The Continental Congress voted to be Independent of Great Britain on July 2, 1776 but we celebrate July 4 when the Declaration was approved. We do not celebrate when we became Independent, but why we became Independent! The Actual Independence Day and when we celebrate Independence Day are two different dates, but nobody goes out on July 4th and declares Independence did not happen because we celebrate the wrong date.
I say this because every Christmas I am flooded with people who use the fact that Jesus was not born on December 25th as evidence that Jesus never existed, or that the Church lies, or some other point to denigrate the religion.
EVERYBODY knows that Jesus was not born on December 25th. EVERYBODY knows that the date chosen for Christ’s Mass was chosen for a variety of reason both practical and theological. But to say because the early Church re-appropriated a pagan festival that Christmas is somehow pagan or that Church claims about Christ are untrue is as absurd as saying that because Americans speak English and have a two-chambered legislature, and a Bill of Rights modeled on the one from England in 1689, that proves that the United States of America is really England.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday is a specific date in January, but it is often celebrated on a Monday near that date. Does celebrating his birthday on a day other than the day he was born diminish the man or what he did, or what he stood for? Does celebrating Dr. King’s birthday on January 12 prove that he never existed, or that Civil Rights Leaders were wrong about what they said about him?
Like the United States of America and its Independence, the Church does not celebrate the WHEN of Christ’s birth; it celebrates the WHY. Why Christ was born is what is important, not when. The when has been lost to history. We can guess at some likely candidates (I think September). But that is not important.
It does not matter to me when others try to tell me that Jesus shares the same birthday with other gods. Because what Jesus did, whether He was God or not, He did as a man! He lived as a man. He taught as a man. He died as a man. Other gods have died and been raised back to life, but it was because they were gods, not because they were men. Jesus is the incarnation of God — God in the flesh, living as one of us. There is no escape clause. The only way out of this life if it gets too tough is the same out we all have.
Jesus showed us what it means to be human. He showed us what it means to be created in the image of God. Even if Jesus were just a man, He is still the clearest picture of who God is because He lived by faith and for others — that is what Adam was supposed to do and he got selfish, wanting to be his own god. Jesus shows us the power of faith and submission to the will of God, and by so doing, becomes the means of our reconciliation with God.
Now Easter — the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead — is the faith. If there were no Easter, we would not celebrate Christmas at all on any date. Christmas has become more popular than Easter because Christmas does not require faith, but Easter does. Anybody can celebrate Christmas because it really does not require you to believe in anything other than being nice to people for a day or two. Easter requires you to believe that a dead man came back to life and promises that we will come back to life too. It is possible to celebrate Christmas without being religious. There are many secular icons and songs and parties and tv specials that have nothing to do with Jesus. Personally, I have no problem with that. I think it is great that people celebrate Christmas regardless of what they do or do not believe.
I am inclusive. You do not have to believe in Jesus to celebrate Christmas. It may help. But I will not be so arrogant to say that secular Christmas is not as fulfilling as religious Christmas is because I do not know what is going on in the hearts and minds of other people. I know I am glad to have Christmas in all its forms and varieties. I like the whole package (pun not intended). I like Church on Christmas. I like eating on Christmas. I like getting gifts on Christmas. I like giving gifts on Christmas. I do not require you think like me or believe what I believe to celebrate Christmas.
So I ask for the same treatment. If you do not believe in religious Christmas, or in Jesus, or any other part of it, then do not try to take away what I like and what I believe. I do not use Christmas as a time to try to undermine peoples’ faith in Buddha, or Mohammad, or any of the Hindu gods, or the faith of atheists in humanism and science. In return, I ask you not to try to use Christmas as a time to try to undermine my faith in Christ.
It does not take away from, or threaten, my faith if you do not believe in what I believe. It should not threaten you if I believe what you do not. Celebrate however you wish, but let everyone else do the same. It’s their Christmas too — and if you don’t believe in God, you don’t get to play God; and if you do believe in God, then you know you are not God, so stop trying to determine other peoples’ happiness.
So MERRY CHRISTMAS! HAPPY HOLIDAYS! HAPPY BELATED CHANUKAH! HAPPY KWANZA! HAPPY SOLSTICE! And any other holiday that is out there this month. Be whatever you believe (unless you believe in being a jerk) because that is what ultimately matters and what teaches others about your faith.
Peace — not the absence of conflict, but the well-being and wholeness that comes from knowing what you believe — to you all.