There’s a poignant scene in the animated TV classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when Charlie Brown, frustrated with the over-commercialization of the holiday, exclaims, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” To this, his trusty and thoughtful side-kick, Linus, responds by reciting the story of Jesus’ birth as it’s described in the book of Luke:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Indeed, despite all the holiday hoopla we’re accustomed to seeing this time of year, the birth of Jesus is what Christmas is all about, an event that changed the course of history and gave rise to one of the world’s great religions.
Jesus’ teachings are perhaps best summarized in his so-called Golden Rule: “…all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” The imperative, of course, is not simply for everyone to do his or her best get along but to consciously, consistently strive to express such moral sentiments as forgiveness, compassion, and love.
When you think about it, though, the true meaning of Christmas goes well beyond making this world a better, more pleasant place to live. Even if you don’t consider yourself particularly (or even partially) religious, there’s no denying the implication Jesus’ example continues to have for our health.
That’s right. Health.
Although it may have taken awhile for us to figure it out (close to two thousand years, at last count), those same sentiments extolled by Jesus – and, to be fair, other religious leaders – can have a major influence over the way we see the world, the divine, and our relationship to it all; the result being not just a better attitude but often a better body.
There’s not room enough in this column to recount the many medical studies that have been done in this arena, all pointing to the fact that, for instance, a compassionate attitude can have a measurable impact on the health of both giver and receiver. (This is why I write about this subject every week).
One of the most recent, mentioned in an article by Dr. Emma Seppala, Associate Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), took a look at the relationship between compassion and inflammation.
Referring to the study’s co-authors, Steve Cole and Barbara Fredrickson, Dr. Seppala writes, “They found that people who were happy because they lived the ‘good life’ (sometimes also know as ‘hedonic happiness’) had high inflammation levels but that, on the other hand, people who were happy because they lived a life of purpose or meaning (sometimes also known as ‘eudaimonic happiness’) had low inflammation levels. A life of meaning and purpose is one focused less on satisfying oneself and more on others. It is a life rich in compassion, altruism, and greater meaning.”
In other words, by doing “whatsoever ye would that men should do to you” we’ll all be a lot happier and healthier.
Although we may respond at different times and in different ways, that same angel message that roused those wandering shepherds so many ago continues to inspire the world today, a potent reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, even the hope of health and healing for us all.
Eric Nelson is a Christian Science practitioner, whose articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.