It will soon be Christmas Day, and the months of hoopla surrounding the season, starting with the first sign of decorations in the stores in September, then Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the ringing of the bells and stringing of lights, and the constant media bombardment telling you how your kids won't love you unless you buy them this, or that Christmas is "under attack," will finally end. Peace will reign... until New Year's Eve.
While Christmas is a Christian holiday, it has more to do with the season that it has to do with the birth of Jesus. He, Son of God, and Savior of Mankind, was born, lived, and died, and the Biblical accounts give us no firm dates as to when this all transpired. December 25th was picked arbitrarily, to co-opt the pagan solstice celebrations, and to unify the disparate celebrations of the time into a coherent message that promoted Christian value, to give the Roman Catholic church strength in the eyes of the world. So, from its very beginning, the day has been less about the man it celebrates, and more about the people who celebrate it. That the trend should continue to this very day, and widen and expand to turn an otherwise "holy" day into a glorified shopping spree, is a sign that the message got confused with the messenger.
The birth of Jesus, his subsequent life, death, and rebirth, is not important for the story, though the story is certainly what is focused on, especially this time of year. The problem -- if it can be said to be a problem -- with Biblical scripture, is that too often people are more interested in the words and phrases and passages than their meaning. They excise what matters to them, what points to their way of thinking, and ignore the greater context that those passages reside in, the things that give them meaning. This is not a problem faced solely by Christianity; many of the world's religions, save perhaps Buddhism, are driven more by a fight over the meaning of random passages that plural context.
The story of Jesus' birth tell us that he came from the humblest surroundings. He saw with his own eyes, the poverty, the rejection, the hypocrisy, and the lassitude suffered by those around him. He experienced hard life, and was taught by a simple carpenter the value of craftsmanship and giving of himself. He read his Jewish scripture, saw that it had greater meaning, meaning ignored by the religious authorities of the day. He passed from manhood to godhood, endowed by his faith and belief with divine wisdom and power, fed by those he encountered, who heard his words and gained form his strength. He made no pretensions, he did not trade upon being the Son of God, and he preached a simple message to all who would listen: be good to yourselves, be good to others, work together, be as one. He saw no difference in people, from the leper to the lawgiver, from the priest to the pauper; he regarded everyone as a child of God, all equal in His eyes, no matter who they were or what they believed. He knew, if people opened up their hearts, they would know the joy that comes from the fellowship of Mankind.
The story of Jesus' death, is the story of taking all that he had learned, all he had absorbed, all the he had preached, and showing the way to those around him. He knew the end would come, but had no idea what course it would take. At every stage, it was a revelation to him, as the cruelty and dispassion of others was heaped upon him. He took it, took it all, trod the ground willingly to his doom, all the while praying for those who would scorn and abuse him. In the end, they did the most heinous thing, and crucified him. Even at the end, hung upon a cross, bleeding from a wound in his side, crown of thorns pressed tightly against his head, enduring the pain while the crowd jeered and wailed, his thoughts were not for himself, but for others. "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Whether you are Christian or not, whether you believe in Jesus as man or god or fairy story, whether you believe in any god at all, is irrelevant to what Christmas truly means. It goes beyond being merely the celebration of the birth of one religion's savior, beyond the cold of Winter, beyond celebration. It is a reinforcement for all to see, of the things we surely must know deep in our hearts: we are one of many, we are all in this together, we owe each other everything. No one exists in isolation in this world, from the clothes you wear, to the electricity you use, to the food you consume, to the country you live in, you and I are dependent on others for virtually everything we have. Where people do not have, where people feel want, it is because we have shirked our human duty, by-passing the admonition of the Golden Rule to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
To you and yours and all people everywhere, I wish you peace and love and a Merry Christmas.