I do not have the traditional Christian view of Christmas. Ever since my youngest days, I have looked upon Christmas as being a sort of rah-rah session for the faith, a substitute for having to pay attention on the other 364 days, replete with colored lights and pictures with Santa Claus.
Christian history shows the early church would borrow established pagan days of celebration, embellish them, and turn around and condemn the former pagan practice. An example of this is Christmas, deriving from Roman Emperor Aurelian establishing Dec. 25 at the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” as part of the winter solstice celebration.
Then, just shy of 300 A.D., church leaders Christianized the day, declaring it the birthday of Jesus and the borrowing of rituals continued through the centuries.
Christmas has evolved from the pinnacle of reflection with our faith to one of the only days of contemplation. The earliest Christian experience was one of vibrant prophets, dynamic apostles and brave martyrs, evoking the idea of literally living the faith. There’s not much living the faith these days.
The faith in God and adherence to the scriptures shaped the actions and thoughts of the faithful of old, causing them at times to forego their very existence (without resistance) as exemplified by Jesus. This extraordinary change in human behavior, marked by compassion, selflessness and devotion, had a tidal wave effect around the world, inspiring art, science, music and literature.
In my view, this persistent faith has eroded considerably over time. Obstacles such as materialism have gotten in the way, turning Christianity into a chore. Thinking and praying for ourselves and the less fortunate becomes an annual occurrence at Christmas time instead of a way of living the faith every day.
While some of my fellow Christians might disagree with my premise, I defend the position by saying look no further than the overwhelming success of Dr. Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life,” selling around 30 million copies worldwide, proving a void exists.
Warren noticed that people inside as well as outside the Christian faith lacked purpose in life and were spiritually empty. He charged the faithful to look in the mirror and address egocentric leadership, solutions for extreme poverty, combating pandemic disease, and solving illiteracy and poor education. He wanted to bring credibility back to the church and he acted on his convictions, finding purpose, living the faith.
Perhaps, the truest sign of a return to living the faith during the Christmas season would be people offering their riches and talents to others instead of piling up those wrapped boxes under their own personal tree.
The truth rings in the old phrase, “It is better to give than to receive.”
We do not really know when Jesus was born, but we know the significance of his birth. Likewise, we can find the lessons in his life and the meaning of his death.
Go beyond Christmas; find your purpose and live it 365 days a year.
A very merry Christmas to Mr. James Bain who was just released from prison after 35 years, wrongfully convicted of rape in 1974, sentenced to life behind bars. Through the work of the Innocence Project (www.innocenceproject.org), Bain was completely exonerated by DNA testing which did not exist four decades ago.
Mr. Bain has every right to be angry at the world, denied his freedom, deprived of a family and finally able to come home to an elderly mother in poor health. Twice he had begged the courts for DNA testing once the technology became available, and twice denied.
“No, I’m not angry,” Bain said. “Because I’ve got God” (Associated Press).
Now that, my friends, is living the faith. Truly amazing how someone starved of love and worldly possessions all his adult life can have a stronger faith than those of us who live a lavish lifestyle.
The bottom line is Jesus Christ, born in an outbuilding full of manure and livestock, owning few possessions over his lifetime and falsely condemned, has more in common with Mr. Bain than the rest of us, which is probably why Bain’s outlook is so Christ-like.
[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]