Finding the spirit of Christmas

The holiday season can be a difficult time for many. With the stress and struggles that life throws at us, finding the Christmas spirit can be particularly difficult. The 2017 holiday season has felt that way for me. On Thanksgiving Day, I got the news that a good friend and coworker for many years was seriously ill. Only two weeks later, he was gone. A husband, son, father and friend who was loved by so many wasn’t going to be with us for Christmas. Days after his death, another member of our Daily Mountain Eagle family lost a loved one. Since then, I’ve gotten a steady stream of bad news from friends and relatives who have either lost or will be losing loved ones this Christmas season. The weight of those losses has been difficult for me, but I can only imagine the thoughts and feelings of those who were closest to them. How can they find any Christmas spirit in the midst of turmoil and sadness? Maybe it depends on our definition of Christmas spirit? The popular concept of Christmas spirit is that it is inside us. It is something that is deep in your heart. It is a warm and fuzzy feeling. You cannot buy it, and you cannot get it from someone else. We just have to dig down to find it, and sometimes that means we have to dig very deep to find it. Finding that spirit might be as easy as listening to a favorite Christmas song or stringing lights on a tree. For some of us struggling to dig deep enough to find that spirit, it can take much more, or we may not find that warm fuzzy feeling at all. Taking a look back at the baby in the manger when an angel announced “good news of great joy” has helped me this holiday season. Love came down at Christmas. I was reminded of that several days ago when I came across a piece of artwork a friend of mine had drawn. David Hayward, who is known as Naked Pastor, shares his artwork on social media on a daily basis. A couple of weeks ago, he shared his piece entitled “Love Came Down At Christmas,” and the cartoon’s simple message struck me on a day when I needed it. The artwork features Joseph and Mary with a couple of sheep and a donkey staring lovingly inside a manger. There is no baby in the manger. There is simply a large heart. David’s cartoon was a reminder that the story is a beautiful one about love as a new way of being in the world. It is a story of inclusion and equality. It is a story that shows us love encompasses all. Love came down at Christmas, and love ignites a spirit within us all that cannot be snuffed out by our circumstances. How have I found the spirit of Christmas at a difficult time? I’ve found it in the love for others that I have come in contact with in recent weeks. There’s a certain spark that has come from a grouchy reporter or a struggling waitress. Another spark came from a special needs citizen and a couple of kids in our community who I walked with during my first 5k. Another spark came from meeting a pastor, who I probably don’t agree with on politics or much theology, but we had a common bond in our love for Jesus and others. A major spark this holiday season came a few nights ago from the chaos of having 60 people, including 20 children, at our home for the Daily Mountain Eagle Christmas party. Good food, great company and a visit from Santa made for a great night. The greatest ignition of love in my life comes from our family, which expanded again this year with the addition of Miss Zuzu Petals Phillips, who is nearly five months old now. There are days when I really understand George Bailey’s thoughts in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when he looks at his wife and says, “You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?” But there are many more days when I understand the toast given by Harry Bailey when he says, “A toast to my big brother George: the richest man in town.” Love did come down on Christmas, and here is one of the accounts of how it happened: Luke 2: 1-20 (The Message)

“About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. “While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel. “There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.’ “At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: “Glory to God in the heavenly heights, “Peace to all men and women on earth who please him. “As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. ‘Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.’ They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!” James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or