Editor’s note: The following guest column was written by Mike Hawkins, former chairman of the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners.

“Christmas,” Charles Dickens wrote, “is a kind, forgiving time; the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem, of one consent, to open up their shut hearts freely, and think of all other people as if they are fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

And that really is true.

The season of celebration of Jesus’s birth brings out the best in us, and given Christmas’ universal nature – 95% of Americans observe Christmas, along with two billion others worldwide – a flood of global generosity is unleashed each December.

Here in Transylvania, there are many organizations which serve our fellow citizens and rely on Christmas for large portions of their annual support. Please remember them this Christmas season.

In addition, throughout Advent and Christmas we show love face-to-face through gift exchanges and other acts of kindness. In short, nearly 200 years after Dickens, we continue his annual ritual of opening our “shut hearts” in ways big and small.

Why does Christmas cause this? For Christians the answer is simple; it is the joyous response to the birth of our Savior.

But even with non-Christians, the indescribable loveliness of the nativity story – the silent night, the babe in the manger, angels appearing to shepherds – speaks to something deep within.

This is seen throughout American life this time of year, and even secular cornerstones of the season have deep Christian imagery.

Ebenezer Scrooge is often described as a metaphor of the Christian journey of darkness, redemption, and light.

George Bailey’s inability to return to Bedford Falls until his confession of helplessness before God is widely commented upon. Annual concerns about a “War on Christmas” notwithstanding, the Christian message is thoroughly embedded throughout our experience of the season.

In a way it’s odd, because the Christmas story is filled with contradiction and dispute. The Gospels don’t correlate, and historians tell us the Roman Census never happened; nor did the Slaughter of the Innocents.

There were no astronomical events that would explain the Star of Bethlehem.

Even Christmas’s Dec. 25 date was arbitrarily set by the Roman Church, nearly 400 years after the fact.

But none of that matters, for the meaning of Christmas goes beyond historicity.

For Christians, it is the genuine miracle of the Son of God made flesh, sent to Earth to redeem our sins.

But even for non-Christians, the Christmas story can be deeply meaningful.

Consider: 2,000 years ago, a baby was born in a remote backwater of the Roman Empire. That baby grew up to preach the radical message – then as now – of faith, peace, humility, service and redemption en route to salvation.

He attracted the attention of the local ruling authorities and ultimately was executed under confusing circumstances.

His death triggered a worldwide faith that utterly transformed our planet and continues to do so to this day.

Two thousand years later His radical message – then as now – shines like a beacon across the centuries, bringing light to our world even in the deepest winter darkness.

The light is almost blinding in its clarity and relevance; reach out, you can touch it.

May we all hear the message and – in our own ways and with our own purposes — pledge our lives to making our world brighter. May we all keep our shut hearts open.

What a wonderful Christmas present that will be.

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