It has become common to complain that we have forgotten “the reason for the season” when we celebrate Christmas. A theology professor once said something that helped me understand how that happened. He pointed out that Christians tend to celebrate the birth and death of Jesus, but don’t pay much attention to how he actually lived.
That is why my one tradition during these holidays has been to reflect on something kid oakland wrote years ago about the life of the man whose birth so many people celebrate tonight.
Let me tell you something about the Jesus that I know.
He was a real man. Born in a poor region to working poor parents. He loved learning, he loved his mother and his father.
But he left them and spent his life with the poor, the outcast, the rejected, the defiled, the sick, the sinners, the bedraggled, the bereft, the self-hating, the lonely, the banished, the foul, the miserable, the desperate and finally, those sick with their own power.
He did this, not because of his ideology or his creed. He did this not because of his doctrine. He did this, quite simply, because he loved them. He preferred them.
Their company, their stories, their lives, their environs, their plight and their faith.
And they loved him. Because he touched them. He looked them in the eye and believed in them. Because, at the end of the day, when they looked to him they saw that his commitment to them was a commitment unsullied by qualifier or clause. It was a commitment to love them, even upon pain of death. And they saw in him, a love that promised to love them as they were, who they were…fully, without judgement or flinching glance, or hypocritical accomodation.
This man, Jesus, was surrounded by friends and disciples whom he mentored….not by carping or enforcing rules…but by example and teaching. By the force of his actions. By his resolute commitment to the least, the smallest, the most in need.
That does a good job of capturing why so many Christians have abandoned the idea of focusing on how Jesus lived his life. He was a radical—not in doctrine or politics—but in how he treated others.
Throughout history, prophets from every major religion have been telling us the same thing, as Karen Armstrong pointed out.
What we need is a new kind of religious discourse that goes back to the core values of the religion: every single one is based on compassion and on the golden rule, first propounded by Confucius 500 years before Christ: do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you. Look into your own heart, discover what it is that gives you pain, and then refuse under any circumstance to inflict that pain on anybody else… This is civilization. The golden rule is the basis of civilization.
More than anything else I can think of, that is the antidote to the poison that has infected our system these days. My hope for everyone reading this is that you find a moment of peace to look into your own heart and contemplate your core values. So my gift to all of you this holiday season is a song.
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