How are spirituality and Christmas related? “To me Christmas is hopeful: a time to celebrate the potential for God-Realization in all of us.”
I love Christmas. My neighbors love Christ. This is not the same thing.
To me Christmas heralds the Very Good News that if a first century rabbi could realize the Truth at the mystic heart of his and every religion—“I and the Divine are one” (John 10:30)—then so can we. This is the same Very Good News taught by sages before and after Jesus:
- I am you and you are I; wherever you are, there I am … And in whatever place you wish, you may gather Me, but when you gather Me, you gather yourself. (Gospel of Eve)
- My Me is God, nor do I recognize any other Me except God. (St. Catherine of Genoa)
- Beyond the senses is the brain. Beyond the brain is the intellect. Beyond the intellect is the Great Atman. Beyond the Great Atman is the Unmanifest Brahman. Beyond the Unmanifest Brahman is the I, all–pervading Subject impossible to objectify. (Katha Upanishad 2.3 7–8)
- The awakened one is no longer separated from God, and behold you are God, and God is you. So, know that I, even I, am God. God is I and I am God. (Rabbi Abraham Abulafia)
- I am Truth. There is nothing wrapped in my turban but God. There is nothing in my cloak but God. (Mansur al–Hallaj)
To me Christmas is hopeful: a time to celebrate the potential for God-Realization in all of us. To my neighbors Christmas seems fearful: a time to circle the wagons and bemoan how besieged Christians are—not in countries where they are actually persecuted such as the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia but in the most Christian friendly country on earth: the United States of America.
As I walk through my neighborhood and exchange friendly shouts of “Merry Christmas” with my neighbors, I take pleasure in seeing houses draped with Christmas lights and lawns taken over by manger scenes. So, you might forgive my confusion when my neighbors tell me that their right to openly affirm their religion is being denied them, and that they are shunned for saying “Merry Christmas,” and that this War on Christmas gets stronger every year.
To me the War on Christmas is an odd but understandable response to the success of Christianity in the United States. Christians aren’t meant to be successful: Blessed are the poor, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty “who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:10). The problem for my neighbors is that they aren’t poor, meek, hungry, thirsty, or persecuted. Indeed, they are often seen as the persecutors. And because they aren’t persecuted, they fear their place in the Kingdom of Heaven is iffy at best.
The obvious solution—obvious to me at any rate—is for them to take up the causes for which Jesus died: the cessation of othering, injustice, and oppression, and doing right by “the least” among us (Matthew 25). As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. showed us, it doesn’t take long before this Christian message threatens the Powers That Be in America and one becomes “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Sadly, it is easier to imagine a War on Christmas instead.
I refuse to engage with the War on Christmas. I choose instead to celebrate the Very Good News that You are God (Tat Tvam Asi and Alles iz Gott as we say in Sanskrit and Yiddish). And when I wish you “Merry Christmas” know that what I am wishing you is this: May your celebration of the birth of Jesus birth your own awakening to the joyous fact that you and God are one.
Want more of Rabbi Rami? Read about spirituality and Hanukkah.
More from Rabbi Rami on spirituality and Christmas, from the print issue of Spirituality & Health.
Reader question: I love Christ, but I hate Christmas. My parents and siblings don’t need any more gold, frankincense and myrrh, but I have to give them something. And don’t tell me to make something―any gift I make looks like a potholder I made in summer camp.
Rabbi Rami: Your family might not need anything, but other families do. Rather than give a gift to your family, why not give one on their behalf? Work with organizations like Heifer International and help lift a family out of poverty with a donation of livestock. Then go the extra mile and email those who are obligated to gift you with a potholder or bit of myrrh, and ask them to donate to a charity instead. Don’t give up the giving; just downplay the getting.