Sunday, December 21, 2008

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to ... uh ... Let Me Get Back To You On That

Scrooge alert - I just have to get this one off my chest so that I can move forward and enjoy the season. If you choose not to have your Christmas parade rained upon, come back tomorrow, when the Bilbo you know and love will be back to normal. However you define "normal."

Today, we begin the final countdown to Christmas (the countdown which started in most retail establishments shortly after the Fourth of July), and it's time for me to temporarily take off my spiffy Santa hat and put on my Scrooge nightcap for the rant that overcomes me every year about this time.

I refer you to the classic version of the Christmas Story: from the King James Version of the Bible, Luke 2:8-14:

"(8) And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
"(9) And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
"(10) And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
"(11) For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
"(12) And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
"(13) And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
"(14) Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

It's a wonderful story, but Peace on Earth ain't coming, so don't wait up.

Put out the milk and cookies and hang the stockings by the chimney with care, because the odds of Santa coming down that chimney are far greater than the odds that people around the world will suddenly wake up, look around in astonishment, wonder "what on earth were we thinking?", and run outside to embrace their neighbors of other colors, races, and faiths.

Peace on Earth is a good idea, but like so many other good ideas, it appears to work much better in the abstract than in the practical. Much of the problem, sadly, lies in the fact that we have tried to find meaning in a hard world and a vast, unknowable universe by seeking ultimate meaning and comfort in God. Unfortunately, we just can't seem to agree on what God is, what He expects, and how we are supposed to worship Him.

Each of the great monotheistic religions offers roughly the same guidance: believe as we say and worship exactly as we do and you may be utterly miserable now, but after you die things will be wonderful forever. Some go a bit farther than that, to some variation of "believe and act as we say, because if you don't not only won't things be wonderful for you forever after you die, but God says I can kill you now because you're an infidel."

How one worships God has become much more important than the fact that one acknowledges His existence, or tries to live an upright and virtuous life.

And so, my friends, that bitter and cynical character who lives in the deepest cobwebby subbasement of my heart...the guy that I try to keep wrapped and buried beneath layers of goodwill and adherence to The Golden Rule...rears his ugly head every so often to demand attention. Usually it's at this time of year, when we say all the right things and sing all the right songs and pay our hypocritical lip service to the grand idea of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men...or, at least, to those who believe the same way we do.

As for me, I'm with Grandma...

Okay, I've successfully exorcised the Scrooge Demon for another season. My Santa hat is back on and - rainy, yucky weather notwithstanding - I'm ready for Christmas.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



John said...

Although the King James is still on of the oldest translations in use, it is not always the most accurate. This isn't even a case of language evolution (for the linguist in you). This is really a mistranslation. It would be better if it said, "Peace on Earth toward men of goodwill."

More contemporary translations read, " men on whom God's favor rests," or "Peace among men with whom He is well pleased."

I'm not sure if that give you more or less reason to be Scrooge-like during this season. I do know that this Child that was proclaimed by the angels on that night taught that we should love God and love each other. If loving each other is what it takes to gain God's favor or God's peace, then there isn't that much of it to be found on Earth.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Get it out of your system :) Happy Sunday.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

The King James version is the most poetical version.

Mike said...

"come back tomorrow"

Are you kidding? And miss a Bilbo rant!


Bilbo said...

John - someday you and I will have to sit down and have a long discussion on this topic. Your "more contemporary translations" of Luke's Christmas story are more frightening than the ones in my version...

Andrea - Done. Merry Christmas, and a virtual hug and chaste smooch under the virtual mistletoe to you!

Capt Picard - nothing quite matches the lyrical majesty of the King James version of the Bible. Whether one believes it or not, it's magnificent writing.

Mike - If I were king, could I legally say things like, "OFF WITH HIS HEAD!"? If so, I accept your nomination.

fiona said...

Just so long as Agnes keeps her head :-) ( don't want a King Bilbo the "VIII" )then I also nominate you!
Bilbo for KING

Twinkie said...

When I see the signs that say "Jesus is the reason for the season" I automatically think, "No, he's NOT. Human GREED is the reason for the season. Gimme gimme gimme"

I'm a scrooge too. HUGE.

Are we there yet?