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Piel: Can Christmas be celebrated without Jesus? | RELIGION COMMENTARY

Our neighbor George recently attended an Advent/Christmas workshop sponsored by a local congregation. He said it was interesting because the first thing they discussed was “what does the term ‘Christmas’ mean to you?”

“I was somewhat surprised,” he added, “that some participants felt that Christmas should be religious or at least have a religious/nativity foundation but not too religious.”

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One participant apparently said that too often very religious people take all the fun out of Christmas because all they want to talk about is how God sent Jesus to save us from our sins. There should be room, she added, to include Santa, dreaming of a “White Christmas” and opening family gifts.

If Jesus is to be included in your Christmas celebration (and some felt he didn’t) what kind of Jesus do you want? Do you want just a little piece of Jesus so you can look religious and fulfill the slogan “the reason for the season?” Do you want Jesus to stay as a babe in the manger looking sweet and helpless so he doesn’t interfere with your status-quo? Do you want a grown-up Jesus who will challenge your everyday values and life style?

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Take a moment to ask yourself “why was Jesus born among us?” Maybe a key phrase is included in what we call “Our Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus said “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Maybe Jesus was more concerned about getting the heavenly kingdom into us than getting us into some faraway heaven. Was the vision of Jesus to try to do the seemingly impossible which was to establish the kingdom of God right here on earth?

Thomas Moore in his book “The Soul of Christmas” wrote “My sense of Christmas is also different now that I understand better that Jesus was addressing all people on the planet, not wanting them to join his organization but to adopt his vision for a better human race.”

If the vision of Jesus was to establish the kingdom of God here on earth was that a real possibility or simply dreaming the impossible dream? Can the kingdom of God as taught by Jesus really have a chance since human beings must take the vision and live it out in their own lives?

We must remember that Jesus was murdered not because he was sweet and lovable. He was killed because he challenged the status quo of the religious leaders, the government and people like me and you. At some point people of his own day said “enough is enough” and turned their backs on him. If he walked into our lives today would we do the same thing?

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His challenge then and now is real. Maybe too real for us to accept the challenge and live it! Adam Hamilton writing in his book “Incarnation: Rediscovering The Significance of Christmas” writes “He (Jesus) traveled town to town giving various stump speeches; he called people to love God, their neighbors, and even their enemies. He called his hearers to humility, kindness, integrity, forgiveness, and selfishness. He asked them to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned and the immigrant. He decried arrogance and hypocrisy.”

He called us to tear down walls that divide and build bridges of understanding. He challenges our economic system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

In the washing of feet he reminded his followers that we are called to be servants of one another. When his followers argued with each another on who was the greatest among them he once again reminded them “who every wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” and “I have come not to be served but to serve.” Not sure that would go over very well in our divided society today.

He said that those we have pushed to the back of the line will go first and those who think their importance puts them at the head of the line will find, much to their dismay, they are in the back.

Luke, in his gospel message, made this very clear by having the first visitors to the manger not a president, or a king or prime minister but people who cared for and slept with their sheep. The handwriting was on the wall.

Thomas Moore adds “now I see the enchantment of Christmas is a taste of what would be possible if human beings really could love each other.” A taste of goodness, yes, but how long would it last today?

Another issue that our neighbor George raised from his workshop was the danger of keeping Jesus and his message as a baby in the manger. Pastor & writer Mike Slaughter wrote: “the message of Christmas is about a sacrificial gift. It’s easy to feel excited about a newborn warmly wrapped in a manger bed of straw. This Jesus in the cradle poses no threat to our life styles and cultural ideologies. But the cradle comes with a cost. You cannot separate the cradle from the cross. The cross is the center of the Christian message.”

As pastor Rick Warren adds, “One potential problem of our annual Christmas celebrations is that many people only think of Jesus as a baby. Their conception of him is only as a helpless newborn in his mother’s arms. If Jesus had never grown up to do what he did, he’d have no power to transform or lives. But the baby born in Bethlehem did not stay a baby. He grew up and challenged the way we are living our lives.”

Jesus believed in his vision and message so deeply that he was willing to put his life on the line for his beliefs. Is it possible that we execute him all over again by claiming we love Jesus and his vision for world of love and peace and then turning our back on his message?

What do we do with Jesus at Christmas? We could leave him out completely. We could put him back in the manger. Or we could follow him and his vision for a new world.

Let the dialogue continue. We only ask that you think on these things.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis “Lou” Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.

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