Board Certified Periodontist

84 – Discovering a Different Christmas

Hi and welcome. You are listening to The Perio Patient Podcast and I am Dr. Ben Young, a periodontist in San Antonio, Texas.

The purpose for this podcast is to encourage my patients and then anyone else who cares to listen.

The focus is on managing your own healthcare, of course primarily to do with periodontal things, and part of this, as I have said on many other podcasts has to involve managing our own complex personalities, which gets to topics like this one and some others coming up that are more, let’s say, general in nature.

It’s important to do effective homecare and it’s important to see your general dentist and dental hygienist, and yes, on occasions see me, but the reasons for all of this are secondary to the importance of the overall life you are living. Taking care of ourselves only makes sense if we value who we are. Let me say this in the reverse. If we have little value or respect for who we are, then it becomes difficult to justify in our own minds to do additional things to improve our teeth and gums, let alone the rest of our health. Inner happiness and contentment correlate with our interest with our own health.

In this episode I want to talk about Christmas and health, not physical health, although that would probably be an interesting topic to explore, but more about our happiness and contentment.

Now, one of the beauties of podcasts is you can listen or pass and it’s all good. So I will warn you up front this will be a discussion about Christmas unlike anything I think you have ever heard before and it will have a spiritual component to it.

A good friend and I were sitting around the little propane fire ring outside my Airstream one evening recently and he shared with me something that was bugging him having to do with a recent Bible study he was in with his home church group.

The discussion was about Advent. I know, sort of obscure, right? And he was frustrated with how difficult it is to take a topic like this and get anything out of it. Now, in case you might be wondering what Advent is, a period on the Christian calendar ahead of Christmas – and we will get more into this in a bit.

How does anyone take something like Advent and use it to really benefit anyone? And what really animated my friend on this really old-school Christian topic was the suggestion by his group’s discussion leader that they should all share the meaning or importance of Advent someone in the coming week.

Of course, I pointed out that he can truthfully report back to the group leader he had accomplished the assignment because he shared it with me.

“No, that’s not the intent,” he said. “We are supposed to share it with strangers in order draw them into the church, to give them hope, and I don’t see it.”

It reminded me of a story in a book I am reading by well-known author who lived in Louisiana by the name of Walker Percy. He wrote both fiction and nonfiction, won a number of prestigious awards in his life time. He died in 1990.  Before he became a writer, he was trained to be a physician, but got tuberculosis and had to convalesce in a sanitarium a few years. During that time, he read a lot of of books including philosophy, converted to Roman Catholicism and decided to become a writer. I tell you all this to explain that his writing is deep. So, I am slowly reading one of his non-fiction books entitled Message in a Bottle because it is heavy stuff. Reading it too quickly is as good, at least to me, as not having read it at all.

In one chapter he begins by telling the story  of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, the first European to report back to seeing the Grand Canyon.

Percy’s point in telling this story was to actually talk about how any of the rest of us see the Grand Canyon and that we don’t, and possibly can’t, see it the way Vázquez de Coronado did.

Now I find it interesting, that I just described a location on the globe with just two words, “Grand Canyon” and you knew what I was talking about. That’s how famous this place is. And it is because the power of the images have saturated our lives leaving a pretty strong impression how grand this place must be.

A lot of it is advertising, because it as a terrific travel destination.  The National Parks Service estimates that 5.9 million people visit the Grand Canyon annually.

When I shared this with my friend that Walker Percy believes we don’t go to see the Grand Canyon Coronado saw, when he accidentally walked over a hill one day in the 1500’s. But we go to have a different kind of experience. Something that will conform to our preconceived expectations.

We want the real Grand Canyon to live up to the pictures we have seen. In other words, we don’t want the real Grand Canyon, we want to believe we have experienced something that will allow us to tell others we have seen the Grand Canyon. If we can have a story or two to share then the time and money to get there will have been worth it. And also, we go with family and friends with the hope that the trip will improve our relationships and give us lasting memories of one another at that location. The Grand Canyon therefore becomes a backdrop or stage for something else.

For many the experience is worth it and for others it is a letdown, not because the Grand Canyon changes, but because different people’s expectations are either fulfilled or not.

Well, that story was Percy’s stepping off point to talk about how we learn and what we learn. What stuck with me was he said that some experiences that are just accidental become more profound and influential in our lives than the ones we plan

 or the ones we learn through lectures,

or the internet,

or in books.

And I can relate to this.

It’s difficult to plan real life or make real life conform to our expectations.

It was at this point when my conversation with my friend about Advent took a deeper dive.

We all want Christmas to be great, to live up to our expectations based on wonderful memories in the past. But by just acknowledging this, it becomes pretty clear that this is impossible. In fact, the more Christmases we have, the more they are different from those in childhood. How can they be any other way?

Unfortunately, if we don’t stop and realize this, and I didn’t for many of my early adult years, then we are setting ourselves up for some disappointments.

Christmas as a holiday is designed for children. It’s about the birth of a baby after all. All of us first experienced it as children. Its celebration has been as festive for at least since the time of Charles Dickens. And its both religious and secular with a lot of marketing dollars behind it dressing up stores and communities and becoming the backdrop to Christmas parades and festivals in small towns and big cities all over the world.

The problem is we can’t stay children. At first, as we move into adulthood and parenthood, we can live vicariously through our children, and a little later on possibly, through our grandchildren – but this is where it becomes more complicated. I enjoy celebrating Christmas with children, but overtime, honestly, there has to be more to keep my expectations for the holiday – that advent time – to continue to be enjoyable.

Children and adults enjoy things differently, don’t they? What kids like are not what adults like, and I submit to you that what adults enjoy a lot is meaning – to see Christmas in different ways. Little children love having the same story retold, and this is wonderful for them. Adults want, and frankly need a little more. The problem and the difference is, children receive Christmas from adults. Adults have to figure out how to obtain meaning without it being given to them. Which brings me back to Walker Percy, who tells us he thinks that sometimes it’s the accidental, the unexpected, that become more meaningful over the planned and mindlessly repeated traditions from the past.

What’s my point? Simply this. What would it take to discover Christmas like Coronado discovered the Grand Canyon?

Is it even possible?

I think so.

But to do so, we can’t just keep doing the same things we have always done expecting different results. The answer can’t be found in accumulating more golden rings or drummers drumming than we got last year.

So for a few minutes, lets you and me try to see the Grand Canyon, we know as Christmas, from a new place. Let’s leave the tourists and guides and walk down a small trail that is obviously off the beaten path.

Let’s learn about Christmas from the baby in that story by having him tell us a story he shared later in his life.

I think of it as the buried treasure story.

You’ve probably heard it. It’s pretty familiar.

And it’s just one verse which translates in English into just two sentences.

It’s found in Matthew chapter 13 and verse 44.  

But before I share it, let me just say, that the reason it is so easy for the secular world to celebrate the birth of a major religious figure, the one at the center of a major world religion, Christianity, without any worries whatsoever, that it will adversely affect their lives, making them more spiritual, is because, after all, the baby, never speaks. Which is another way of saying that what really changes lives are words and ideas from important people, both living and dead. If we never listen or read what they say then the fact that they lived has little impact on our lives.

Now, the two-sentence short story. 

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

The end.

What a great plot line.

So, there was this guy and he found a treasure buried on a piece of land. Perhaps the treasure was too big to sneak off. The moment he would begin to carry it off, someone would come by and ask the obvious question. “Is this your treasure?”

The problem, of course, is that it can’t be his treasure if it is buried on someone else’s property. So, he has to figure out how to buy the land, AND do it in a way that doesn’t bring attention to the real reason why he wants to buy it. It will have to look like a normal everyday run of the mill transaction.

But there is a problem. He doesn’t have the money.

Which means he will have to sell what he has to get the money to buy the land.

But it makes perfect economic sense if you factor in there is a huge, amazing treasure buried there. Once he takes possession, all his economic problems will be forever gone. He will be a new man, a different man, a wealthy man, a happy man.

So, as he anticipates taking possession of the treasure, as he goes through all the steps of selling his possessions, he is in his own advent season. Advent means coming by the way. We are waiting for the coming or arrival of someone important. But what he is waiting for isn’t celebrated by everyone else around him, that’s because they don’t know his secret.

Also, even as he gets rid of the things he has, to buy a barren piece of land, considered of no real value by those who only can see what is visible and from a distance, what is it he experiences?

He experiences JOY. That’s what the story says. Let’s go back, I will read it again.

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Which isn’t a shallow sort of giddiness. It’s a deeper sense of happiness or contentment.

So far, the story, is a good one just on a secular plane. But it really isn’t about a physical treasure. It’s about something called the Kingdom of Heaven. So let’s go a little deeper into that part of the story.

A kingdom is a land ruled by a king. That’s the simple obvious part, sort of what everyone would see who looks across a fence at a piece of barren land.

A king, or ruling monarch is someone with complete authority, complete power over his kingdom, including his subjects. And by complete power, I mean the power over life and death.

Now let’s connect some more dots. The one who is telling this story is the one who was born in a manger. The one whose birth is the basis for the holiday of Christmas.

And when the baby grew up, who was he? Well, that would depend on how you saw him.

In the Old Testament book Isaiah, written about 700 years before the birth of Christ, there is this description of the one who was to come and take away the sins of the world. He was described in Isaiah 53:2 as having “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

So, here is what I think the deeper message of this buried treasure story is.

Jesus himself is the buried treasure in his own story. The baby in the manger is the treasure we celebrate at Christmas. If you get that, then you can begin to understand what it is he really saying.

Let’s stop here for now.

Next time, let’s continue down a different path to understanding the deeper treasures of Christmas by looking at the five candles on the advent wreath.

This has been The Perio Patient Podcast and I am still Dr. Ben Young. Thanks for listening. Bye for now.

Why don’t you ever see Santa in the hospital? Because he has private elf care!