An Idahoan’s Christmas wish to end a difficult year

“In this great land we call America, there’s a place for each of us,” writes guest columnist Stephen Hartgen. “Surely that is what the baby later taught: Do unto others as you would have them unto you.”

December 23, 2021 3:49 am
farmland covered in snow

Idaho farmland is blanketed by winter snow. (Jim Black/Pixabay)

Is there anyone who hasn’t been impacted this year by the scourge of COVID-19, which now threatens yet another wave of highly-transmittable sickness across the land? We all know people who have fallen ill, and some of them have not survived. We know families affected in the same way, so for many, it will be a sad holiday of longing, missing and remembrance.

And yet this gloom will pass. People will come out of their self-imposed isolations, rejoin with friends and family, talk to each other in civil tones and respect on social media and politics. The human race will continue as it did in the early 1920s with another rampant infection at another time.

And so will our devotion and faith, born with a child in a manger some 2,000 years ago who gave us his life, his grace and his compassion.

It is always good in this season to read Luke 2, which recounts the baby’s birth. The language is sparse, but the meaning is clear. This is the child given by God to save mankind. 

Compared to that, the affairs of men fade into unimportance. The baby, born in humble circumstances, is nonetheless the object of praise, first by the lonely shepherds and then by millions around the world.

So it is a good week to do some Christmas things. We should put some classical Bach on our devices, attend at least one Christmas service with carols, and participate in the rituals of gift giving and receiving. And of course wish our neighbors well and welcome our families home from afar.

Three weeks ago, the annual Christmas concert was held at the College of Southern Idaho. These old carols are not just good memories; they also reinforce our personal faith. Many of them are packed with sound religious principles. 

Like many other aspects of American life, hymn worship is changing rapidly. It’s uncommon today to hear these old hymns which have now been replaced with modern praise music and lyrics.

I’m not knocking the praise songs of today, but I, like many others I know, hold onto the memories of past Christmas music and rituals. Perhaps we would be a better nation if we sang those more often, and  together. We might argue less by doing so. 

We cannot make the country better only by wishing it were so. One of the aspects of modern life is that it takes so much energy. People are left with bitterness and enormous anxiety just navigating our daily lives. Anger and blaming abound everywhere, particularly in politics and social media. 

In this great land we call America, there’s a place for each of us. Surely that is what the baby later taught: Do unto others as you would have them unto you. We know this lesson, but it is not always easy to act upon it.

Christ’s presence in our lives is often remembered most during the Christmas holiday. That’s as it should be, even in these contentious times. The picture we carry is that of the Christ child in the stable, the cattle lowing, the shepherds kneeling below a bright star’s light.  

That is the image we carry with when we worship, though it be in a distant land far away. We are in a stone church ruin from Medieval times, a Viking chapel on the edge of the known world, about to sail to another shore. 

So this season, I remember the joys of Christmas, past but not forgotten, of the infant Christ in a manger outside of town with cattle, shepards and adoring parents. The world is a better place each year because of this baby and what he brought to mankind. We should never forget that. ”For unto us a child is given.”

Merry Christmas, all.

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Stephen Hartgen
Stephen Hartgen

Stephen Hartgen, of Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce and Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at [email protected]