As we look around at the Christmas decorations, programs, ceremonies, shopping, cards, greetings and the whole Christmas season, what messages do we get? What does it all mean?
Clearly, something unusual and good is in the air. People seem friendlier, parties and benefits are everywhere. Charities, soap kitchens, and the Salvation Army are busier than usual.
When we think of the origin of Christmas, we realize that it began as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Today, however, it is possible to go through the entire Christmastime without ever hearing that name. Many children are taught that the central figure of Christmas is Santa Claus on his mission of kindness and goodwill.
So, what about this Jesus Christ? Is he still important, even relevant?
Well, we know he must be important if much of the world still celebrates his birthday which happened two millennia ago. With a little research, we can discover that much of the world still belongs to the organization he founded, namely, the Christian church in its many variations.
Why? Why is this man’s influence still felt after so many centuries?
That is a harder question to answer. And there are many answers, some officially pronounced by church authorities, some by individuals. Ultimately, each person must give his/her own answer.
This is my answer.
Christians believe that Jesus Christ was God-come-to-earth, God’s creation of the perfect man. That idea has a richness that confirms our value as human beings, because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”, as John’s gospel tells us. In Jesus, we have been given a vision of the perfect human being, the assurance that such a being CAN exist in spite of all the evil and pettiness we see around us.
The coming of Jesus calls us all to a higher version of ourselves, a better self. The coming of Jesus set the standard of human behavior much higher than it had been before. All of us have our failures as human beings, but the fact of Jesus Christ allows us to better understand when we fail and gives us hope that we – and other people, as well — can do better, can be more like the Christ.
Then there is his story. We have only pieces of his story — bio-sketches in the gospels, along with some of his key teachings. Some of the things that happened in that story, however, are fundamentally shocking.
He could have come to earth as Superman, but he didn’t. He came as a helpless little baby. He chose to be born poor – not the first choice of most of us. He worked his way up in the world by his words, backed up by his works – both of which were extraordinary.
He chose peaceful rebellion instead of military force. He forgave his enemies. He called everyone his brother (or sister). And he worked miracles on occasion to demonstrate that he had the power to do otherwise but chose kindness and mercy rather than violence and force. So, they killed him.
But then he did the most spectacular deed of all: he rose from the dead!
Therein lie the lessons of the perfect man: powerful yet humble, peaceful yet killed by violence, defeated yet triumphant, defining victory as resurrection rather than domination. His message is an interpretation of human life at odds with everything the world teaches us about a successful life. It is a call to become a better person.
The transcendent lesson is pretty clear: We are all going to die. What will matter then is how we lived. How closely to that perfect human being have we been able to become?
Christmas celebrates the coming of God to earth, to us. It is a thrilling realization that this event happened, this event that brings hope and joy and forgiveness into our lives and gives us a vision of the mountain top from which we can launch our own resurrection. If God so loved us, then we are all worth loving, we all can love fearlessly, completely and happily.
We celebrate and give each other gifts as a recognition of God’s love for each of us, of your value as a person loved by God and loved by me – a value which was revealed once and for all on the day that God sent his Son to be born in a manger in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago.
So, yes, Christmas is still relevant.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!