A saying often seen on Christmas cards is, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice in the birth of the Lord – for unto us a child is given this night to bring peace and love to all [hu]mankind.” Another is a quote from Luke 2:13-14 from the Christian scriptures which says, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Peace and Goodwill is a message we hear every Christmas season. New Year’s greetings often involve a wish for peace, examples being, “Wishing you a New Year filled with peace, prosperity and good fortune,” or “May the New Year bring joy, peace and happiness to you and your family.”
Yet, despite the fact that we are in a Christmas and New Years season with its message of peace and goodwill, we see stories of intolerance, cold-heartedness, and rejection. On December 23, 2019, two days before Christmas, the headline, 11-Year-Old Vegan Ordered To Eat Grass By School Bullies appeared on my newsfeed.
The story describes how bullies rammed a tuna melt into a Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School student’s face, and then told the 11-year-old to eat grass. According to the victim’s parents, their son has faced torment in the Acocks Green, Birmingham, England school because he doesn’t eat animal products; in other words, chooses to be vegan. The victim’s dad says “It’s got so bad he [the victim] is now pretending to be ill just to avoid school.”
This story shows intolerance, cold-heartedness, and exclusiveness of another. It is a sad example that shows what the Christmas and New Years message of “Peace and Goodwill” is not. In order for peace to occur, there must be tolerance, understanding and acceptance. Without these three things, peace is impossible in my view. Cambridge Dictionary defines tolerance as willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from their own. Understanding a person, according to Cambridge Dictionary, is when a person has the ability to know how other people are feeling; in other words, they have empathy. Acceptance of a person is the act of agreeing to a person belonging to your group as an equal. Peace occurs when differences of any kind are accepted, and it is understood others think and do things differently. To quote Neal Donald Walsch; “My way is not the only way. It is just a way.”
A common expression I hear during the Christmas season is, “Jesus Is the Reason For The Season,” which is correct since Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Since this bullying occurred in a Catholic School, it should be safe to say the bullies were familiar with the Christmas message.
Jesus was one of the most tolerant, understanding and accepting people ever. In Luke 15:2 of the Christian scriptures, Jesus drew anger of the scribes and Pharisees for eating with sinners and outlaws. In Luke 7:34, Jesus is accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” The tax collectors in Biblical times were Jews who worked for the despised Romans, as tax collectors were seen as traitors to their own citizens. Matthew 9:9-13 tells the story of Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector to be his disciple. In Mark 2:15 Jesus sits at table with many tax collectors and sinners. Luke 5:32 describes how the scribes and Pharisees grumble about the company Jesus keeps. Jesus tells them that he has “not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Clearly, Jesus was tolerant, understanding and accepting of everyone.
The truth is, I am baffled. I am trying to understand how a Christian festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years; a festival that celebrates a child who is said to bring peace and love to all humankind, and yet we continue to have a pervasiveness of intolerance, cold-heartedness, and exclusivity in our world. Has Christianity failed with its message of love, tolerance, acceptance and understanding? Has the message been lost? Has humanity failed to understand the Christmas message? All I know, is something has gone wrong.
The reality is, rejection of others comes from a place of fear. It is a fear of difference, change, or the unfamiliar. The article, Accepting Other Peoples Differences, says many people are fearful of others because they’re not sure how to go about communicating with those who differ from them. They fear that their own little ‘cocoon of protection’ might be threatened. To say it another way, they make the mistake of believing that others’ viewpoints and opinions might threaten their way of thinking and acting . Every person’s culture, values, uniqueness, and viewpoints deserves respect even if we don’t understand or agree with it.
Jesus commands in John 13:34, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” When we “love one another” we are tolerant and understanding of others, and we accept them with all their differences. That is the Christmas and New Years message that seems to have been lost because of fear. I long for the true meaning of Christmas to return, and be understood. Perhaps this year your New Years resolution should be to practice tolerance, acceptance and understanding, and to teach your children to do the same.