It will soon be Christmas Day. How will you celebrate?
For many, it means time off from work to spend with family, opening lots of gifts and eating lots of food. Christmas trees and lights, candles, music, and special traditions grace the holiday, giving it a festive feel. The wonderful sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas are often accompanied by the stress of shopping, parties, concerts, and preparations.
So, why do we celebrate Christmas?
Do the calendars and shopping malls simply tell us it’s time and we automatically pull out decorations and to-do lists and call it Christmas? Or is there something deeper and more compelling?
My oldest son is a member of a youth choir. Recently, in preparation for a beautiful piece called "Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)", the director asked if anyone knew what the song was about. No one was too eager to answer. Gradually it became apparent that close to half of the 43-member choir hadn’t even heard the nativity story of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.
I realize that many people don’t go to church or read the Bible and most public schools have banned traditional Christmas pageants and even the word "Christmas," but I was stunned to think that nowhere in their culture did they encounter that story — that bit of history.
Somehow, we’ve turned the story into a matter of religion only when Jesus is part of history, just as much as the Egyptian pharaohs and Roman rulers, Gandhi, Mohammed and Queen Victoria. In fact, he was so pivotal that we base our calendars and all dates in history as the time before Christ or the time after.
The reason we have Christmas at all is that Jesus was born over 2,000 years ago and people have been celebrating the love, light, and hope he brings, for almost as long. Even Santa Claus comes out of the legend of Saint Nicholas, a follower of Christ who gave generously and sought justice.
Our culture has, for the most part, buried the Christ in Christmas for the sake of tolerance.
While I believe in respecting the beliefs of all people and how they may differ from mine, I also believe we are fooling ourselves if we try to pretend the holy day we are approaching has nothing to do with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and the angels, shepherds and wise men. It’s a shame there’s a generation that’s never heard about them.
As we approach Christmas, I encourage you to think about why and how you are celebrating the holiday.
Enjoy the food and family times. Reach out to those who are lonely and needy. And remember the love that was born that first "Christmas."