Why celebrate Christmas, when the blessings and the goodness it promises seem as far out of reach as ever? We live in a world far from peace, and often there is pain and violence and little joy in our lives. Indeed, why celebrate Christmas?
The answer, of course, is that we keep Christmas not because life is nice, but because it is sometimes cruel and harsh, because all too often life is not fair and comes out uneven.
We keep Christmas because it tells us that despite all that is wrong with us, we have the help and strength of all those who have cared and loved us during the past year. Christmas is a time to reflect on all the good in our lives that sometimes seems hidden by the bad.
If the world were not in agony, the birth of Jesus would have nothing to say to us. You and I would have no need for a saving and healing God.
We have tampered with and retouched the story of Christmas so often over the centuries that its very simple and essential message has become obscured. A temptation to sentimentality makes us think of Jesus only in terms of the sweetness of a newborn child.
The story of Christmas is, however, stronger than that. Most Christians believe that God became human in Jesus. That tells us God understands the human condition. He understands, pain, rejection, loneliness, struggle, doubt, temptation, courage, the need for friendship, trust and faith.
There is an old Jewish story about two brothers who lived at a time when the world was young. One had a wife and a large family, the other was single and lived alone. Together they owned a piece of land and a mill, and every night the two brothers would divide evenly the grain that had been milled that day.
One day, the single brother thought to himself that it was not fair that the grain should be divided equally. After all, his brother had a wife and children to feed. So every night he would take some of his grain and pour it into his brother's bin.
In the meantime, the married brother thought to himself that it was unfair that the grain be divided evenly. After all, his brother was alone and in his old age would have no one to take care of him. And so every night, he took some of his grain and poured it into his brother's bin.
One night they met each other on the path, and each understood what the other had been doing. They were overwhelmed with the thought that another human being could understand what one was going through. They embraced each other silently. And God, legend tells us, was watching. He saw their embrace and said, "This place is sacred; this is the place where my temple is to be built."
We keep Christmas, because we celebrate the fact that God and humankind met this holy night and embraced, and because of that embrace, every person is sacred and unique.
At Christmas we remember and keep alive the message that God truly loves each one of us and asked us to try to love one another. Not only on Dec. 25, but let every day be Christmas.
Father Don Measer is pastor at St. Amelia Church in Tonawanda.