I painted this many years ago, and only finally made a digital copy of it recently. It’s not one of my best, and someday I plan a do-over as I love the technique and composition of the painting. Since I wanted to write a Christmas post, and I’ve used my Mary and Jesus painting every year for many years now for this purpose, I decided to break out this old piece because the imagery is appropriate to my message.
When Jesus came to our world, angels appeared bringing a special message. Their message, found in the Gospel of Luke, was, “Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy, that shall be to all people.”
A message meant for all people. And I think of an entire planet. After announcing the birth of the Messiah, and where to find him, they concluded with, “Glory to God in the Highest, and upon earth peace, among humanity — good will.”
They repeated this idea of good will, or good intentions coming from God, good news, something that would bring joy and peace. Peace on Earth.
The Birth of Christ was a message from God to the entire planet, one that was meant to be a message of God’s heart toward us, and one that was meant to be a message of peace.
As a Christian who believes that God is love (1 John 4:8), and that God’s heart is for all of humanity (John 3:16), I don’t like having an us verses them mentality. Instead of following a Christian culture of separation from the world by taking sides in a War on Christmas, I feel like the beautiful message of peace from God is better served when we lay down our weapons and look for the coming of Christ in the faces of the people we pit ourselves against.
We tend to approach peacemaking with a corporate mentality of brokering deals. It’s what we’re used to. When there’s a war on words, and neither side can broker a deal, it keeps fanning the flames for confrontation. I’d like to suggest an alternative peacemaking strategy, one that is both Biblical and pluralistic, and one that doesn’t depend on brokering a deal.
Of all the apostles who spread the good news about Christ to the surrounding communities and cultures beyond Christianity’s Jewish beginnings, we have more details from the Apostle Paul than any of the others. When one looks at how he approached non-Jewish, pagan culture, he did something remarkable. He built intercultural bridges. In Acts 17:23 Paul is seen building one of these cross cultural bridges “For as I walked around and examined your objects of worship, I even found an altar with the inscription: To an unknown God. Therefore what you worship as something unknown, I now proclaim to you.”
Instead of bardging in and telling these pagans that they were simply wrong and needed to say a specific set of words in order to be right, he instead found something that was a common idea between his own culture and theirs.
I think this idea of finding something in common is a beautiful thing, especially with a message that is one of peace toward the entire planet. As I contemplate the myriad of cultures that also have holidays during the winter besides the Christian Christmas, such as Hannukah, Kwanza, Divali, Bodhi Day, Yalda, Yule, sometimes Ramadan depending on the calendar year, and so on. As I observe some of these other traditions celebrated during the winter months, I do see something in common that we all seem to share this time of year, especially for cultures in the northern hemisphere. There is a common theme of light shining in the darkness. The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, and the many cultures have somehow made traditions of lighting candles, or in pagan times, hanging evergreens, to symbolize life and light in the midst of darkness. In the birth of Jesus, a star appeared which guided Zoroastrian magi, or priests, to his birthplace. Again, that hint of peace on earth and good will toward humanity appears in the Christian story through pagan priests coming to honor the message of peace from God to humanity. The star that guided them was a light in the darkness, a guide to those who would look for God from wherever they were at. Yes, the light in the darkness is something all humanity always hopes for, and always celebrates.
I’m a Christian who says both Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, because to me the light shining in the darkness, the light of peace and love, which is embodied in the God I believe in, is something that all cultures honor. My religion does not have a claim on something that God intended as a message of peace to all of humanity, and being greedy over a time of year that is honored in many traditions has done nothing to promote peace on earth. My advice is to say Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays, and Happy Hannukah, and Peace to You, or whatever is meaningful to you, and receive whatever greetings are given to you with welcome, because anything said or done with a spirit of love and peace behind it is taking part in God’s message of peace to the world.