"Wide Open Spaces"
I heard a report yesterday about a new campaign among conservative Christians to stop what they refer to as "The war on Christmas." The argument is that Christ has been taken out of Christmas and the holiday has been secularized so that it is now something akin to some sort of "Winterfest."
While I personally think that this season has become far too commercialized with way too much emphasis on buying more and more stuff, I actually think that you don't have to be a Christian or even a believer to celebrate what Christmas is all about. When it comes to Christmas, there is plenty of room at the table.
I came across a story the other day about a growing phenomenon among atheists, agnostics and humanists in cities across the country who come together during the Christmas season to celebrate "the Spirit of Christmas." These folks don't necessarily believe in God (at least not in a traditional sense) and their celebration is not a commemoration of the birthday of Jesus. They gather together at Christmastime because there is something about the warmth, intimacy, and generosity of this season that touches their hearts. They want Christmas to be more than some sort of anemic holiday, a vague "Winterfest" marked by frenzied shopping and endless partying.
I was particularly fascinated by the story of one particular "atheist-humanist" Christmas gathering last week. It was attended by almost 200 people (mostly young folks) who met in an auditorium to hear some inspirational music, have conversations, listen to a "sermon," sing some songs, and experience a sense of fellowship and community with one another.
The topic of the sermon at this "Christmas celebration" focused on how we might develop a sense of selflessness and generosity during this season. Then they all sang some carols (that didn't specifically refer to Jesus) and they ended with a potluck supper.
In the news story about this Christmas gathering, the leader of the assembly told a reporter, "We may be atheist but we aren't a bunch of alienated, creepy Scrooges."
The more I thought about that story, I realized that an atheist "Christmas" gathering may be Christmas without Christ, but it most certainly is Christmas in the spirit of Christ.
When I look at the life and teachings of Jesus, I find someone who practiced unlimited compassion and unbounded hospitality. His message was that everyone is always welcome to sit at a place of equal dignity and respect at the table of life. Jesus never turned anyone away. He ate with saints and sinners, and welcomed good religious people as well as those who had no use for religion - and he invited any who would follow him to do the same.
My guess is that if he were walking around today, Jesus would have been in attendance at one of those atheist-humanist Christmas gatherings last week.
There is no war on Christmas; Christmas is a generous feast of abundant Love, a time to welcome everyone to a big table at which there is plenty of room for all to sit.
In a few days it will be Christmas, and whether you attend a church or a temple or a mosque, whether you are religious or spiritual or an atheist or an agnostic, come and enjoy the feast!