I always become pensive in the days before Christmas. In fact, my pondering really begins on my birthday in November and continues through the Thanksgiving holiday and all the way into Christmas Day. It is a time during which I look back on the year that is coming to a close and forward to the dawn of a brand new twelve month cycle in which to do a bit better in the art of living. I mostly think about how amazing it is that even thousands of years later we continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the humble son of a carpenter who became perhaps the most masterful teacher in the art of living that the world has ever known.
Of course there are many religions in this world and many people who do believe in such things, so the annual holiday has morphed into an extravaganza of feasting and gift giving that does not always include mention of the reason that the season first appeared. I have to say that while Christ is very much part of my Christmas, I have no trouble respecting the beliefs of others. I have never been one to insist that everyone agree with my thoughts, but I am always willing to share my views with anyone who wants to take the time to hear or read what I have to say. My relationship with Jesus is quite personal and I do not think that it requires undue proselytizing or judgement on my part to be faithful.
I have a friend whose son was murdered last summer. He has spent each day since then attempting to piece together some kind of explanation for why this tragedy happened to him. He wanted to know how he was supposed to think, to act, to believe. He ultimately came to the profound conclusion that we all too often make God more like a god, a clerk who randomly and sometimes unfairly doles out retribution and favors much like the all too human-like gods of the Greeks. He noted that God is not petty, nor does He love one of us more than another simply because we say prayers or show up at church services.
I have always believed that Jesus was sent to the world to show us how we should strive to be. When I read about Him and His word I find love, empathy and compassion in every story. I find a God who is understanding and forgiving. His parables and stories honor prodigal sons, tax collectors, and a good Samaritan. These were people who would have been disliked or even detested by the people of Jesus’ time. By making them beloved in His stories the message is very clear to me. Our task is to be open and loving to all people. Jesus demonstrated again and again that self-righteousness was not the way, the truth and the light that he wanted us to accept.
I can think of no philosophy more beautiful than the one that Jesus taught us. Sadly, as is often the case with humans we have often times distorted His words and His commands to suit our own narrower views. Because we are fallible we get things twisted in our minds. We judge when we should simply love. We avert our eyes from suffering and turn our backs on people we do not understand. Jesus embraced the sick, the fallen, the hated. We too often forget that his apostles were a rather rag tag group. His friend Mary Magdalene was a woman who had been shunned by the society of the time.
Not once did Jesus tell us to judge who is a sinner among us and yet we do such things all of the time. He never suggested that we should confine our love to only those who agree with His way of living. In fact, He was ever aware that we will falter and He adamantly told us that He will always be willing to forgive our transgressions if we are willing to sincerely profess our contrition. I suppose this is what I love most about His beautiful way of looking at life. He taught us that there is indeed redemption for anyone who honestly seeks it.
For me, Christmas is love. It is forgiveness and compassion. That tiny baby born in the humblest of circumstances would one day tells us that the souls living under our bridges are as important as those living in the mansions of power. He would chastise the hypocritical canons of religion that would place rituals over human decency. He would minister to the poor as though telling us that our duty lies beyond the comfort of our homes. It is out into a world of suffering that we must look. The refugees shivering in the freezing forests of Europe or at the southern border of our country are His sheep and He want us to continue the duties of caring for them just as a loving shepherd would do.
Love was born at Christmas time. The word from this great prophet has endured through the centuries, but we know that we have time and again been derelict in following what He had to say to the fullest extent of our abilities. This Christmas let’s follow His lead and open our arms to all people, even the ones we do not understand. Let us demonstrate a willingness to give of our time, our talent, and our treasure to anyone in need. Let us spread kindness and good cheer wherever we go.