems to have won out instead of finding cooperative ways for industrialized nations to end their endless destruction of this fragile earth our island home. For the first time in many years our sons and daughters are wondering if they will get a job when they finally graduate from college. Our country is still immersed in war on several fronts. And for our service men and women and their families … they will celebrate a very different Christmas from most of us. There still is no peace in the little town of Bethlehem, and relationships in the Middle East are as fragile as a soft boiled egg.

Maybe one or several of these issues were on the mind of a young father as he walked stiffly down the sidewalk tightly holding the hand of his young son who, I venture to guess, was no more than five years old. The father who seemed to be in his mid thirties was approaching me, on his way for coffee at the local coffee shop, just where I was headed. What really troubled me was that the father looked very distant, removed and weary, his eyes fixed away from the delight of his young son. I wondered when I saw the two of them together if Christmas would come to them this year, or if sadness and disappointment would be their visitors instead of joy, wonderment, and the hope of better things to come in the new year. On first glance looking at father and son their relationship appeared pretty fragile!

And as they came closer, I was struck by a deep sadness in my heart, not just for the little boy, but for what seemed to be a very troubled and unhappy parent. And then the little boy stopped walking and seemed to balk. His father, quite annoyed, looked angrily down at him and said, “Come on, Timmy. You’re holding me up.” And he grabbed the boy’s hand harder and literally began to drag Timmy along the sidewalk. Unfazed by his fathers anger and detachment, the little boy, with a radiating smile on his face, said, “Daddy, do you know why I’m holding your hand?” And his father gruffly said, “No, Timmy, I don’t!” And the little boy replied buoyantly, “I’m holding your hand because I love you!” And at that moment the boy’s father stopped dead in his tracks, looked down at his son, and then picked him up in his arms, hugged him tenderly kissed him on the cheek and said, “And I really love you, too.”

Timmy with his small arms wrapped tightly around his father’s neck snuggled him and then kissed him on the cheek. And at that moment I knew in my heart that for them Christmas would come in spite of anything and everything. And it would come because of the unfailing love between a father and his son; a love that could not be broken by hardship, disappointment, and the distressing news of the day about the economy, unemployment, lost nest eggs, war, a planet in danger of dying, and the volatility of the Middle East. God loves us so much that he continues to reach out to us with loving arms. And it was through a little child on a sidewalk in Washington, D.C., and a tiny baby born in Bethlehem that God reminds that the greatest gift we can give to one another is the gift of our love and the gift of ourselves.

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