Our neighbor George recently said that seeking "the reason for the season" — Jesus — is difficult in today's more secular society.

In agreement, I responded that for many good people "the reason for the season" are the customs and traditions of a society that is able to celebrate the holiday season without the babe of Bethlehem. They have nothing against Jesus. They just don't need him to celebrate.


The thing that really bothers George, he said, are those who celebrate a secular Christmas and throw a pinch of Jesus into the festivities to add a little sacred flavor. The creche is unwrapped and put out, a passage from Luke's Gospel is read, a religious carol is sung, and they are spectators at a Christmas Eve worship service. Enough religion is added to make one feel religious as long as Jesus is kept as a baby in a manger where he can do no harm.

Searching for Jesus in Christmas leads one to ask: What is the meaning of Christmas? Reading the story of Joseph, Mary, the babe and the manger is good, but it does not go far enough. Writer Ann Weems challenges us with her words, "In each heart lies a Bethlehem, an inn where we must ultimately answer whether there is room or not." Is there room in my life and in your life for nativity? Not of the event 2,000 years ago, but to happen again for the first time today.

Where do we look for Jesus at Christmas? Archbishop Oscar Romero, a prelate of the Catholic Church in El Salvador who was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against poverty and social injustice, wrote, "today is the time to look for this child Jesus, but do not look for him in the beautiful images of nativity sets but look for him among the children lacking proper nutrition who have gone to sleep this evening with nothing to eat. Let us look for him among the poor newspaper boys who sleep in doorways wrapped in today's papers. Let us look for him in the shoeshine boy who perhaps has earned enough to buy a small gift for his mother … How sad is the history of these children. Yet Jesus takes on all of this tonight."

Is it true that to fully understand the meaning of Christmas we must also know the implications of the message when we sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"? Is it true that the "silent night, holy night" would have no meaning whatsoever if the babe of Bethlehem hadn't grown up and left the manger? Is it true that when we accept the true meaning of Christmas it shakes us out of being comfortable and safe, and invites us to live love and share love in a world filled with anger, terror and hopelessness? Is it true that the babe in the manger who "no crying he makes" now cries out for justice and reconciliation and once again calls us to feed the hungry, give living water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger and the refugee, and visit those who are trapped in the prisons of everyday life? Is it true that God's greatest Christmas present of love must be unwrapped and received once again into our hearts and lives?

Where do I find the true meaning of Christmas?

Author Mike Slaughter wrote, "Meaning is not found in personal comfort or material luxuries. So, it should be no surprise that a meaningful Christmas is not found in mindless spending, eating or stress. Rather, we find meaning when we give sacrificially to those in need, because by doing so, we are giving to Jesus himself. It is his birthday, after all!"

The helpless babe has left the Bethlehem manager and once again invites us to "come, and follow me!" How will we respond? Do we say "let me first go and bury the dead," meaning "let me return to the no-risk customs and traditions of Christmas that make me feel comfortable and safe"?

Or perhaps we say, "Lord, Christmas is a strange time, but if you lead I will follow," to which he responds, "I am your Emmanuel! I will be with you always!" Let us plunge into this season together and once again find meaning — the reason for the season.

Let the dialogue continue. I simply 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.