On the birth of Jesus

xmastree-1In a High School Theology Class, at Fordham Prep, a Jesuit explained to several of us Science and Greek Honor Majors that the word translated in the bible as “virgin” may more properly be translated as “maiden” – meaning only unmarried.  To this day, I find that moment of instruction reassuring.

It allowed us young men to discount the significance that so many believers ascribed to the conception of Jesus in terms defying how every other natural person is born.

Some told us that it was a mystery, the “virgin birth,” that must be taken on faith, but our Jesuit teacher showed us how what is natural was not necessarily contradicted in scripture.

The world is a terrible place if one takes everything literally, does not question the facts, and can’t understand the role of metaphor and symbolism.  I’m grateful for my early faith – or indoctrination –and an appreciation that symbols and metaphors are means that are transparent to transcendence.

When considering the liturgy, we know that some aspects of “the faith” and its liturgical events were taken over wholesale from “pagan” rituals.  Pagan was a term of slander for religions other than what was Christian.

That adoption of the rites of other religions appealed to my political understanding, but it also depreciated what many insisted to be true, that the Christian was the one true faith, although it’s challenging to know which sect of Christianity we’re talking about – the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Baptist, Lutheran, Fundamentalists, Pietism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, Latter Day Saints, Eastern Orthodox, or Gnosticism. 

When the Dominican Nuns told me my Dad was going to hell if he didn’t go to church, I asked him about that.  He answered, “We all believe in our own way.”

The Washington Post had a wonderful discussion of the myths of Christmas, how Jesus was more likely born in the spring, not the Winter, and not in a stable.  Jesus’ birthday was not celebrated for centuries, and the date of Jesus’ birth was picked based on insisting that Jesus conception coincide with the date of his crucifixion, on March 25th, and so, Jesus’ birth had to occur 9 months later on December 25th.

But the real point of all this is that those who treat this Christmas Day as a day of charity toward others capture the spirit and a belief that we should all share, and with or without religion.

I’m afraid, however, that, as a society, especially of late, we fail this praiseworthy impulse – to be charitable to one and all.

It’s heartening to know the many people who do reach out to others, who care, and who embrace the fundamental instruction of the season – to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

Following the recent campaign season, this Christmas, perhaps more than any other in my lifetime, serves up a stark contrast between charity and hate, and peace and war.

We are going to find out soon, in this new Presidential Administration, if we can live as many claim they believe based on their religion.

But to do that, one must speak and act in a way that reflects this basic Christian value.

For those who read the Bible, Jesus once said, if you are tepid, I shall spit you forth from my mouth.

We must appreciate that we are only what we do, not what we say we believe.

As my Dad said, we all believe in our own way.

But a belief that does not improve the condition of all living things, human and every other creature, that does not even try, is not much of a belief.