Thoughts about Christmas

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Whether you see the Christmas story as Gospel truth or a sweet legend, I wish you a peaceful holiday. However you interpret the story of Jesus, I hope you feel the love in it and I hope you make that love yours to share with the people around you and with those you can neither see nor know.

I’m growing convinced that the only thing that can save us is love. I mean the kind of love described in First Corinthians 13 — caritas in Latin, agape (ah-GAH-pee) in Greek. The translators of the King James version of the Bible turned the Latin “caritas” into “charity.” How dry and unloving; “caring” would have been a better choice. “Love” is the best word English has to offer.

“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

I believe we were born to love. Our first love is for ourselves, and that’s how it should be. As long as our cells have the energy to divide and replicate themselves, our first duty is to live. To do that, as babies we need food and warmth. We need the caritas of others. That’s why we are programmed to feel the way we do in the presence of a new baby (especially the kind whose diapers we are not responsible for changing.) That’s why the story, true or not, of a baby born in a barn and put to sleep on a pile of  hay, is so appealing. Everybody with a beating heart wants a baby to be warm and safe, its hunger satisfied. That’s part of being human.

Nobody was born to be mean and stingy. Nobody grew up wanting to be greedy or dishonest or to live life encouraging, or performing, acts of violence. We’ve all trusted and been betrayed. We’ve all hoped and been disappointed.  Most of us have persevered. A small number of us became bitter and and uncaring about the needs of others. Perhaps all of us do at times. But we don’t have to remain that way. In the small, dark hours of the night, we can find that core of love inside us. It may start as a feeling of fear or loss, but if we stay with that feeling we will find the love in us with which to comfort ourselves.

And with the discovery of that love we thought we’d outgrown, we can nurture it and make it grow. And if we trust it, we’ll learn that the more we give it away, the more we have.

We must, we absolutely must love and protect ourselves and each other. If we don’t, the world we know will become one we don’t want to live in, perhaps one we can’t live in. I’m not talking here about protecting ourselves in the sense the radical right talks about it.  That we can do, too, but the real task at hand is to protect ourselves and every other creature from famine and pestilence and cataclysmic weather events as well as, on a smaller scale, from hunger and cold and lack of shelter.

To do that we’re going to have to get government money away from destructive enterprises and into efforts that enhance life. We have to turn toward caritas.

From here on, I intend to love Mitch McConnell, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and all the others who have disdain for me and those who think as I do. That doesn’t mean I won’t criticize them, but as I do I will remember that they used to be babies, too, helpless and, needing caritas. I will try to temper my words with that understanding. And I won’t give up hoping that they come to see what kind of people hatred and greed have turned them into, that their small dark hours of the night become times when they get back in touch with the goodness they have turned their backs on.

Whether you see him as the son of God, as a teacher of how we should all live, as a nice guy with no political smarts and a lot of bad luck, or as a myth, the story of Jesus’s birth and life are all about loving and protecting each other. I hope you’ll give that some thought on Christmas Day and every day hereafter. And I wish you love and joy on Christmas Day and every day that follows.

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