Some years this season can seem a little gray. The weather and season of the calendar are not responsible for the gray that I am referring to. It has more to do with the way we view the issues we face in these early days of the 21st century. I am reminded of the line from The Wizard of Oz, “We are not in Kansas anymore.” Regardless of the decade we were born in, all of us can look back to what we perceive to have been innocent times. It is easy to imagine when our world was painted in bright colors and our choices between the “good, bad, and ugly”were clearer. It’s obvious we have arrived somewhere else.
I do appreciate the many blessings of today’s world. My wife and I constantly marvel that we do not spend hours researching to find answers to questions that occur to us. We simply turn to our son, who immediately looks our question up on his smartphone and gives us an answer. I remain a fan of holding a printed magazine in hands, but I prefer to go online for breaking news. And I cannot remember the last time we went to a video store. The world’s library and cultural resources now reside on our connected devices. I have yet to mention the wonders of having all the world’s tangible products available. We are also exposed to the amazing panoply of ideas from all around the globe, and even next door, as never before. Often the best, many times the opposite.
This availability brings its own question into our lives. At what cost?
Most people and cultures share an appreciation for something we call the human conscience. This seems to reside within us, very close to what we know of as consciousness. Their spelling suggests they are related, but different. It is through our consciousness that we perceive the world and its ideas, and take them into ourselves. Our conscience is what tells us what is right, and what is wrong; it is our moral awareness. Here lies the rub. Although they are different, they inform one another. Given enough input, our conscience is continually shaped. As a consequence moral callousness may develop. They can make it difficult to discern the colors of right and wrong, the best among the rest, in the midst of overwhelming fields of gray. Once this occurs, going back to a form of moral innocence is impossible — on our own. The care of our conscience is a team effort.
There are things we can do to nurture a healthy conscience. I try to remember this advice, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Paul, to the Philippians 4:8) Most of us are not very successful at personal thought control. All we have to do is decide not to focus on what seems negative, sensational, or hurtful, and our minds insist on scratching those subjects as if they were bug bites. As a consequence there is always plenty wearing away at our moral awareness.
One of the prayers the church prays during Advent begins, “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation…” The object of the prayer is not to ask our Creator to purge our hearts of guilt or even to forgive our sins. The prayer asks for a reforming of our conscience. Another way to say it is that we are asking for a mature innocence in the way we interpret the world, and those who occupy this marvelous creation with us. This is an innocence that recognizes the challenges of life in this complex world, but insists on looking for the best in all situations and individuals. Imagine the difference this would make in the way we experience those we encounter and the way we interpret the world.
I pray that if you find that your vision of the world, and those you encounter, has begun to turn toward gray, you join me in inviting God to do something about that. It would truly be a gift to once again see the brilliant colors of Christmas as we did when our world was rendered in full Technicolor. And it would be a joy to experience the new year in that same way. This is the Christmas gift I wish for you.