The voices of Christmas

The past few days I have been listening to people around me, not just family and friends, but the strangers that intersect our lives at odd times and places.  If you just listen to the words of strangers you can learn a lot about who they are and what troubles them.
After one such conversation, I consciously tried to actually hear what people around me were saying.  I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but rather was just filtering out the noise that surrounds us all.  I believe the holiday season with its flood of memories and added pressures often cause people to open up just a bit more and perhaps a bit louder.
My sense is there are a lot of lonely people out there.  Just last week I read that for the first time more than 50% of Americans eat alone at meals.  Their closest companion is the smartphone where they may be texting with friends, but it isn’t really the same as looking in the eyes of another person.
I have heard people talk about their faith beliefs.  The conversations reflect our population, from those that believe in the exact facts of Christ’s birth, to those that acknowledge Him as a prophet or great leader, but not the Son of God.  Then others believe there is no Divine Being, even as they enjoy pageantry and beauty of the commercial Christmas season.
Related to my own faith journey, I looked at the dark sky last Saturday night.  The skies were filled with more stars than I can remember in a long time.  It brought back my own childhood struggle to comprehend the meaning of the words “infinity” and “forever”.
One definition of faith is a belief in something that cannot be proved.  I cannot prove how far infinity goes.  I can’t prove that love cures all evil, or even that God listens to and answers prayers.  I can’t prove that my journey of faith is the only path to heaven, nor do I believe that it is.
What I can say is that I have a conviction that God exists and is present in my life.  I know that my own personal salvation is directly related to Jesus Christ, born in a manger two thousand years ago.  I know this even as I have faith that the two-thirds of the world’s population that are not Christian have their own and sometimes different conversations with God.  
I have had real, specific prayers answered and trust that God continues to listen to those prayers that I offer.  I have an inner certainty that God loves me and that He has provided me with Grace that I don’t deserve.  I know that I do not walk alone and that knowledge quiets my soul when it is troubled.  
My newest Christmas tradition is that I don’t pass any Salvation Army kettle without emptying the change in my pocket, no matter where I am.  I try to speak to each person ringing that bell and have learned what an extraordinary group of selfless people they are.  
I will enjoy Christmas as I always have this year.  However, in addition to the good food, the presents, the banter with family and the laughter of my grandchildren, I will reflect on the many voices I have heard this Christmas season.  
From these voices of the lost and lonely, the frazzled and afraid, the defiant and angry, I have seen the true meaning of this Christmas season and through their voices I believe the voice of God is just a little more clear to me.
My Christmas prayer is that God’s grace will surround you now and forever, regardless of your religion, beliefs or station in life.  I have faith that He can handle it all.   
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Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

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