12/24/2013 03:01 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2014

Christmas and Our Children

About 15 years ago I had an experience that transformed Christmas for me. My wife and I were sitting with a couple -- he was well into his 60s and Jewish and she was a good 20 years younger and from a traditional Christian home. This was his second marriage and they had two young children. We were guests at their ski home for a few days during winter break. Sitting after dinner at the dining room table, with their kids and our kids playing in the den, we wound up having a conversation about Christmas, which was not being celebrated in their home because Susan had committed to raising their children Jewish. At some point I felt Susan's unease and simply asked her what Christmas meant to her. She was quiet for about 20 seconds -- an eternity in a conversation -- and in a translucent voice with searching eyes she said, "Imagine, if we saw every infant as truly holy and loved every child as if they were God. The miracle and grace of Christmas is the world can be this way."

I don't know if the tears welling up in her eyes reflected the loss she was feeling not celebrating Christmas with her children or the heart opening enchanted vision of Christmas she had painted but we were all silent in the night around that table.

Every Christmas I think about Susan and her teaching that, whatever our theologies or non-theologies, stretches our moral horizon -- precisely what religion is supposed to do when it is actually getting the job done: keeping us hopeful about narrowing the gap between the way the world is and what should be our ever more expanding dream of the way the world could be.

How do we see our children today especially our most vulnerable?

Facts: 16 million children, 22 percent of all the children in this country live in poverty, 25 percent of those under 5 years old.

Approximately 1.6 million children will experience homelessness over the course of a year.
In any given day, more than 200,000 children have no place to live.

More than four children die every day as a result of child abuse, about 80 percent of these deaths occurring among children under the age of 4.

Whatever our politics, I guess we still need Christmas -- at least Susan's version. As an eighth generation rabbi I really hope Christmas works this year. Merry Christmas.