Is there a spirituality to Christmas that reaches beyond religion and Christianity? I believe so. It is more than gift giving, baubles and Santa’s that draw so many non-Christians to this holiday. Christmas invites people into three compelling spiritual truths: the promise of becoming fully alive; discovering the Holy in the midst of the messiness of life and, hope. The disruptive manger scene is an invitation to see beyond the lines of religion.
Almost 800 years ago Francis of Assisi created the first Christmas manger scene. His live tableau reflected his imagining of the people and creatures gathered for the birth of Christ. Francis’ nativity scene was a spiritually disruptive event – one of those moments that disrupt and open up the prevailing or dominant way of thinking.
Francis’ stealth move of cracking open a window into the Holy shed light on the distant, stultified view of the Divine which prevailed in the Western European churches. God was omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. The disruptive brilliance of the manger scene was a seismic change in re-ordering the spirituality of everyday life.
The infant in the manger scene is a crying, giggling, charming, annoying, playful, sleeping baby. The infant is an invitation to become fully alive with all of the contradictions that make us human. To be spiritual is after all about becoming fully alive. The word for spirituality means “breath of life”. One of the invitations of Christmas comes in the notion of Incarnation – of the Holy taking on human form. Whatever one’s personal belief of that view is, it is an iconic image of Divine life pulsating in a tiny child. For many, celebrating Christmas is an earthy response to the spiritual truth which it conveys – of the breath of life, of being fully alive, as spiritual gift for every person.
The second compelling truth that Christmas conveys is that the spiritual is discovered in the messiness and complexity of human life. The so-called Holy Family are comprised of a teenage mother who became pregnant before marriage, a husband who is so disorganized that he cannot even arrange accommodation and a child given birth to on a rock among animals. It is a homeless holy family. This family dysfunction is part of the universal appeal of this holiday – the spiritual truth that the Holy is discovered in the messy, unfinished nature of our ordinary lives.
The third thing that invites celebration of Christmas is love and hope born in a child. A child who represents the universal pathway between the human and the holy. A child who offers the promise of the holy present in the messiness and breath of everyday lives. For many, Christmas is a renewal of hope, of re-imagined belief in the possibility of the impossible; of the chance to re-birth and renew that human and the holy meeting in our lives.
The electric snow-person that I received as a gift may be beguilingly silly as it changes color. It might amuse us in the way that the inflatable plastic helicopter with Santa aloft on someone’s lawn caused me to smile as I drove by it. Or the sparkling lights adorning people’s homes may enchant us, reminding us that the flickering lights dance with life. Or the vast plastic Santa’s on the wall of an office building in Tokyo may cause us to stop and ask if our eyes are tricking us. For many, this is the sum of Christmas.
For Christians, their entire faith and belief system is predicated on the birth of the Savior at Christmas. The Christ whom they see as having been foretold in the writings of the Hebrew Scriptures is the fulfillment of an ancient promise they believe. No wonder Christians sing about the “Holy Night” on which Christ was born and revel in songs like “Joy to the World”. The beauty and joy of many Christian celebrations of Christmas is enough to thaw the heart of a turgid curmudgeon.
But for many others, those who are spiritual but not religious, or those who practice another religious tradition, there is a gracious universal invitation to Christmas. The promise of becoming fully alive as a spiritual person, the reminder of the Holy mixed up in the bundle of life and the hope represented in a universal child revealing the Divine – these are spiritual truths and gifts to many at Christmas. So the celebrations are joined for many varied reasons.
What does the spirituality of Christmas say to you and even those you love?
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