The Generous Gift of Christmas
Of all the Christian feasts, Christmas seems the most accessible
for those who are not Christians. The birth of a child is an event of global joy. The message of hope for a future
of peace is a worldwide yearning. In our hemisphere, the turning of the winter season, as again the light begins to
grow longer than the darkness, has captured human imagination from prehistoric ages.
The symbols of star
and mother, the humble surroundings of manger and animals, of shepherds and sheep – it all evokes a pastoral scene of
gentle life. The sound of angel choirs in the mystery of a star-filled night appeals to the imagination of sensitive
souls and mystics of every culture. The practice of gift-giving and generosity has universal appeal. Decorated
trees and evergreens tie us to ancient earthy expressions of awe and hopefulness.
Christmas is a season that lets
Christianity offer its gentlest, most peaceful face on behalf of our shared human hope for the renewal and rebirth of goodness
on the earth.
How contrary to the Spirit of this generous season is the angry, imperial complaining coming
from some Christian circles objecting to the more inclusive greetings of Happy Holidays and Season’s Greeting, insisting
on the purity of their monopolistic branding by urging boycotts of anyone who doesn’t say Merry Christmas.
It seems ironic that some actually want the birth of Jesus to become commercialized and turned into an exclusive marketing
gimmick. There are people who are offended if merchants don’t try to increase greed and extravagance in Christ’s
name. “Attack on Christmas,” they say if stores advertise a Holiday Sale.
Thank goodness the
holy family wasn’t so arrogant. One of our stories tells how magi from the East followed a star that led them
to the manger. Many believe that these star-gazers were from the priestly ranks of Zoroastrianism, astrologers looking
for signs by reading the heavens. According to Matthew’s story, they came to the manger to gave homage to the
child they believed to be of royal birth. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
foreigners were welcomed by Joseph and Mary. Their gifts were graciously received. No one insisted that the magi
become Jews; no one demanded that they worship Jesus. The wisdom from their own tradition brought them to this place
of joyful birth, and that wisdom was accepted, respected and honored.
For me the image of the meeting of
the magi and the holy family is an image of healthy, ecumenical relationship between religions -- each tradition respecting
the wisdom and virtue of the other without insisting upon subordination.
It is a happy confluence that several
spiritual traditions find this time of year to be holy. While Christians anticipate our Feast of the Incarnation, people
of African descent – Christian and others – celebrate their heritage with the observation of Kwanzaa. Jews
remember the restoration of the Temple with the feast of Hanukkah. Many of earth’s religions have traditions for
observing the solstice. Yule logs, candles and stars all play an important part in these observances.
People from diverse spiritual paths find these days to be Holy Days – Holidays.
I think countries
like Saudi Arabia are impoverished by their intolerance for the public display of other faiths. I think our country
is enhanced by its rich embrace of religious diversity having enshrined freedom of religion into our first amendment.
Christmas is not a time for proud, imperialist behavior by the majority religion. Christmas is a time of generous
hospitality and joy, a time to sing together our dreams of peace, and a time to give thanks for the coming of light into our
darkness. To one and all, Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays.