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December 8, 2010

The meaning of Christmas

Rev. Graham E. Morbey

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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Toronto. And throughout most of the world, at least some part of Christmas will be in the air, on the street or hidden in the heart. Christmas is truly global.

It all began with the birth of a baby boy born some time during the great divide between BC and AD in a remote provincial outpost of the Roman Empire. What is truly amazing and a mystery about his birth is that now, 2000 years later, it shapes a way of living for two billion plus people while the rest of the world’s population is touched in some fashion by it. 

Christmas is the biggest annual birthday party in the world. Wherever Christmas is known people are faced with decisions like no other religious tradition. Is it for me? Can I come?  Everybody likes a party and a holiday.

Christmas has established a repertoire of music whose range covers every taste – from the smoky night club renditions of a crooning “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” or a jazzed up “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, to the world’s great concert halls and churches where the glorious sounds of Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and hundreds of other great composers express in music their understandings of Christmas. 

The literature of Christmas, Santa Claus included, and many other stories told for children and adults, repeating or embellishing the biblical account, or taking stock of the deeper meanings or values drawn from the original sources are already myriad in number and continue to be published and read the world over.

Christmas floods the imagination and stimulates creativity.

People everywhere have developed local customs and religious traditions to celebrate the joy, wonder and awe that grips them during this great Christian feast. Christmas has even silenced the guns of opposing enemies for a short time. The establishment of a “Christmas truce” during a moment of the Great War is a remarkable pointer and powerful witness to the meaning of Christmas.  And indeed, Christmas does bring people together.

Christmas builds its character on peace, love, hope, charity and hospitality and anything that is good and just. The Christian communities throughout the ages and around the world have always celebrated, albeit haltingly, a thick and rich Christmas sharing of the mysteries of “God with us”.

Much of the Christmas around us today is as thin as the tinsel hung on fir branches or as crass as the materialism that gives stones for bread.

Because Christmas begins with God’s call to Father Abraham it is a gift to Christians, Jews and Muslims to share “the hopes and fears of all their years” together peaceably, around a round table of respect.

The very nature of Christmas is tangled up with a promise to the Jews (Messiah), the basis of Christianity’s hope (Incarnation), and the life practice of Muslims (submission to God).

God calls all of us and our ability to respond to God has taken different paths. But where they might meet, even for a moment of time at Christmas, could become “a light for the world”.

Jews, Christians and Muslims could wish each other “Merry Christmas” even if it is a Christian way to say “give peace a chance.”

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