I did not grow up going to church.
During high school lots of friends invited me to go with them. I attended Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches. I learned about each denomination. I even took a class on Calvinism as a graduation requirement. In college I was the only non-Catholic on my basketball team. They thought I was a heathen when I showed up to practice on Ash Wednesday with no ashes on my forehead.
During that time I attended mass in over a dozen different Catholic churches. My roommate was Jewish and I loved listening to her speak Hebrew on the phone with her relatives in Israel. I was in my sorority sister’s beautiful Hindu wedding. I taught at an Episcopal school. I’m friends with atheists.
I’m no philosophical or theological expert, but I know a thing or two about the overt and subtle differences between what these religions believe. It gets complicated.
One thing that most can agree on: We’re all bad people and we need to get right with God or we’re in a heap of trouble. How do we do that? That’s where the differences come in.
People of all religions try to reach out, or up, to God. Can we do enough good things to get his approval? Confess and feel bad enough about the things we’ve done wrong? Work our way out of this mess we’re in? Even people who don’t believe in God try to become more “spiritual” because everyone realizes that this world is a wreck so we need to do something different.
Then Christmas happened. God came to us.
That’s the simplicity of Christmas. And what it means. He wants to be with us. People go to great lengths to complicate it. Some fluff it up with fancy words and judge others over different ways of looking at it. Some use guilt to manipulate people. Others get offended. And now we’re afraid to say Merry Christmas to strangers.
The Creator of the universe came down here to bail us out. He loves us that much. And he didn’t come in a chariot or take up residence in a palace. He chose to come in the most humble way. Born in a manger surrounded by stinky animals. Can you imagine the smell? Not the way we like to think of Christmas.
He came for everyone. Nice people, rude people, the rich, the poor, liars, murderers, bad drivers, and “good people” who are trying their best but still manage to mess up all the time. Only God is perfect. We can work our tails off at being good but it will never be enough. So God had to come down here to this imperfect place and do it for us. He became human, showed us how to live, and made the ultimate sacrifice.
That’s the message of Christmas. God reaching down to us. We’ve all made mistakes and he’s given us a second chance. When you let that sink in it will change the way you live your life and the way you treat others.
Love unconditionally. Forgive people. Be less judgmental and less selfish. You’ll still make a lot of mistakes (Lord knows I do), but things should be different.