If you are a member of the Orthodox Church, you’d answer, “Not yet. Our church celebrates Christmas on January 7.”
This question got me thinking about the jail chaplain back in Fresno, California, where I did volunteer counseling. After Christmas he’d ask various officers, whether Christian or not, “Have a good Christmas?” I often wondered what he meant: Did you get what you wanted? Did you make others happy through your gifts? Did you have a happy time with friends and family? Or did you worship the Lord in celebration of His birth? “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel. . .” (meaning “God with us.”) Or maybe you got a good alcohol buzz on, and thought you were happy.
So I got to thinking more: What is a happy time? And what is happiness—is it the same as pleasure, or the same as joy? Is there a secret to being truly happy? Is it to be entertained? Hugh Hefner thought so; on the cover of Playboy he put the words “Entertainment for Men.” I’ve often wondered, Why do men, real men, need to be entertained? Is this why men are on this earth? Or are women here to entertain them, with or without clothes on? What did Hefner have to present to his Maker when he met him last year, at the age of 86?
The ancient Greeks had a better idea: “Eudemonia” meant happiness as self-fulfillment or self-actualization, like the American founders’ right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The famous psychologist Abraham Maslow’s explained happiness-as-higher-level-need satisfaction. It was connected to acting from within, tuning into truth, beauty, justice, love for others, etc.: self-actualization. (The highest level was spirituality, or transcendence.)
As I pointed out in last week’s column, we can be like the Dead Sea, always taking, or like the Sea of Galilee, which gives out water as well as takes. As Jesus said, It is more blessed (happy) to give than to receive. Try it: as you ride in a jeepney or van or bus, try giving out some smiles rather than waiting for someone to smile at you, and notice how you feel! Or back to Christmas: compare the feeling you got when you got a gift with what you felt when you gave one, and noticed the smile on the receiver’s face.
The Gospel and Transactional Analysis
As God-in-Christ and the cross provide a bridge for us to walk over to get to God, so we are called to reach out in love to others, building bridges.
This diagram ties psychology to the Gospel. (Jesus was always on the positive side, but the religious leaders of his day, being on the negative side, brought about his execution,) It shows what happens in a person who doesn’t act in faith—the person on the left side feels not-ok, and gets angry easily, blames others, and continually tries to take to the self. This can be money or possessions, or pleasure, or power or the approval of others, etc. No real happiness in him or her; they’re on the negative side. His brain does not work right.
Between our taking, sinful, selves and the Positive Side, is the Cross. God in Christ has already absorbed all evil, taking our sins, failures, lovelessness, freeing us to start over with the resurrected Christ, take up our cross, and follow Him whom to know is life eternal. “God is love.” “God proved his love for us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” The Gospel says in Christ God loves us, and calls us “OK” even though in ourselves we are not. Now we can live in a Zone in which the Holy Spirit can empower and inspire us to love others—the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus always talked about and demonstrated.
The person on the right in the diagram, the positive side, loves others, and feels for them, and is a giver. He sings, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” He’s moving forward, realizing that becoming is more real than static being, just as a car that’s going somewhere is more real than one sitting still, and a car that’s carrying others is more real than a fast sports car with only a driver. And forgiving others makes you more of a real person than carrying a grudge, which traps you in the past, in having-been, the negative side, non-being. When does your brain function best?
Likewise, being in and committed to the Church, the body of Christ, according to Scripture, makes you real as a Christian, while it is almost impossible to be a solitary Christian. The Dead Sea takes, and grows nothing; the Sea of Galilee has been feeding people fish for millennia. It gives, as well as takes in, water.
Recently I came to see again my need for the Savior. I had just crossed the Halsema Highway when a young man came running up to me. “Sir, did you drop this?” And handed me my wallet. I thanked him, but immediately looked inside it to a, see if I had a 20 peso note to give him, and b, see if he had taken anything. I didn’t have 20 pesos, but I had a 100 peso note I should have given him, if I had done what the Lord taught—“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Realizing this too late, all I could do is pray, Lord, forgive me, a sinner. And help me to love others as I ought.
I returned home, turned on YouTube to listen to the King’s Singers and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing my favorite carol, “Oh Holy Night”, especially the words, “Truly He taught us to love