As a Jewish child in Australia, in addition to enjoying the summer holiday atmosphere, seeing the decorations and hearing the carols in the shopping malls, I was taught three things about Christmas:
We could be cynical. The date was originally a pagan winter festival and Santa Claus had no real religious significance. It is unlikely that it is actually Jesus’ birthday. And Jesus’ birth was neither miraculous nor the heralding of the messianic era.
We could feel superior. It was the one occasion in the year that Christians had a dinner that resembled our (weekly) Friday night table.
We needn’t be jealous. Children got lots of presents. However, we had eight days of present-giving at Chanukah.
It is a shame that it was not until I was an adult that I appreciated the true beauty and the meaning of the holiday. Christmas teaches an important lesson that has universal importance. In the birth of a single child lies the hope for a transformed world.
Christianity centres around ideas of love. Those of us who are parents can understand that the highest form of love is that felt by a parent to a newborn child and the purest, from child to parent. While we may not all accept that Jesus was the Messiah or that his birth was miraculous, we can share the idea that the birth of an individual baby is worthy of celebration. Every child adds to the sum total of love in this world. Each birth is a miracle. Each child has potential to change the world.
Jesus as a baby provides as powerful an image to Christians as Jesus as an adult – perhaps even more. Looking at the manger scene, we see adults transformed by a child who cannot yet articulate a single word but who is already teaching those around him. It is the baby Jesus who is celebrated at Christmas. While his teachings as an adult provide Christianity with its sacred texts and obligations, it is the moment of his birth that is the most widely celebrated festival of the religion and which provides the greatest source of joy.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the brit of a newborn for whom his parents had waited many years, almost despairing of ever bringing a new life into the world. The joy that this little boy has brought into the world cannot be described. He is a miracle child. Perhaps his birth will be the one that heralds peace. Those of us who came to celebrate and bear gifts, to thank God for the gift of a new life and to pray for benevolence in the future, hope so. Until proven otherwise, we will continue to hope. We may not be so different from those who came to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Adults, both parents and the community that surrounds them, have a responsibility to guide a child and to teach children values. However, as much as we teach, we learn. We learn from the innocence and from the gratitude that a child shows for simple things. We learn from a child’s sense of wonder and from the profound questions that a child asks in a simple way. There is amazing wisdom in children. Each child can affect and influence all the adults with whom she interacts, providing we adults allow ourselves to be open to change. Each child is a unique gift to the world and a unique source of hope.
The clear message of Christmas is hope. For believing Christians, the hope of the nativity has not waned, even after so many generations of waiting. The faith in the potential of that baby boy to change the world has not been diminished. Even those of us who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah can empathise with the vision of peace and universal love that Christians associate with him. We can believe that things will change for the better, that tyranny will be overthrown and violence replaced by lovingkindness.
We can all share the hope that the seeds for this transformed world are already here or, if not, we continue to anticipate with the arrival of every baby that a better world, if not the messianic era, is upon us. Christmas is about the birth of a child, the hope, the symbol and the proof of a redeemed future.