This piece appeared in the Star-Ledger on December 25, 2022 (paywall).
The celebration of Christmas has the potential to change the world. On the other hand, it can also be a crushing disappointment.
Christmas can be filled with expectations, especially when we chase the perfect celebration with family and friends on their best behavior. Unmet expectations can lead us to miss the essential spirit of Christmas. But when we lower our expectations and remember what motivates us at Christmas, then the holiday takes on a deep and special significance. It is that significance that can change the world.
Christmas celebrations are underscored by the effort we make to delight, surprise, and care for those we love. At the center of the shopping, wrapping, cooking, and traveling is love. A love that is expansive because of the birth of Jesus. This is good news of great joy for all people. We are loved truly, deeply, unconditionally by the one who came to us as an infant among the very least. His love of us makes our love of others grow.
When we experience this kind of expansive and boundless love, we cannot help but share it. This love is what so many people want to experience at Christmas, regardless of their religious persuasion or lack of religious belief. Some part of us always knows this celebration is meant to be about love, and unconditional love at that. Unconditional love drives us to donate toys, organize food drives, staff suicide hotlines, and comfort those who mourn. This love drives out a sense of scarcity, fear, hopelessness, and isolation. This love is a powerful antidote that transforms us and the world we live in. This love can change the world.
In the end, Christmas is about much more than presents, carols, trees, and cookies. It is about the transformative power of God’s unconditional love for all people. For God, all means all. No one is left out or overlooked. At Christmas, and the other 364 days of the year, we are invited to participate in the transformation of the world by loving others unconditionally.
This leads us to gather with those we love and those who are lonely. It means we share our blessings with those in need of blessings. We look with hope-filled eyes at situations that seem impossible to mend. We dream of God’s goodness for every part of our troubled world. We step outside of the shelter of our comfort zone and get to truly know people who do not cross our paths regularly.
While Christmas is a religious holiday, Christianity does not own God’s unconditional love. Further, all people have the ability to love unconditionally. So many of us are taught from an early age to take care of your own and let others handle themselves. It takes intentional practice to look at another person or situation and want the best for them. This is something all of us can learn to do with practice, no matter what our faith tradition or holiday.
While unconditional love seems possible at Christmas, many of us struggle with the number of long-term challenges facing our world. War in Ukraine will not stop for Christmas, neither will racial hatred, climate change, nor the current border crisis.
We may feel inadequate for the tasks, especially at Christmas. Yet, our capacity to love may be the most helpful way to address these global issues. Unconditional love keeps us focused on the needs of others rather than our own fallibility. This love can guide us to the first steps rather than withdrawing into acceptance of the unacceptable.
Jesus was born to, and among, the least. There is hope for us in this fact. God is able to do great things with the very least. No matter what our stature or wealth, before the Creator of the Universe, we are all quite small and even least. And yet this love we experience at Christmas allows great things to happen. We are meant to love. Let that be your focus this Christmas. It will change you, the people you celebrate with, and just possibly one day the whole wide world.