The license-plate holder of a car recently observed on a city street said, "We are the people our parents warned us about."
It was seen on an icy night when people were scurrying about in a frantic attempt to finish last-minute Christmas shopping. As it disappeared into the gloom of a December night, the thought lingered. What did it mean?
What types of people did our parents warn us about?
Many of them have warned about people who are selfish, who seek only to gratify themselves, who buy things they can't afford or who would rather seek meaningless entertainment than spend time adding joy to the lives of others.
Perhaps a more serious way to think of the bumper sticker would be to turn it into a question and frame it in a different light. Are we the people the prophets warned us about?"
"This know also," the Apostle Paul wrote, "that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God." (2 Timothy 3:1-4)
To be sure, there are notable examples today of people who strive to do good and who give freely of themselves and their substances to others. But too much of the most visible part of the world, in entertainment, computer games and other popular pursuits, is beginning to fit the profile Paul prophetically described.
Christmas is a resounding refutation of that philosophy.
The birth of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem was a miracle. It was foretold for centuries and was heralded by angels and heavenly choirs. His birth, life, death and resurrection are the victory of love, justice, righteousness and eternal hope. Because of him, life is a resounding triumph, not a tragedy. Ultimately, he transcended the temporary nature that characterized everything our eyes can see.
"Surely, he hath borne our griefs," the prophet Isaiah wrote. And "with his stripes, we are healed."
Human nature being what it is, people through the ages have had trouble looking beyond their own concerns. Certainly, most people at the time of Christ's birth were too self-absorbed to comprehend what was happening in a manger near Bethlehem — star, angels and heavenly choirs not withstanding.
Likewise, many today are too busy with distractions to ponder the events commemorated this weekend.
The Christmas season ought to be, above all, a celebration of hope and a time for renewal. Christ's birth is the only antidote to a world that seems increasingly filled with the sorts of behavior the prophets, and perhaps even our parents, warned us about.