in these days leading up to christmas, i'm taking a break from writing about mark's gospel to reflect on what i've read and written about so far. i have read this gospel many times but this is the first time i've journaled about it. one of the things that has surprised me is how little we know about jesus. we have the four gospels that were written some time after the lifetime of jesus and a few mentions of him from other sources. we don't even know who the writers of the gospels were or much about them, though two of them have been attributed to the disciples, matthew and john.
when i try and peak behind the miracles mark writes about to the actual man of flesh and blood, i see a jesus who is filled with compassion for the suffering of others. the writer wants us to believe that jesus was able to cure all sorts of physical and mental illnesses and diseases and to raise people from the dead, perhaps to convince his readers that jesus was more than a mere mortal, maybe God incarnate. to accept these supernatural deeds as fact obscures the person i claim to be a follower of and diminishes his true nature, i think. if jesus were primarily a faith healer in the mold of current-day charlatans, he would not be worthy of following.
i see a jesus who gives people hope in a God who is more loving than the god of the religious authorities of his day, who condemns the rule-based religion that oppresses common folk and colludes with the roman conquerors to exploit a subject population. this jesus is brave enough to confront false teachers, even at the risk of his own life.
as i think about christmas, i grow weary of hearing that "jesus is the reason for the season." the appropriation of various winter solstice celebrations for our own religious purposes diminishes the person we christians claim to follow. insisting that there is no other way to celebrate christmas is insulting to non-christians and to the many christians who believe it is a mistake to commemorate jesus' birth on one specific day in december. there's nothing wrong with observing december 25th as the anniversary of jesus' birth, but it's not the only way to celebrate the season. i love hearing the stories of the angels and the shepherds, of the wise men, of the journey of mary and joseph to bethlehem where their child was born in a manger. i love singing the carols and seeing churches decked out in greenery and twinkling lights. i love decorating our home for christmas. christmas is all that and much more. it is a season of giving to loved ones and to those who are in need, of hoping that there will be peace and good will on earth, of special foods and sweet treats, of gathering together as families. all these things are possible whether we are observing the birth of a religious figure, enjoying chanukah or any number of ancient holidays, or treating this season as an entirely secular time of year. why not let christmas have whatever significance it has for each person and allow all to enjoy christmas in their own ways without insisting that our way in the only way?
may you have a joyous holiday season. if this is a time of sadness for you, may you find solace and peace. may you give to others as you are able and graciously accept the gifts you receive. may you continue to seek truth wherever it can be found. shalom.