ISIS/ISIL/Daesh yearns to touch off a world-ending apocalypse by committing a genocidal bloodbath.
The guy who killed several people at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado declares himself “a warrior for the babies.”
Donald Trump hopes to ban Muslims from entering the country.
Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio dream of banning Trump from the Republican Party.
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Perhaps sometimes you think the planet has gone cuckoo.
If you do, you’d be right.
But it’s been even worse in the past; people just didn’t have YouTube videos and 24–hour television news channels back then to show them in real time how crazy it was.
During the 1860s, when the U.S. population was only 31 million, 1/10 what it is now, and when weapons were comparatively primitive, our American forebears managed to slaughter 750,000 of their neighbors in four years.
During World War II, the world’s major powers killed more than 50 million men, women and children.
More recently, when I was in first grade, the planet reeled for several days along the precipice of nuclear Armageddon.
Humanity, my friends, is nuts, propelled by a death wish of gargantuan proportions.
No, I mean it.
Here’s what I love about the Christmas season.
We’re all inmates in a vast, orbiting asylum for the criminally insane, the egomaniacal and the morally myopic.
Yet every year at this time, a heavenly host of angels, flashing like fingers of lightning across an inky sky, arrive to proclaim: “Don’t be afraid! We bring you glad tidings of great news! There’s peace on earth, and good will from God!”
They proclaim this in Scripture, and in 10,000 wobbly, ill-rehearsed church plays and in those annual, animated holiday TV shows.
The angels still point us, as they did for a pack of long-ago Middle Eastern shepherds, not toward some mighty warrior on an armored stallion but toward a poor couple’s baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
This baby, the angels say, has come to deliver us from our fears and our lunacy and all the tough news we’ve ever received or ever will. God’s news to us is good, they declare, so don’t fret too much about what CNN says.
The ancient shepherds to whom the angels first appeared were a motley gang, the worst of the worst.
Some religious leaders warned that if you happened across a shepherd who’d fallen into a pit, you were under no requirement to pull him out. If a shepherd tried to sell you something, you shouldn’t buy it, because almost certainly it was stolen.
Shepherds were drunkards and liars, petty criminals. They were smelly and profane. By law, they couldn’t hold public office or testify in court. They were trash.
That’s why God sent them the initial declaration of Christmas. They needed good news. Badly.
“Don’t worry, boys!” the angels cried. “Hurry to Bethlehem and see what God’s done! He’s made a way out of all this despair you’ve caught yourselves in!”
Later, having found the Christ child, the shepherds returned to their flocks light-footed with delight instead of hammered with wine and praising God instead of brawling.
They’d gotten the Christmas message.
And that message hasn’t changed a whit.
You can’t find peace in this life — much less please God in heaven — through bloodletting, belligerence or bombast. You find peace for yourself and others, and please the Lord, through gentleness, generosity and humility.
Neither do you discover peace through worshiping the wealthiest and most powerful people. You find peace through serving the least, through kneeling before a baby in a stable, through feeding a homeless person and giving her a warm blanket.
You find peace when you realize God’s words to you are kind. The world might proclaim you a scalawag not worth pulling out of a hole. But God’s opinion is all that matters, and he loves you as you are, right now, and treats you as his favored child.
When we hear the message of Christmas, when we hold it in our hearts, we find ourselves cocooned in warmth and sanity and blessings, even as the asylum whirs madly all around us.
Indeed, Merry Christmas.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.