At this time of year people of faith are always asked to remember “the true meaning of Christmas”—the humble birth, to an immaculately conceived virgin, of the child Jesus in Bethlehem, a child who was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour who would atone for our sins by dying on the cross. We are told by our pastors that it is this story that we should hold foremost in out hearts and minds at Christmas. We are urged to rejoice that Christ the Saviour is born.
I recognize that the Nativity story—told only in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and differently in these two—is both believed and beloved by millions of Christians worldwide. And it is indeed a beautiful and magical story—the star, the Magi, the gifts, the angels and the shepherds, the manger.
But as it tells me nothing about how to live in this world, unlike the life and teachings of the adult Jesus, it carries little significance for me and moves me not deeply.
If we believe, however, that the love Jesus felt for us was so great that he eschewed all material comfort and lived a life of poverty and simplicity in order to spread his message of love, and if we believe that he ultimately gave his life to show the power of love and of truth, then his birth into a world of conflict and suffering, of greed and hypocrisy, carries powerful and timeless symbolic significance for every Christian and even for non-Christians.
It seems to me that we need this message much more than we need the quaint story of the Nativity and the promise of forgiveness of sin so that we might achieve eternal life in the next world.
An important part of the Christmas message is “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men.” The message is meaningless, however, unless we understand that celebrating the birth of Jesus includes an invitation to constantly re-create ourselves in his image. Only when the peace of Christ and good will toward both those who love us and those who do not love us are born in our hearts again and again can we truly be said to have captured and embodied the spirit of Christmas.
Blessings to all this Christmas season.
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