Jackson County Opinions...

DECEMBER 24, 2003

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
December 24, 2003

Make A Few More Christmas Memories Now
I was trying to summon my earliest memory of Christmas, but everything BC (before children) blends together. It might have been the Christmas my Aunt Alice, an actress who lived in Greenwich Village, visited us in Florida for Christmas Eve, an occasion memorable only because the Christmas tree fell over as we opened gifts on Christmas Eve.
Other memories are not specific to individual years. I know for three or four years my cousin Eric and I sold mistletoe and holly from a makeshift stand in front of the Post Office.
We had two kinds of holly. The most common was not holly at all, but was brazilian pepper, a plant with a multitude of tiny red berries. In the absence of the real thing, Floridians who didn’t know any better (the natives) used it as holly in Christmas arrangements.
I was fortunate enough to live next door to the only true holly tree I knew of in our county. It stood 50 feet high and had lovely dark green, prickly leaves and bright red berries. Eric and I harvested cuttings from this tree while its owner was at work, and they were our best seller. There were occasional uncomfortable moments when the owner of the tree came to the Post Office to mail Christmas cards, but young entrepreneurs are not easily deterred.
Christmas also meant a few nights of the live nativity at the Presbyterian Church. The sheep, goats, donkey, cow, horse or whatever animals were pressed into service would be housed in a fenced section of run-down orange grove behind the church, where we suburban kids with no experience with farm animals would flock to feed them bits of hay. For us, sheep were as exotic as snowfall or honest politicians.
I also remember selling Christmas trees for my father, who for several years chaired the Jaycee chapter’s Christmas tree sale. That was before everyone sold Christmas trees, so business was brisk enough for us to forget the bitter cold of 60-degree nights of late December.
Dad always got first pick of the trees, either a scotch pine or a fraser fir, which he would carefully implant in a metal bucket, wedging the trunk in place with pieces of brick to hold it upright. The year my aunt visited his skills were not at their peak and the tree succumbed to the natural force of gravity and crashed amongst the kids sprawled on the living room floor. Casualties were minimal.
Those were not the perfect trees you get today. Most had at least one bad side, which we placed toward the wall to cover the flaw.
By today’s standard, the collection of gifts under it would seem meager; then it was incredible. I remember listening in horror as my parents talked about the joy of getting an apple or an orange in their stocking when they were kids – sort of like mine reacted years ago when I tried to explain that I’d never received electronics for Christmas as a child.
Even then, I was not considered proficient at gift-buying. My parents were horrified the year I bought my grandmother a package of rat poison and a rat trap (she was not a great housekeeper – the rats broke into the package the first night, ate up the poison and did not live to regret it).
You’ve got your Christmas memories; I’ve got mine. Let’s make some more this year. Merry Christmas!

The Commerce News
December 24, 2003

Christianity Marked By Lives, Not Celebration
“Peace on earth, good will toward men,” these are the words of Christmas. This week, the Christian world celebrates the gift of a savior whose promise was and is to bring peace on earth.
This celebration is one of hope, for across much of the world there is war, poverty and injustice, not peace, and mankind has yet to master the concept of good will. Christians believe that ultimately Christ, whose birthday this celebration honors, will return to create a world where peace and goodwill are universal. That God loves his people enough to send his son to save it and accomplish this is the great promise to the Christian world.
It might be difficult for a first-century Christian to recognize from American culture that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth. The trappings, from the spending sprees to the decorations, seem to have little in common with the birth of Jesus in the humble abode of a stable, and His love-thy-neighbor message often seems lost amidst the political and financial corruption, cultural sleaze, selfishness and personal immorality of this era. Yet, for those who look and listen, the cacophony of human nature has not silenced the quiet message of Jesus. Rather, it has made it more relevant.
Americans live amidst unparalleled wealth; Jesus was born into and lived in poverty. We think of 401k and IRAs to plan for the future; he spoke of loving our neighbors to stockpile spiritual treasurers for eternity. We are captivated by the wondrous conveniences and technology of our time; he reminds us of simple, unchanging principles.
Last week, this newspaper carried the story of one woman’s generous gift of a kidney to a virtual stranger, a gift she believes is the result of God’s call. Jesus calls on His followers to do likewise, to assist those in need, to stand up to evil and corruption – to love one another. Christmas is a reminder of that message, and it appears during the days leading up to Christmas that more of us are cognizant of the needs of others and increasingly likely to demonstrate the qualities Jesus seeks.
Jesus calls for peacemakers and people of good will every day. Christianity is demonstrated not by the celebration of Christ’s birthday so much as by the lives and lifestyles of those who claim it. May Christmas 2003 remind all Christians of that truth.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
December 24, 2003

The first gift of Christmas was a child
There are several hundred smiling faces in this week’s newspaper, faces which mute the cynics and renew the faithless.
Each Christmas, this newspaper compiles hundreds of photos of area children in a special section. It is a Christmas card to our readers signed by the hundreds in whose hands rest all of our dreams.
Where but in the eyes of a child can you see both the past — little Tommy has granddad’s eyes, sister Suzie has her mother’s hair — and the future — Blake wants to be a fireman, Jane a doctor.
Tomorrow is a memory of today by the children, youngsters whose innocence is our joy, whose faces light up our homes and whose wonder keeps tradition alive.
Many cultures believe that it is the old who keep traditions, who pass down the wisdom of years and the touchstones of life. But it is the young who are the torchbearers. Without a new generation to teach, traditions mean very little.
It is that faith in the future and our collective desire to pass the cultural torch which makes Christmas a special season. It is a season of faith, not only of religion, but also in our humanity. Even with the kitsch and commercialism being blared around us, the fundamental desire for “peace on earth, good will to men” rings through. Our social conventions may sometimes be shallow, but somehow generation after generation will touch the core of the Christmas spirit and be renewed.
For some, it is a season of mixed emotions. Amid all the gaiety, there are the memories of friends and family who are gone. The music, the smell of a Christmas tree and the annual nesting of families bring back the bittersweet thoughts.
For others, it will be the last Christmas together. There are those who face the inevitable end and even having lived a good and long life is little consolation to the families who will miss them.
But in the faces of their offspring, of the great-grandchildren who laugh and play around them, is the faith that pulls life forward. Without the laughter of children, there would be an emptiness in their wake.
And so, the torch is passed and the traditions continue, someday to be in the hands of those who now play around the Christmas tree and peek up the chimney.
The past and the future come together at Christmas — the memories of our own childhoods mixed with the new memories now being formed by our children. They will someday look back at this special time and smile just as we do at our own childhood memories.
And someday our children’s children will tug at the Christmas tree ornaments and be amazed by the shimmering Christmas lights along city streets.
They will sing in church plays and perform in school concerts.
They will sit on Santa’s knee and promise to be good so they can get that new bike.
They will look at the nativity set and rearrange the pieces, always making a special place for the Baby Jesus.
They will want to watch the tape of Rudolph until they know every line by heart.
They will ask 1,000 questions about the sleigh and reindeer.
They will leave milk and cookies because Santa’s sure to be hungry.
They will check the stockings every day, just in case.
They will eat too much candy and be happy about it.
They will hope.
They will dream.
And they, too, will someday know that the first gift of Christmas was a child.

Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald. This is a reprint of his favorite Christmas column from several years ago.

The Jackson Herald
December 24, 2003

One solitary life
An Annual Christmas Message From The Jackson Herald
The imagery of the Christ Child being born in a stable beneath a bright star surrounded by both learned Wise Men and humble shepherds is one of the most powerful pictures in human history. Humble by birth, He became a shepherd of men, a king of kings and the light of humankind.
Yet, for all His impact on this world, little is known about the man we call Jesus. Relative to others of his era, his known words are few. And virtually nothing is known of His childhood after the birth in Bethlehem.
Many of Jesus’ parables revolve around the common things He observed, and it isn’t too much to imagine that those well-known stories may have come from the things he saw as a child, say scholars who wish to study the area.
Perhaps it is by design that we know so little about His childhood. But what we know of His later life was destined to change the world.
One unknown writer said it best:
He was born in an obscure village.
He worked in a carpenter shop until he was 30.
He then became an itinerant preacher.
He never held an office.
He never had a family or owned a house.
He didn’t go to college.
He had no credentials but himself.
He was only 33 when the public turned against him.
His friends ran away.
He was turned over to enemies and went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth.
He was laid in a borrowed grave.
Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race.
All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that One Solitary Life.

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