The Meaning of Christmas

By Reverend Chuck Currie of Portland, Oregon. Chuck is the interim minister of Parkrose Community United Church of Christ in NE Portland. He also blogs at ChuckCurrie.com.

Each year we retell the story of the birth of Jesus. It is a 2,000 year old story of hope and promise that inspires even today. The Gospel of Luke tells of his birth (2:7 NRSV):

"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."

Christmas comes at a dark time across the world this year. We face a global economic crisis, on-going wars, genocide in Darfur, and, as the anti-poverty group Bread for the World reports, the loss of 16 million children a year due to hunger. Where do we find hope in a moment such as this? What is the real meaning of Christmas in these times?

Perhaps the realities around us will force those of us who are Christians to focus away from the dominant consumer cultural and embrace instead the ideals fundamental in Biblical teaching. Many of the stories contained in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament were written from the perspectives of people not so unlike us – people who were fearful of uncertain times, battered by war, and hungry for change – and who found hope in a God who offered the prophets and Jesus himself as guides and partners in their journeys out of the wilderness.

One of the central teachings of both the Hebrew and Christian traditions comes from the Prophet Isaiah (58:10 NRSV):

"...if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday."

Jesus echoed these words many times over.

What, Jesus was asked, is the greatest commandment? He replied:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39 NRSV)

It is perplexing to many that a religion based on compassion, love and tolerance is so often found on the wrong side of history. Many brave Christians fought against slavery in the American South but more supported that evil institution. Today growing numbers of Christians work for social equality but others use their churches to fight against legal rights for women and gays and lesbians. It must be admitted that many feel that the Christian faith extinguishes hope where it is most needed.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us resolve to live out our faith in ways that reach back to the prophets and Jesus. At the dawn of the last century, Christians in the United States stepped out of their pews and into the streets to fight against child labor and on behalf of immigrants and workers. Like Jesus, these Progressive-era Christians challenged the status quo and organized movements to promote social justice. Today the issues are different but the needs are even greater.

We too can turn the darkness around us into the light of noon if only we reach out in partnership with all the people of the globe, regardless of faith or creed, and work to save our planet, God's own creation, from climate change, war, and poverty. The issues we face as a people might seem insurmountable but to do nothing misses the point of the Christmas story. Each Christmas, we are reminded that with compassion, wisdom and justice as our guides we can light up the world and toss aside the old order in favor of the peaceable Kingdom of God. On Christmas a new day is born.

Comments

  • Doug In PDX (unverified)
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    Merry Christmas to you too!

    Thanks for posting this. I've had a lot of issues with larger scale organized religion. Most of them surround being told who to like and who to not like. (sometimes hate!)

    Gave it all up in my late teens, after a few interventions...

    After reading this, I know we can all get along. People are free enough to make their choices. This means we all can practice our religion and make our life choices as we see fit. Legislating that isn't doing anybody any favors.

    Good to see there are people who understand this!

  • Kari Chisholm (unverified)
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    One more note: Rev. Currie will be a guest on KPOJ at 7 a.m. on Christmas Eve (tomorrow.)

  • Ten Bears (unverified)
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    Yule!

  • mac mccown (unverified)
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    AMEN

  • LT (unverified)
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    Great post, Chuck.

    Merry Christmas, Doug. Not all churches are as you describe. Some take seriously the mission of helping the needy.

    Some take very seriously the seasons of Advent and Epiphany and don't like the commercialization of Christmas.

  • rw (unverified)
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    The meaning of xmas for me this year: family who hold me lightly upon their open palm, as one should a butterfly. And yet not so loosely that I feel myself without any value.

    Wow. A miracle.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    I was listening to New Zealand radio and there seems to have been a big trend this year to make homemade gifts, due to economic circumstances. I was disappointed at all the callers that seemed to be ashamed that they had to resort to that level. They were trying to put a happy face on it, but you could hear in the voices how consumer materialism had drained the life right from their souls. Hopefully, the recipients of those gifts will give them a much needed shot of encouragement.

    I would like to suggest that this year, commercialism aside, spending ones holiday working behind a counter might be the most appropriate commemoration. If the thaw starts such that a lot of the more ice-challenged individuals can first get out and about on the 25th, it would be nice if there were stores open with merchandise on the shelves to accommodate them.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Dreamcatchers, I'm making dream catchers this year. Fashioned upon a sticky, bendy red wood found in the swale of our little complex, and down in the wetlands nearby in only one place. Made in a tear drop shape so that these come out as a natural creature made it rather than the perfection of regularity humans keep asserting upon them, these ones are being finished off with tiny seashell bead in the center, feathers from severe macaws, brown pelican, senegal parrot, very stupid cockatiel.

    Dreamcatchers, made the right way: stopped production whilst on my moon; burning smudge and talking to my son about good things. Stop when the internal clock says that is all you can do now, unless you want to see the work start ruining itself strangely in your hands.

    Dreamcatchers, made the way we are supposed to make them.

    Yup, Z: I confess it started a little bit because I wanted to spend my MONEY on bills, my boy, yet still wanted to gift. But as is always the way with going about it in a sacred way, it has turned into pleasure and meditation.

    Dreamcatchers: for all, for xmas.

  • judeqfe (unverified)
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    Thank you Chuck. I have actually been thinking a lot about you lately. We don't know each other, but I know of your work, your path, and find it inspiring.

    I've been reflecting on the meaning of Christmas and the many rituals from many cultures at this time of year. The end of the dark, the coming of the light.

    My prayer this year is for each of us to commit to the coming of the light. To being the light. To remembering that as as long of any of us are left in the darkness, the true light cannot shine.

    I also wanted to share this from Thomas Moore, regarding materialism.

    As an "ism," our materialism betrays the fact that we have lost our love of the material. We no longer manufacture goods ourselves, and we leave real craft to the hobbyist. In a world of invention and convenience we are oddly ascetic, and therefore divorced from the materiality of things. Materialism and a world-fleeing spirituality sustain each other by reacting against one another, leaving us with bloodless spiritual lives and a never-satisfied obsession with things.

    The way out of this maddening split is to ground the spirit and learn to appreciate the absolute virtue of the ordinary world. Giving some attention to daily life and even luxury may appear privileged and sentimental, but tending one's home and finding at least moderately satisfying earthly pleasures don't require wealth.

    Peace fellow travelers

  • Dohn Cowles (unverified)
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    Please tell me more about this JESUS. Dohn COWLES>[email protected] >

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