Christmas is for everyone is not new news, but the idea that the Christmas message belongs to everyone might be for some people. No matter what religious tradition you feel most closely connected to or even if you do not ascribe to any religious tradition or if you practice a blend of religious traditions, the Christmas message is for you! Over the next three weeks, I am going to explore why you have reason to celebrate! Maybe you are thinking, “I already have reason to celebrate! We get together with family. We give gifts to our friends and family. We eat amazing food. We party and then party some more. We go see the lights on people’s homes and we warm ourselves with hot chocolate by the fire. Why do I need any other reason to celebrate at Christmas?” Good point and great question. I am hoping to make a deep impression on you that beyond these Wonderful Reasons lies the reason that Christians celebrate Christmas. Don’t tune me out just yet. Over the next three weeks, I want to explore how Christmas belongs to you, but was made exclusive by Christianity which you then reclaimed by celebrating the season despite the noise made by Christians.
First, Jesus came to the world to change our minds about God. Yes, I wrote “Change our minds about God.” You see, we had ideas that God was angry and we needed to appease God through sacrifice. We had ideas that God demanded rituals, that God needed us to obey a lot of rules, and that God did not seem to love God’s creation unless we behaved in a manner worthy of love. We understood ourselves as separate from the Divine because of our humanness.
But Jesus came to say, “God loves you. Has always loved you no matter what.” Why does God love us? First, God loves us because we are God’s creation. We bear the image of God in the world and from the beginning of time God said we are, “Good.” As image bearers, we were never separate from the Divine, but through wounds and life experiences that put a protective shield around our Divine DNA, we lost our deep connection.
Second, God has never seen some people as holy and others as profane. God has never seen some people as clean and some as unclean. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book, Not in God’s Name, writes that God has shown particular love for God’s chosen people, the Jews, in a way that does not negate love for other groups of people. God loves all people while granting specific missions of love to particular groups of people. God loves us because love invites us into a relationship with the God of our understanding. The prophets in the Hebrew bible proclaimed Jesus’ message before he ever arrived on earth: God wants our hearts not our ritual and sacrifice. Christianity is about cultivating a heart devotion for God that is so deep that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Christians have a specific mission of love and so do every religious tradition.
So, God is love and God is inclusive. Steven Shakespeare and Hugh Rayment-Pickard in their book, The Inclusive God, write, “The inclusiveness of God refers to her nature, rather than to one of her characteristics. It’s one thing to say God is ‘all-loving’, but something rather different to say ‘God is love’: the first statement posits an attribute, the second asserts identity. Love isn’t something God possesses along with lots of other things-it’s who she is. So with inclusion: God is inclusive.” (103)
Christians have forgotten God’s nature, the message of Jesus, and instead claimed an exclusive relationship with God who is not only in a special relationship with Christians, but does not offer relationship to those outside of the Christian tradition. We have staked our claim on God and everlasting life instead of embracing what is would mean to be like God: loving and inclusive.
We forgot that the reason for the season was you no matter how you locate yourself on the religious/nonreligious landscape.
Jesus’ message is that God is in you and God is beyond you. God is the wisdom that guides you and the longing you feel to be fully loved and this longing brings you back to the discovery that God has never left you, but is the Love you find deep within.
Teresa of Avila writes, “The important thing is not to think much, but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love.”
This holiday season, may you do whatever best awakens you to Love!