Ever since I was a kid, I've appreciated Christmas as a holiday, largely because my parents have always made it an event of epic proportions. Lots of food, lost of music, lots of gifts, lots of generosity. It doesn't hurt that they also brought me home from the hospital on Christmas Day, 1971, three days after I was born. So I think there's something about "home" and the "holiday" that rings true for me in a very deep way.
Flash forward some years, and suddenly I was old enough to understand that Christmas had more to do with celebrating the birth of a very important child than it did about Santa Claus and getting presents. The evolution of my understanding of giving and receiving catalyzed largely through the exposure I had to the story of Jesus and his very humble birth. While I don't practice Catholicism anymore, I can't deny that much of my way of interacting with other people in the world has roots in the teachings of Jesus. And I don't mean the literal words of the Bible, but rather the interpretations of what this person had to offer through His stories and parables. If I take the Bible at face value, as a chronicle of Jesus' time on Earth, then He was one of the very best storytellers to ever live. He found ways to teach people by telling stories, and those lessons have influenced the world for generations. The very best kind of theatre artist.
Now, if you're reading this and you know me, you may be wondering what in the hell I'm going on and on about. I go to church once year, on Christmas Eve, I never talk about Jesus, I'm gay, I get offended by conservative Christian rhetoric around my so called "life choice," and the list about negative connotations I have about organized religion goes on and on. However, as I reflect this holiday season about my life and the state of the world, I can't help but feel an immense gratitude to this person, Jesus.
This Jesus and the people who chose to tell His stories after He passed away have left an indelible mark, and for me to deny that I've also been marked by His teachings would be silly. I don't believe that all of the stories that He told or are told about Him actually happened or are true in a literal sense. However, I believe in their messages: that human beings should treat each other how they themselves want to be treated; that a person born from humble beginnings can actually change the world; that goodness and humanity live inside all of us.
Those ideas are the key takeaways for me about Jesus and Christianity. All of the other rhetoric that accompanies Jesus, coming from the mouths of people who claim to speak for Him, to have studied Him and His book, it's just smoke and mirrors to cover the human need for status, power, prestige, influence, land, goods, services, etc.
"Let me tell you why everyone else is bad, but I'm good. And here's how you can be like me. But to do that, you have to look down on other people, make them less than you. Then you'll be on top."
I'm no Bible scholar, but I don't think that Jesus ever said anything like that. Nor did He demand that people be like Him. Jesus was not about "Me Me Me." He asked people to be good to one another. Which I think is why we give gifts to honor His presumed birthday, to literally exhibit goodness to one another. It's also why people are asked to lay down their differences at Christmas, to cease fire, to come together as families, to forgive past wrongs.
Honestly, I'm tired of only asking for these "acts of goodness" to happen at Christmas. Maybe if the people proclaiming that they understood Jesus really paid attention to some of the things they think He said, we'd have a lot better world on our hands right now. So that's what I'm reflecting on as we prepare once again to ritualize and celebrate His birth. How can I allow the teachings of Jesus, that I know are inside of me whether I like it or not, find their way to my surface? I'm not headed back to church, and I'm not searching for my salvation. I'm just trying to tap into a fraction of the humanity that this man Jesus somehow exhibited and articulated to those around him. And then somehow changed the world for ages to follow. A fraction of His humanity. How can I find that?