Two Christmas Stories
Megyn Kelly, a Fox News personality, recently generated some controversy by claiming both Santa and Jesus are white men and no other representation is acceptable: “Santa is what he is. Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too.” There is one Christmas holiday but it shares two prominent mythical stories. The holiday is rather important to our American society, and therefore so are the stories.
One Christmas Story
The story of Santa Claus, the bearded man who brings gifts to good children on the night of Christmas Eve, has its origins in several different legends or forklore.
These stories set the foundation for the Christmas holiday as celebrated today because of the human context. What is more fulfilling for a parent than to see the unrestrained joy of a child opening a present satisfying a youthful wish?
A person is often just as happy to get a gift as to see another become so happy upon receiving a gift. Both the giver and the receiver share the common love when sharing.
As portrayed in the popular movie, A Christmas Story, children have a variety of challenges such as school (Miss Shields), bullies (Scot Farkus), close friends (Flick and Schwartz), interests (Radio Orphan Annie), family (Randy), less than perfect parents (his foul-mouthed Old Man), and fervent wishes (Red Ryder BB gun). Christmas is an opportunity for parents to share some quality time with their children, a transient time of shelter to be filled with that burst of happiness.
Another Christmas Story
The story of the birth of Jesus has its origins in the Bible. Among the four gospels, 'manger' is found only in Luke, with its story of shepherds and angels as the basis of the common manger nativity scene. In Luke 2:7: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Jesus is the savior of mankind, marking the promise of eternal life. From John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
First story - reality
The time of innocence, when a child will feel sheer joy when receiving a simple gift, is rather short lived among the youth. Long lists are made by older children (and by adults as well) and opening one gift is just one moment among those other presents, so that special surprise is rarely felt when focusing on the collection of gifts. Children are taught from an early age happiness comes from having cherished possessions, even though after getting them the old list is just replaced by new wishes. There is no time to cherish what one has, because there is always more to hope for, with a list of unsatisfied wishes. How is happiness achieved when there are always so many unfulfilled important wishes?
With the constant barrage of advertising, which child will accept only one gift to treasure? Which parent will accept giving their child just one gift, when that will be seen by others as not giving enough to the child? The holiday gift giving season has set up the expectation of many gifts to be exchanged. The fanaticism of Black Friday also pushes many to buy the latest toys and gadgets, as if to miss the latest fad might imply an inability to keep up with such an image of prosperity.
Christmas occurs about a month after the American holiday of Thanksgiving, which is another celebration of the love within family and friends (which is also another holiday that has evolved from its origin of a mythical dinner with both pilgrims and local native Americans). For those who can see through the commercialism inherent in this holiday of Santa, this Christmas story and its traditional celebration with a family dinner still finds resonance just because we are social creatures and our emotional bonds with family are very important to us.
I find it ironic that Megyn Kelly wants to make sure Santa remains the same white man and yet among every shopping mall in America each Santa barely looks like any other. The Santa in a parade is often different than the Santa who the child tells his/her wishes. We are already comfortable with those obvious inconsistencies but Megyn is not comfortable with a change in the color of Santa's skin. However I suspect many, probably Megyn also, wish to maintain the facade of the holidays being as they were when she was young, even though that time of an innocent youth can never really be restored.
As growing numbers of people are unemployed or underemployed (working part time when full time employment is unavailable) and the practice of pushing down wages of employees has become rather widespread, one can only wonder how much happiness will be found around Christmas in so many homes under financial duress.
Second story - reality
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus had his bloodline back to Abraham and David. From Matthew 2:1-2: "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him."
The bloodline is also in the Gospel of Luke, from 2:4-5: “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”
Palestine in the First Century CE when Jesus was born was certainly in turmoil. The Maccabees had helped the Jews overthrow their occupation by the Greeks and the Jews were waiting for a new leader (a Messiah) to lead their overthrow of the Roman occupation. Eventually the Romans crucified Jesus during this insurrection. From John 19:19: "And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews."
After the passing of Jesus, his brother James took over the leadership of the Jews. According to some Biblical scholars, James taught action and conformance to Jewish Law are critical. Around this time Paul, a Roman involved in the suppression of the Jewish insurgents, had a religious experience and began to teach about his interpretation of Jesus. Of course, Paul did not have the same perspective as James so (being a Roman) Jewish Law was not important but rather his emphasis is on faith, believing and trusting in God. Paul's teachings and travels were primarily outside of the area dominated by James. As several historians have noted in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Paul is given the epithet 'the Liar' by the locals.
After the death of James lead to a full-scale revolt, known as the First Jewish Roman War, the teachings of Paul became the foundation for the Christian religion, with Jesus assumed to be the son of God. The simple story of the birth of Jesus in Mathew became magical in Luke with the multitude of angels singing to shepherds. The Jewish Messiah within the Roman occupation became a Christian Messiah for eternal life in a kingdom not of this world.
Faith is now critical for Christians. Though Jesus was Jewish, Jewish Law is irrelevant in Christianity, the religion based on the interpretation of the life of Jesus with a great influence from the writings of the Roman Paul.
For many Christians and those offering this interpretation of ancient scriptures, the story of the birth of Jesus in a manger when God sent his own son to save the world, offers a message of hope to simply trust in God.
I fear when believers abide by that message too fervently, the results are rather sad. Recently the conviction was upheld for a Wisconsin couple who prayed rather than seek help for their daughter with treatable diabetes. The 11-year old girl died (probably of dehydration) and the parents were convicted of second degree reckless homicide. The parents said visiting a doctor is 'putting the doctor before God.' In similar cases, care for a sick child is avoided because 'medical treatment shows a lack of faith in God.'
Man is a social creature and people working together can achieve that which cannot be accomplished individually. Faith and trust in God to solve a problem is just avoiding this context, our social nature.
I fully recognize that many people require the comfort of faith. That is just an aspect of human nature; some need it while others do not. The danger is in letting that faith become too dominant.
The message here (faith and trust in God will be rewarded) is also disturbing on another level. As social beings, we succeed or fail on our goals depending on how well we work with others. However this promise of ‘everlasting life’ in John 3:16 is apparently a judgment rendered on an individual basis according to most interpretations of heaven vs hell. Though a married couple will try to work together through life’s journey, their afterlife is based on an individual accounting. One can only wonder which has the priority, the family or the afterlife? Is this assumption not a deterrent toward working together toward common goals when one’s personal salvation is a priority? I suspect in many people, the afterlife is a potential outcome not a certainty, so they live their daily lives in a humane manner, relying on other people, rather than forever focused on this critical judgment rendered upon death. That is probably not the case for the most fervent believers.
This second story of Christmas, with all the holiday traditions including the manger scene with angels hovering nearby (my mother at 87 still sets up a manger every year), conveys the impression that the focus is on God sending his only Son to save the world. That fundamental message in this second story (just believe and follow whatever his Son says, or whatever we are told is the correct interpretation of those ancient scriptures) is in stark contrast with the apparent message from the first story (sharing love with our children) for this holiday season spent with family and friends.
Perhaps this dichotomy might be involved in some of our social problems. Our American culture, so dominated by Christian traditions, is unable to reconcile between a reliance on help from above (as a reward for just having faith) and a reliance on our fellow man (which requires the effort of working with others).
created - Dec. 2013
last change - 12/26/2013
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