Saturday, December 25, 2010

Peace on Earth, and Mercy Mild

Merry Christmas!

That's right, I am wishing you a Merry Christmas. I've been thinking a lot this holiday season about some of the religious symbolism behind Christmas. I'm not one who gets bothered or upset by it. I find a lot of beauty in it, and I see no need to replace Merry Christmas with Happy Holidays (nor do I see a reason to be offended if anyone else does).

One of our family traditions each Christmas Eve is to act out the nativity story. I was thinking last night about my future children putting on the skit with their future cousins. It is fun to see kids dressing up like wise-men, angels, and shepherds and putting on a show, and I'm sure they will have fun doing it. I don't believe in the virgin birth of God, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the tradition. For me, putting on a nativity skit is no different from putting on a skit about Rudolf the red nosed reindeer or Santa Claus. All are stories we tell children to share virtues we want them to develop. Santa Claus encourages children to behave and respect their elders. Rudolf reminds us to treat others who are different kindly.

The nativity too reminds us of virtues. It instills in us a sense of humility, and of awe and adoration for even those who might be overlooked, like a child. It also tells us of our potential as it reminds us that we all enter this world in humble circumstances as a vulnerable infant. Perhaps that is why nearly ever culture has a virgin birth story. Myths are universal. The fact that they don't represent actual or true history doesn't denigrate their significance or importance.

With myth, the facts don't matter. It doesn't matter that the census that brought travelers to Bethlehem happened in 6 AD, ten years after Herod (the same who supposedly reigned while Christ was born and ordered the death of all infants) died. Because Joseph, Mary, and Jesus aren't the people who really matter when we put on our play every Christmas Eve. The people that matter are the kids with the towels on their heads or the wire-hanger halos and our shared time together, and that's why we pass on the tradition.

So Happy Birthday Jesus, Sol Invictus, Horus, Mithra, Zoroaster, and of course the Sun, and thank you for giving us a reason to tell stories, learn virtues, and spend time together.

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