View of Christmas changes with age
When I was a little kid, I thought the time between Halloween and Christmas was forever. When Christmas morning arrived, I sat beneath the tree, having unwrapped all the gifts, and sadly thought it would be an eternity before we celebrated again.
Not so these days. As I unpack the decorations each year, I more and more ask myself, ‘Why put them away? It will soon be time to get them out again.’
Something seems to have altered my perspective on Christmas through the years. Time, as the great mathematician Albert Einstein pointed out, is a tricky actor in our lives.
As a child, I felt the smallness of our planet for the first time during a Sunday school class. With awe, I heard that all over the world on Dec. 25 people would celebrate the same event: the birth of Jesus.
Now that I am 80, I realize the errors and the truths in that concept. Yes, the world has much uniformity in human behavior and thought, but we don’t all agree on the explanations of who does what, how it all works and what causes what.
I am a committed Christian, but I realize others can have different explanations for the mysteries of life. We share many of the same values and ideals but give varying names and explanations for our faiths. Most religions teach the presence of an absolute, infinite source of love and power, and they tell us to treat others kindly and to develop our behavior in line with our Supreme Being’s teachings.
It would seem that spiritual beliefs should unite us as human beings, but they are often the most divisive force between people of differing cultures, nationalities and theologies. We each want to be so faithful and correct that it is challenging for us to be accepting of alternative commitments to differing churches or faiths.
I remember as a child crying because my mother wanted to put up two Christmas trees on either side of the fireplace rather than just one big tree in the corner. It sounds so dumb now but, in those early days, I couldn’t understand the deep spiritual and theological explanations of Christmas; however, I could see the symbols of the holiday like the Christmas tree. I felt it must really be Christmas if all our traditions were in place.
It was a sobering lesson for me when, in a college world religions class, we were told that most of the world’s great religions had nativity stories similar to that of Christianity. They had wondrous stars; magnificent births, too. It was even brought to light in that class that Dec. 25 was probably not the date of Jesus’ birth. What a troublesome mental and spiritual state that left me in for the following Christmas. It took me a while to began to see that the truth of a loving, forgiving and redeeming God present in our lives today did not depend on man’s speculation of how it evolved.
Getting caught up in all the details can be a troublesome business. Mankind has tried to do its best, but we aren’t all knowing or perfect.
These past weeks, many nations have gathered to hammer out new environmental guidelines and restrictions. I read a discussion as to whether the issues being addressed were scientific or moral. After some pondering, my untrained mind concluded that, for me, God created the natural system that underlies our lives. We better respect it and nurture it.
This Christmas, I see no bigger moral or spiritual gift for us to give future generations of God’s children than a cleaner, sustainable cosmic system.
Funny how, as we age, we develop from having a life view of an endless world with no constraints and where gifts are toys to a view of limitations and boundaries imposed by an eternal and absolute God that is present in this finite world. Who would think we could go from dependence on small practical ideas to embracing unknown mysteries as our guides.