If you are Facebook friends with Steve Jacobsen, you may have seen that he recently reposted a piece from Rabbi Steven Cohen in which he describes what Christmas looks like through the eyes of a Jewish kid (you can read it here). It is a very insightful post that poses several questions about the meaning of Christmas and its traditions and celebrations. The main question he ponders is this: “can a Jew participate in Christmas in some ways, without betraying our ancestors and our ancient covenant?”
As I read Rabbi Cohen’s article I couldn’t help but think of the conflicts that I have felt over the years as I have prepared services through December leading up to Christmas Eve. For me, Christmas poses a different question, which is this: “does our December worship mark the beginning of the Christian calendar and convey the meaning of the birth of Christ (Advent and Christmas) or is it designed to merely enhance the holiday of Christmas?” The secular season of Christmas is wonderful. I love it for the same reasons that Rabbi Cohen describes. Yet I am very sensitive when demands are made on our faith rituals to serve our social needs to the neglect of our spiritual needs. And it isn’t just Christmas. Baptisms can become a public celebration of a birth rather than a commitment to raise a child in a religious community. Religion can become a repository of patriotic identity rather than devotion to God who reigns across all borders. Church membership can be treated as a reservation in heaven rather than the practice of communal sacrifice for the sake of something larger than ourselves.
Religion has meaning. One of the downsides to being a part of the dominant culture is that our faith has become intertwined with our culture in ways that conceal that meaning. I believe that if our faith tradition is to thrive we must untangle our rituals from our culture and rediscover their holy purposes. Without them, we lose our meaning as a community and the world loses touch with the hope it needs religion to preserve for it.
Wishing everyone a peaceful Christmastide!