Rabbi Michael Lerner writes that Christmas and Chanukah share a spiritual message: that it is possible to bring light and hope in a world of darkness, oppression and despair. With regard to Christmas in particular, he says: “Christianity took the hope of the ancients and transformed it into a hope for the transformation of a world of oppression. The birth of a newborn, always a signal of hope for the family in which it was born, was transformed into the birth of the messiah who would come to challenge existing systems of economic and political oppression, and bring a new era of peace on earth, social justice and love. Symbolizing that in the baby Jesus was a beautiful way to celebrate and reaffirm hope in the social darkness that has been imposed on the world by the Roman empire, and all its successors right up through the contemporary dominance of a globalized rule of corporate and media forces that have permeated every corner of the planet with their ethos of selfishness and materialism.”
Fox News and their ideological compatriots denounce what they describe as a War on Christmas. But John Brueggemann, writing in Lerner’s Tikkun (see here), is not moved by the crocodile tears of Fox News. Nonetheless, he is concerned about the real war on Christmas: “There is a war under way. But it is not about whether a Christmas tree can be mounted here or there. It is about whether the market will define the sacred. Advent invites Christians to do exactly the opposite of what the Christmas shopping season urges: slow down, get ready for something out of the ordinary, look to the most important promises of God and neighbor, and ponder what gifts we have to offer. For Christians, Jews, Muslims and other people of faith seeking a different sense of time and a different future for the world, we share a common cause in facing this threat together.”
I went to a solstice celebration the other night. Rabbi Lerner makes sense of that celebration, “Radical hope is also the message of Christmas. Like Chanukah, it is rooted in the ancient tradition of a winter solstice celebration to affirm humanity's belief that the days, now grown shortest around December 23rd, will grow long again as the sun returns to heat the earth and nourish the plants. Just as Jews light holiday lights at this time of year, so do Christians transform the dark into a holiday of lights, with beautiful Christmas trees adorned with candles or electric lights, and lights on the outside and inside of their homes.”
It seems to me that Christmas is best understood not as a day of enforced holiday cheer or a day to focus on how we might or might not enjoy our material gifts, but a day of thanks for our lives, a day to recall that we are obligated not to treat the gift of our lives as pointless, and a day to reflect upon how we might bring more light to the lives of others.