The meaning of Christmas is not embedded in the holiday tradition itself. Although bumper stickers reading, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” are clearly noticeable, it is significant to note that the early Christian church did not celebrate the birth of Christ. Nowhere is Christmas mentioned in the New Testament as a historical and biblical account. The tradition evolved later in church history. In fact, for these and other reasons, many Christians bypass Christmas as a holiday, preferring to place emphasis on Easter, notable for the biblical account of the resurrection of Christ.
Regardless of the history, I choose not to be so literal about my holidays. In spite of the commercialism and materialism which tarnishes the spirit of Christmas, the holiday does signify some universal meaning. For the Christian community, the meaning of Christmas must take on a broader significance in today’s world. The question we must pose is, “Will I turn inward and be exclusive in my dealings with other people who share different faith traditions, or will I recognize, respect and embrace the richness of cultural differences. This issue is of primary importance in light of recent political/cultural polarization fostered by many in our Christian community and our federal government.
Recently, a story came to my attention about Christmas decorations displayed at the Seattle airport. A Rabbi had made a request, not because of the Christmas arrangements, but because his holiday had been ignored. The Rabbi requested that the airport display Menorahs symbolizing Hanukah. The airport bulked at the suggestion, the Rabbi threatened suit, and the airport proceeded to remove the Christmas trees. The Rabbi had never asked that the trees be removed. I’m sure the airports reasoning went something like, “If we have to display Menorahs, God only knows who else we will have to support!”
As tormented as he is, Rodney King had it right – “Can’t we all just get along.” Herein lays the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not about turning inward, it’s about looking outward. It’s not about merely looking through the eyes of your own faith, it’s about seeing through the eyes of our friends who happen to share a different faith orientation. The true meaning of Christmas is tainted by our need to defend and protect our beliefs. True faith calls for reaching out to others who don’t necessarily share our same beliefs.
The true meaning of Christmas is a call for tolerance, acceptance, and unity. What a wonderful tribute could have been demonstrated in the Seattle airport to the universality of faith traditions had they opened their hearts and minds to a Rabbi, rather than blaming him for stirring up the pot.
What is wrong with us? As Christians, we politicize private medical decisions, expect the world to eagerly embrace our ideals without emulating them, and continue to profile people who share different values and cultural perspectives. We deny our insensitivity, stay within our emotional bubble and celebrate our Merry Christmas with those like us.
The true meaning of Christmas involves “getting our heads out of the sand”, and clearly viewing the world the way it really is. It means joining hands with those who are different than we are, and embracing their right to live freely in this wonderful country. May we all pause this Christmas and take action to support the poor, the needy, the disenfranchised, and particularly our brother and sisters who see the world from a perspective different from ours.
James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC, CCBT is an author, freelance writer, and cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. His personal growth book, Stepping Out of the Bubble is available at http://www.amazon.com James can be reached at www.krehbielcounseling.com