I love Christmas. I love Christmas the way a friend who loves you, but has not been raised like you, loves it. I don’t want Christmas to be my holiday, but in America it must be partly my holiday because of the way Christmas washes over its theological banks and changes America for the better.
I’m happy to love Christmas the way all of us should learn to love those holidays that are great but not ours. I love Christmas the way some Christians I know love Passover. Every year, when he was well, my dearest friend, Fr. Tom Hartman, came to my house for Passover, and he ate everything but the horseradish. Every Christmas, I tried to help Tommy decorate a tree, eat some Christmas cookies and give thanks to God that there’s no horseradish in Christmas!
However, beyond the tinsel and toys, what I love about Christmas is very deep and reaches out to non-Christians in gentle but profound ways.
I love Christmas most of all because of its universal message of hope, symbolized by the manger. I love mangers. I love the animals more than the three kings, but the baby Jesus in the cradle is my real favorite. At his birth, before his adult mission that theologically divides us began, the infant Jesus was a symbol of inchoate hope. He was hope the way all babies are hope. Carl Sandberg once wrote: “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.” I agree and the baby Jesus is a symbol of all babies and the way they gently help us upgrade our idea of life and its spiritual possibilities.
The more advanced element of hope symbolized by the birth of Jesus is the hope that we might all find a way to correct our lives, which are all broken by sin. Each religion has a different way to teach hope. I believe God’s Torah is my hope for a life of virtue and salvation. Whether I need Jesus’ hope will be sorted out by God in the fullness of time, but this week I’m uplifted by the great story of hope contained in the Christian account of the birth of Jesus. A baby in a manger seems to me to be a perfect depiction of a future that’s neither bleak nor abandoned.
Christmas is certainly one of the greatest holidays any religion has ever produced. Its combination of twinkle and hearth, cookies and wreaths, plus the promise of a redeemer for this wounded world, and of Santa while we wait, is extraordinary and alluring, magical and moving. Christmas works so well, it’s no wonder that one out of every three people on earth is a Christian.
Again, please don’t misunderstand me. I have no desire to become a Christian, no desire to move from the trunk to the branch of this good old tree that Paul images in Romans 11.
And so I offer up a simple prayer for kids from 1 to 92 (Mel Torme, a Jewish guy, wrote those words). I’m happy that Tommy is alive this Christmas, and I pray that he will be alive for many more.
I believe that religion is not like cheerleading for your home team. It’s not about selfish parochialism, but rather about appreciating all those who are climbing the same mountain to the Truth on different paths.
I love the music, the scent, the twinkle and hope of Christmas. I even love its chaos and commercial nonsense. After all, retailers have to eat, too, and anyway, the whole crazy thing is really just about giving to those you love, and such a virtue is both simple and unalloyed.
Thank you, God, for giving your Christian children such a great holiday. I’m truly happy for them, if not with them. Their Christmas has brightened our darkened streets and filled our world with a measure of hope and joy during the winter season.
When Ramadan comes round again, I will be happy for Ramadan. When Wesak (the Buddha’s birthday) comes in May, I will be happy for Wesak, but now, in this season and on this day, I’m happy, truly happy, for Christmas.
God bless us one and all. Merry Christmas!