Often times I am asked about the real meaning of Christmas. The word itself reveals that at the very center of the season is the Christ, and more specifically the Christ child. The events surrounding His birth clearly invited a whole lot of controversy both then and now. Could God really become human? How does the Infinite take on the finite? Both philosophers and Theologians have argued these matters for the past two millennia. And what about the whole idea of a virgin birth (even though there are certain species that indeed have that capacity), how does a human being conceive a divine seed? Well they argued about it in Joseph and Mary's day, and even Joseph had a tough time with that one. In spite of the fact that Joseph legitimized the child by lending the child his name, yet the community believed the child was illegitimate. So the child and mom both had a scarlet letter on them from the beginning.
Interestingly what persuaded Joseph to embrace the notion of a divine act in the conception of Mary's boy was a message from a source of wisdom the ancients understood far better than we do today, the integrity of the dream (we spend 1/3rd of our lives dreaming and yet chalk up these night messages from our own unconscious and the collective unconscious as mere expressions of too much pizza before retiring at night). And the thought of angels appearing to lowly shepherds to announce the fulfillment of ancient prophetic texts about the "Son of David" seem so far fetched (even though books on angels abound more now than at any other point in history, and people who claim to have experienced such are more numerous now than ever). And to add insult to injury, this special child was born in a stable and placed in the feeding trough of cattle and oxen because there was no room for them in any of the lodging places in that area. Can there genuinely be a thread of unfolding purpose in the ancient Hebrew texts of a child born that would be the 'desire of all nations'. I will leave that for you to decide.
As for what He embodied and the life He lived, we could certainly use His practical wisdom and His compassionate heart (compassion is never helpless) in this hour. Instead of getting upset over public property banning a nativity, perhaps we need to stop the protest and take down the Santa's that embellish our front lawns instead and put the nativity on our own private property. He wasn't much for fanfare so even decorated trees aren't part of His agenda (though I am sure since He made all the trees He appreciates them....and since there are so many, how do we know that He would have chosen the evergreen....last I checked the tree He chose was a cross that was mounted on a dung heap outside the walls of the Holy City). Maybe a lot of what we have made Christmas to be in modern and post-modern society has very little to do with the real meaning of Christmas.
The rich and powerful didn't get angels to visit them to announce that God had moved in the neighborhood...as a matter of fact, their intent was to kill this child (read the story). It was the "have-nots" that were given hope. I wonder how many "have-nots" are walking the streets homeless this Christmas that could use a flesh and blood angel to provide them a meal or a warm place to lay their head...or maybe there is no room for them in our inns anymore. The One who was born on this most celebrated day made some important statements at the end of His life. He often spoke about the least, the last, and the lost...and He said "insomuch as you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto Me..." His idea of celebrating His life was visiting prisoners, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry. Those seemed really big issues on His agenda. Psychologist Carl Jung made a profound statement regarding "the least of these". For Jung, all judgment was projection. In actual fact he made it clear that you cannot give what you do not have. What if the "least, last and lost" was first and foremost you as an individual? So maybe the real meaning of Christmas will be found in those areas in your waking or sleeping life where messages about hope and possibility invite you to embrace a reality beyond the world that you see in front of your eyes. Perhaps my greatest enemies are the ones in my own soul.
What if part of Christmas requires reconciling all the parts of ourselves in the light of what it means to become truly human. What would it be like to come to a place where there were no enemies within you that prevented you from being the childlike dreamer that hoped against hope in believing Good News? What if the real meaning of Christmas is hidden somewhere in the reality that in order to be truly divine you have to become truly human, and the more human you are, the more you reflect the reality of the divine nature? Not sure if we are ready to explore all of those things, so in the meantime while you are out decorating the halls with boughs of holly, and listening to your favorite Christmas songs, the reality is that the holiday season has become a time of increased stress and pressure for many, and many people instead of being full of good cheer and filled with despair and need to know that it really is possible to dream again and believe in things impossible, and maybe the people that feel the most stressed are the closest to discovering that the real meaning of Christmas has been lost somewhere in the milieu of what we have made it out to be. It isn't worth the stress...the old carol says it well..."God REST YOU MERRY....gentleman" It doesn't say that they were "merry gentlemen" (or women)...the implication is that in the midst of crisis, conflict, and decision, if nothing else, Christ's birth is the promise of God brining us to a place of rest that results in being merry.