Embracing good will this Christmas

Posted on December 24, 2019 in Inclusion Policy Context

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors

And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour. …

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 to men.

This cosmic declaration of “good will” to bedazzled Bethlehem shepherds, as recounted in the Gospel of Luke, has remained a hallmark of the Christmas message and mystery for over two millennia.

But what does “good will” actually mean?

The Oxford Dictionary defines good will as “friendly, helpful, or co-operative feelings or attitude.”

But how does good will relate to Christmas?

From classic movies to Christmas carols, through hundreds of store displays and countless advertisements, the message of “peace,” “joy,” and “good cheer” surround our senses at this time of year. When “good will” is added to this list, however, does it become just a personal warm fuzzy, a mushy, mass-produced Yuletide bromide?

Or is it something deeper?

Somewhere amidst this brightly lit mosaic of messaging is the notion that Christmas invites us to have “good will,” not just for family and friends, but for everyone, even those we don’t know very well or like very much. This broad sense of geniality is a vestige of that universal angelic message that walloped the unsuspecting shepherds that first Christmas.

Christmas certainly and fortunately fosters personal good will. We give money to Salvation Army Santas in their crucial ministry to the impoverished, provide presents for underprivileged children, and donate to numerous types of noble charities. These are tremendously important and meaningful acts of good will that come from the heartland of the Christmas message.

But does good will have a societal expression? Is good will something with social purchase? How does good will find its way into our political, economic, and social structures, if at all?

In some sense, our schools, libraries, hospitals, public parks, social housing, legal and social assistance programs all speak to a type of structured good will. These are all places that promote collective caring. These are some expressions of the social dimensions of good will toward all, not just those who can an afford the finer amenities of life.

When we “will good” to someone, we want that person to do well, to thrive and be all that person can be. When that notion of “willing good” is applied societally, it expresses a hope that everyone may have a chance to flourish despite economic, cultural, racial, gendered or societal background.

Yet the Christmas message also proclaims “on earth, peace.” As our present climate emergency vibrantly shows, our current economic and political policies are at war with the planet’s ecosystems. What does “good will” mean in an ecological context?

When we express good will for the larger ecological community, we are invited to see our deep interdependence with all life on earth, and to help all beings flourish.

Good will, then, becomes the soil for solidarity, the grounding of empathy that enables personal, societal, and ecological peace to grow.

Christmas reminds us that without good will, peace with each other and with the earth is impossible.

Good will, in social terms, does not build border walls to keep refugees and migrants out; it does not separate refugee children from their parents in detention centres, as is currently practiced in the U.S.

Closer to home, it does not slash social services unilaterally, remove rent controls, or cut back health care and education, as the Ontario government has done. Nor does it torpedo key environmental initiatives, such as green energy incentives and protection for endangered species, as both the Trump and Ford administrations have.

The good will that we celebrate at Christmas is a type of mirror, held up to ourselves and to our societies, to see how the warm glow of personal kindness and compassion we feel at this season is reflected in, or absent from, not only our personal lives, but our collective social and ecological lifeways.

This Christmas we are invited to be thunderstruck, like Bethlehem herdsmen of old, by the message that “peace on earth” and “good will to all” form a single gift of grace.

Stephen Bede Scharper, a professor of environment at the University of Toronto, is co-editor of the forthcoming book, The Green Bible: Words of Love for a Suffering Creation (Novalis).



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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 24th, 2019 at 9:29 am and is filed under Inclusion Policy Context. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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