By Carol S. Pearson
Christmas is a time when many of us show our love for friends and families through presents and lovely occasions with decorations and the foods and precious traditions, old or new, from our families or friendship groups.
I know that part of what I loved as a child was not so much presents but the story of a baby being born who grew up to teach us all to love one another. And coming from a very loving family, I enjoyed the closeness of arriving home after an annual Swedish feast with the relatives on Christmas Eve to find that Santa Claus had been there. Under the light of a Christmas tree, I would open a very simple present, usually something like the robe I needed anyway, but with parents, and later also a brother, who loved me. After I was supposed to be in bed, I would sneak out and sit by the tree by myself, lit only by holiday lights, savoring how miracles were, in fact, real. I think my parents knew and were secretly pleased.
Christmas means so many things to different people. Some who are very religious complain that the “Christ” has gone out of Christmas. To many, Christmas means that a savior was born to save us from original sin and we must believe in him or spend eternity in torment. To numerous other Christians, it is about a model for “loving our neighbors” and letting go of judgment. Yet, sadly, to some who have different religious beliefs, or none, it is about exclusion and even oppression, as they point to a history of Christians condoning slavery and the oppression of women, other races, and those of other religions.
So, what is the magic of Christmas that can be there for us all? Biblical scholars teach us that “Christ” was not the last name of the historical Jesus. In the language of the Hebrews (and particularly the tradition of the Hebrew Essenes), the word describes an enlightened and loving way of being, but it also has its equivalent in most other religions. In this sense, Jesus, who may be regarded as either a historical personage or an archetypal mythological figure, can be seen as embodying this “Christ spirit,” and calling us to do so as well, whatever our religious heritage calls this loving “Christ” potential within us.
In one of his exquisite Christmas sermons, the great 13th century theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart shocked many of his time when he argued:
Here in time we celebrate the eternal birth that God the Father bore and still bears constantly in eternity, and which is also now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says that this birth is happening continually. We should ask ourselves: If it doesn’t happen in me, what good is that birth after all? What ultimately matters is that God’s birth should happen in me.
This theme runs throughout his work; for example, he also said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God… for God is always needing to be born.”
Here again, there are many layers in how this can be interpreted. If you are a traditional Christian, it could remind you to allow Jesus into your heart, so that he can save you. As the next step, or as a progressive Christian, you would to seek to follow his example by birthing the Christ virtues daily. As a member of another religion or someone purely secular, you can use the day to allow love to be reborn in you, so that you greet what comes without judgment and with an open heart.
Whatever happens after death, we could achieve “heaven on earth” if we all allowed love, peace, and joy to be reborn in us every day. And this belief can restore a sense of the miraculous in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of shopping and cooking and partying that is, too often, how we observe Christmas today. When we remember that we do all these for love, transcendent magic moments often occur, for when we are different, what happens to us is different too.
So what is Christmas like for you and what does it, or could it, mean in your life? What practices help you bring out its potential to help us focus less on fear and blame—which are so prevalent today—and more on what we can do to make a difference?