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Is Christmas about Jesus?
Is Christmas about Jesus?
The traditional reason for the Christmas holiday is to celebrate the birth of Christ. It is true that some of the traditions surrounding this holiday probably have pagan origins that ultimately go back to civilizations before the advent of Christianity. It is also true that many people today celebrate Christmas as a more secular holiday that gives them an opportunity to share time with family, to admire decorations, and to exchange gifts, all the while staying away from religious observances.
While there are many reasons that people throughout the globe celebrate Christmas, the religious connotations of this “most wonderful time of the year” are still quite present in the 21st century in every country where this holiday is celebrated. Because of this, it is relevant to take a critical look at the relation between Christmas and religion. Specifically, who was Jesus Christ and why is he so special? Was he divine? Was he the Son of God?
Most of us know the basics of the story of Jesus of Nazareth as told in the Gospels, which Christians see as the most important part of the Bible. The Gospels tell of Jesus being born to a virgin in a manger and being visited by wise men who gave him valuable gifts. Jesus would later in life begin ministering to crowds of people and healing sick and performing other miracles such as walking on water. He was put on trial by the Roman authorities, and was convicted and executed. The Gospels tell of him rising from the dead and ascending into heaven. Other parts of the New Testament try to make the case that Jesus was the Son of God and is the lord and savior of all humanity.
It is easy to see how anyone who believes that what is written in the Bible is true would want to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is easy to see how this became one of the two main celebrations of the year among Christians, with the other being a celebration of Jesus' resurrection (Easter). The idea that we people are all saved from our sins is quite powerful. The idea that we owe our salvation to the acts of this man who lived long ago, whose very existence is of course dependent on his being born in the first place, is quite enough to warrant this merry celebration.
There is a problem, though, that might seem to take away from the joy that surrounds this holiday, and this is the fact that the stories of Jesus, as told in the Bible, do not make sense in our modern 21st century understanding of the world. There are all kinds of holes that a reasonably minded person should be able to see in these stories: virgins cannot become pregnant, the details surrounding Jesus' birth in Bethlehem seem to contradict reliable historical sources of events at this time and place, it is physically impossible for people to perform miracles such as healing the sick at will or walking on water, and it is unfortunately impossible for dead people to rise to life.
Most importantly, there is no single person in history who is the Son of God. I believe we are all God's creation, but nobody living now or in the past has any special connection to God (over and above everyone else). No single person was designated by God as the lord or savior of humanity. Jesus was in purely physical terms no more (or less) than any other human.
This being said, however, there is much wisdom in the sayings of Jesus, as written in the Gospels and there is significant value in hearing his words. Sayings such as “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted” and “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall have their fill” (Matthew 5:3-10) are inspirational to those who live in difficult times and have brightened the spirits of countless people for centuries. There are many other sayings attributed to Jesus that have positive value as well.
Now, Jesus was not perfect. The Bible also quotes him saying “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). I was once a Christian and I remember hearing many theories about what Jesus might have meant in saying this. The truth is that this statement is impossible to rationalize and that, unlike many of Jesus' other sayings, there is absolutely no value in taking it to heart. It is difficult for me to even conceive of a more depressing thing to say, to be honest. But this just shows that Jesus was imperfect, as we all are, and said something unwise that he may well have later regretted. It happens to us all.
So it is irrational to hang on every word of Jesus as reported in the Gospels or any other part of the Bible, but there is still much value in the wisdom of Jesus and we can all admire him as a great, yet flawed man. All great men and women are flawed, after all. Though there is no good reason, given our modern understanding of reality, to believe that Jesus was the savior of the world, we can still honor his life on Christmas, along with so many others who have strove to show how we can live a peaceful, joyous, and loving life.