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A Christmas meditation

I love Christmas and I'm a rabbi, so my love for Christmas is the love of a happy and respectful stranger. However, because of all that my dearest friend, Father Tom Hartman, taught me, I may, in fact, be a perfect stranger for Christmas.

In full disclosure, I must say that I love Passover and Purim, Rosh Hashana and Sukkot, Shavuot and Shabbat more than Christmas. I do love Christmas more than Hanukkah, because Hannukah is just a poor ripoff of Christmas nowadays, and even in the old days, the Maccabees led to the Hasmoneans, who were the most corrupt dynasty of Jewish priests in history.

The best Jewish holidays are in the fall and spring. Winter is for Christians. This could be the real reason why Jews go to Florida and Arizona in the winter. I'm happy to cede winter to Christmas. I'm happy to love it the way all of us should learn to love those holidays that are great, but not ours.

Every year, I run Seder meals for Christians, some of whom are jealous of Passover the way I'm jealous of Christmas. Jealousy is perhaps too strong a word. I don't want Christmas for myself, but I'm happy it's there for Father Tom and all the other Christians I love.

The first thing I love about Christmas is the twinkly lights. There's something about colored lights that's always joyous, but colored lights in the middle of winter on trees and houses are also a revelation. They remind us all that winter is only drab if we let it be so.

The lights are a promise that even in winter's seasonal darkness, we can have the joy those lights signify and, in fact, create. The lights are about joy, because at its heart, Christmas is about joy. I know Hanukkah also has lights but they burn out, and I already told you I'm something of a Hanukkah Grinch. Sue me.

The second reason I love Christmas has to be manger-hope. I love mangers. I love the animals more than the three kings, but the baby Jesus in the cradle is my favorite. At his birth, before his adult mission that theologically divides us, the infant Jesus was a symbol of inchoate hope. He was hope the way all babies are hope.

"A baby is God's opinion that life should go on," Carl Sandberg wrote. I agree, and the baby Jesus is a symbol of all babies and the way they gently help us upgrade our idea of life and its spiritual possibilities. A baby in a manger seems a perfect depiction of a future that is not bleak, but bright.

The more advanced element of hope symbolized by the birth of Jesus is the hope that we all might find a way to correct our lives, all broken by sin. Each religion has a different way to teach hope. I believe God's Torah is my hope for a life of virtue and salvation. Whether I need Jesus' hope will be sorted out by God in the fullness of time.

Christmas is certainly one of the greatest holidays any religion has ever produced. Its combination of twinkle and hearth, cookies and wreaths, the promise of a redeemer for this wounded world, and of Santa while we wait, is extraordinary and alluring, magical and moving.

Again, please don't misunderstand me. I have no desire to become a Christian, no desire to move from the trunk to the branch of this good old tree that Paul images in Romans 11.

And so I offer up a simple prayer "for kids from 1 to 92" (yes, Mel Torme, a Jewish guy, wrote those words). I'm happy that my best friend, Tommy, and his family and friends, and all my other Christian friends, are enjoying Christmas. I believe that religion is not like cheerleading for your home team. It's not about selfish parochialism but rather about appreciating all those climbing the same mountain to the Truth on different paths.

Thank you, God, for giving your Christian children such a great holiday. God bless us one and all. Merry Christmas! -- Rabbi Marc Gellman

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