Reflecting on the reason for the season
Recently, my wife was reading a book with my 6-year-old son. It was a clever and well-illustrated book in which a young boy is led on a kind of scavenger hunt by notes left in various places by his aunt. One of the early notes informs him that this hunt will help him discover the real meaning of Christmas.
My son, “preacher’s kid” that he is, piped up at that point and said, “I know the real meaning of Christmas: It’s Jesus.”
So imagine his confusion when the book ended with the young boy entering a room and finding his aunt standing with Santa Claus, who was holding Christmas presents for her nephew.
In the chaotic frenzy that has come to characterize this time of year, it can be difficult to sort out the real meaning of Christmas. We spend enormous amounts of time, energy and money preparing for our elaborate Christmas celebrations. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, Christmas has accumulated a multitude of traditions and rituals, some of which are connected with its real meaning, but many of which are not. It is old news that Christmas has become overly “secularized.”
But even for those of us who are Christians, the real meaning of Christmas can get lost in the shuffle.
Regardless of one’s faith tradition or beliefs, it is important to remember and reflect on the real meaning of Christmas. Most of us have at least some familiarity with the story: A poor teenage girl, a virgin we are told, finds herself pregnant, but not quite married. Despite the cultural norms of the day – and having been visited by a heavenly messenger – Mary and Joseph decide to get married anyway and raise this child together.
To make life even more complex, just when it was about time for the child to be born, they had to make a long journey to David’s hometown for a government-required census. It was there, in the dirty and less-than-comfortable surroundings of a stable that Jesus was born.
The birth of any child can be counted a miracle. It is the kind of event that makes us question our beginnings and ponder how life continues through the generations. It often leads to changes in our lives that we never expected. It brings family and friends together, sometimes even helping them overcome old disagreements.
The birth of a child tends to bring out the best in us. Babies remind us of the words from the book of Genesis: That God created human beings and God said they were good. Not many people can look into the face of a newborn and see anything but the beauty of creation.
So what about this baby, Jesus?
Whatever your religious beliefs, there can be little doubt that Jesus’ birth was more than just a life-changing event for Mary and Joseph – it was also a world-changing event. Even for the other two “Abrahamic” faiths, Judaism and Islam, this child grew up to be a great teacher and prophet.
His actions and his words left an indelible imprint on all of creation, calling us all beyond ourselves, and urging us to love one another and to show compassion to those who are suffering in this world. At the very least, this child whose birth we celebrate on Christmas became a shining and unforgettable example of what life can be, of the joy and peace that can be found in a life lived for others and not just for ourselves.
Another aspect of Christmas, of course, is that it can be a very difficult time for some. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one or dealing with a life-altering illness or injury or are estranged from family or friends, Christmas can actually exacerbate your pain. It is hard to be surrounded by the festivities of Christmas when your world seems to be falling apart.
These are the moments when it is especially important to remember and hold on to the deeper meaning of Christmas – to remember that even in the darkest moments of life, the light continues to shine. To remember that even in the midst of despair, there can be hope, and that even in the midst of death, there can be new life. Sometimes it takes the wisdom of a 6-year-old to remind us what Christmas is really all about.
Kevin Lloyd is the rector at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown.