Associated Press
Faith Hartlaub, 7, of Aliso Viejo takes part in a candle lighting service at the end of Coast Hills Church's Christmas Eve service in Aliso Viejo Monday DEC. 24, 2012.

Often this time of year the thought will be expressed that people should act as if every day were Christmas. By the time you read this, chances are the presents will be opened, and perhaps the Christmas dinner consumed. It may be appropriate to take a moment and ponder how the world would be different if people really did act as if every day were like today.

The question may not be entirely fair. For too many people, Christmas is about material gifts, the hosting of parties or the unspoken expectation that certain tasks will be performed and traditions upheld. Your primary emotion at the moment may be a well-deserved feeling of relief. In that sense, a succession of Christmas Days might induce more stress than the most demanding professions.

Perhaps it would be better to wonder how the world would be different if people knew their days were soon about to end. That may be the best way to access the true spirit of Christmas.

In his biography of the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, "When Pride Still Mattered," author David Maraniss described how the coach acted when he realized he was seriously ill and about to die.

In contrast to his reputation as a hard-nosed coach who took no excuses for failure and who pushed his players relentlessly, Lombardi chose to confide to his daughter-in-law, a new mother, that he had been too hard on his own children. "I made so many mistakes with my kids," he told her.

While walking with this same daughter-in-law, he saw a woman selling flowers that looked old and droopy. He bought them all and gave them to his daughter-in-law. Later, he took his own daughter and her children to a store and began grabbing items "as though (he) was on a game show where he had five minutes to throw as much as he could into the shopping cart. It was not that he had to buy her love, the love was there, but time was not."

Much as Scrooge in Charles Dickens' famous "A Christmas Carol," Lombardi suddenly had a new perspective. The things that truly matter — family, relationships, love — suddenly assumed their rightful place in his life.

The real message of this day is that Jesus Christ was born more than 2,000 years ago to bring perspective to those really valuable things. More importantly, he was born to give us a way to make those things last forever.

It's easy to glean the intellectual benefits from Christ's life. His teachings form the basis for modern thoughts and assumptions about what is right and good. He taught the so-called "golden rule," which is that we treat others as we would like to be treated. He exemplified this by treating all he met with charity. He taught people to return evil acts with good and to love those who hate them.

It's easy to see how the world would be better just by following this example. But it takes faith to see that the greatest gift of this season is the hope he gave mankind. That hope makes the worst tragedies bearable and the cruelest injustices sufferable.

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As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in his poem, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," this gift often gets lost in the noise and commotion of the world. Longfellow knew about commotion. He wrote this in the wrenching days of the Civil War, when death and pain were everywhere. Despite all of that, he was moved to exclaim, "God is not dead, nor doth he sleep/ The wrong shall fail, the right prevail/ with peace on earth, good will to men."

As you wind down on this important holiday, ponder this: If the true spirit of Christmas prevailed on a daily basis, the world not only would know peace, in every sense, it would know joy.

The good news is it is a condition that is attainable for all.