Winter is rapidly approaching. Outside my window, fog shrouds bare-limbed trees as rain fills the creek coursing into Mayo Cove. Thanksgiving is but a memory and Christmas decorations sparkle in the dark of night.
This has been a difficult year for our country. In horror, we’ve witnessed gun violence erupting at music festivals, churches and schools. Verbal violence infects our political discourse. Stories of sexual violence are told almost daily. It’s hard to find evidence of “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward all.”
In his groundbreaking book, “Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic,” psychologist James Gilligan shared what he learned while working with America’s most violent criminals. He found that, in every case, these men who had committed horrific acts were marked by a deep sense of shame. He wrote, “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed.”
Too many men and women are weighed down by shame, feeling lost and powerless. In desperate loneliness, unable to cope with feelings of shame, they lash out at those around them. Sometimes, it’s a cruel word; sometimes, it’s at the end of a rifle.
Much time and energy is spent seeking ways to stop random acts of violence. It is a complex issue without easy answers, but I believe there is an antidote found at the heart of the Christmas story.
Christmas reminds us that, at the center of reality, a voice says, “You are loved. You matter.” Shame encounters the story of a baby named Jesus, God’s voice to humanity that we are loved and accepted, and that even in our brokenness, the primary posture of the Creator is unstoppable love.
This is not the love of cheap sentimentality. This is a sacrificial love, a love that pays a great price, proving itself by rolling up its sleeves and doing the hard work of overcoming the dragons of guilt and shame. It is a love that embraces us even when we’re messy. The old gospel story tells us we are loved just as we are.
As you go through this Christmas season, look for signs of this love around you. Hear The Mustard Seed Carolers spreading holiday cheer. See the joy of families searching together for just the right Christmas trees. Witness the kindred joy of the community gathered at the Key Center tree lighting, singing boisterous carols while children wait impatiently for Santa.
On Christmas Eve, churches will assemble in hushed candlelight to recite the ancient angelic message of “Good tidings of great joy, which is for all people…” This is the essence of that good news: We are all loved. Shame, doubt and fear are cast aside in the presence of perfect love.
As we receive that love and walk in love with one another, the loneliness and hopelessness of shame are replaced by joy and gladness. Christmas tells us we are loved; may we all love one another well through this season and beyond.
On behalf of the Key Peninsula Ministers, I wish you a peaceful Christmas and holiday season.
Dan Whitmarsh is a pastor at Lakebay Community Church.
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