What would the world be like without Christmas?

When viewed as a whole, the people who inhabit the Earth seem to spend a good deal of their time trying to hurt one another. This year, shocking brutalities were carried out in Bosnia, Rwanda and on the streets of Israel. And those were only the places where violence was deemed worthy of worldwide attention. In the United States, the prison population topped 1 million for the first time as random violence, drug abuse and disrespect made many neighborhoods and streets unsafe.While most people don't commit murder, many are not above taking advantage of another to get what they want. The recently completed political season demonstrated this attitude. In many ways, election campaigns became more contests to see who could throw out the nastiest insults or most effectively destroy the reputation of the opponent than contests to demonstrate who was most qualified.

But on one day each year most of the world pauses to honor the birth of a transcendent personality - Jesus Christ, whose life exemplified perfect love and whose actions were motivated by concern for others rather than selfish gain. His life stands in stark contrast to the most popular lifestyles in the world.

Clearly, Christ's life showed a better way to live, a way that not only enhances self-esteem but is better for society in general. On that there is virtual universal agreement, among Christians and non-Christians alike.

For a few weeks each year, people put Christ's example of service to the test, if only perfunctorily in many cases. They buy gifts for loved ones, thinking of ways to fulfill others' needs and desires. All but the most hard-hearted are touched by the joy their gifts bring, especially to wide-eyed and trusting children.

And the best among us have learned the value of giving time and service to the least fortunate - gifts that transcend anything money can buy.

Without Christmas, some would never be exposed to the joy of giving, nor would they learn of a way of life that enhances the world through unselfish, loving service. Undoubtedly, the problems of the world would be intensified and would roll on unchecked by the memories and the twinges of remorse inspired by this sacred holiday.

To be sure, Christmas is not without its stresses, brought on by the pressure to entertain and the strain to shop in crowded stores. But these pressures must not be allowed to overshadow the beauty of the season.

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More than just a time for giving gifts, Christmas is a time to celebrate the meaning of Christ's birth, his life and his sacrifice. Rather than just a gleeful gift exchange, it is a time for reverence and for pondering life and its purpose.

Significantly, the angel that announced Christ's birth to the startled shepherds prefaced that message by saying, "Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy."

The birth of Jesus was indeed a moment of great joy for the world, and it is that joy that can solve the world's problems, if only people would make it a part of their lives more than just one day each year.

Merry Christmas to all.

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