A Secular Sermon and Heretic Homily from a Christmas Baby
Trees and turkeys hate this time of year, especially Christmas. Well, I suppose if you’re an oak tree or a palm or a sequoia you may not dread the axe before Gratefulness Day. And if you’re a wild turkey who can shut your gobble long enough to hide in the hedgerow you may be safe. Nevertheless, it’s not a good time to be an evergreen or a fat tom. There be fowl play in the air.
Though I was born on December 25th, I don’t like it much myself anymore. I love the Season but not the seasonings, Solstice but not the silly Santa and the same-old-Sacred. I think I’ll celebrate with the forest and the birds.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to make good will and peace go away. I like a few lights, some cider and a little more time with family and friends, if they can leave the cellphones in the car. I enjoy a simple exchange of a few presents. But what I really celebrate is that wetstuff from the sky with the gifts of greening hills, the freshness of the air, hikes to the glorious waterfalls, migrating birds and maybe a bit of wine-tasting by a fire.
What about the Christmas story? Well, this might shock a few people who knew me as a minister, but it lost the magic a long while back. I was a follower of the Bethlehem Baby for a good part of my life. In fact, I was ordained as one of his shepherds. Then it came to pass that this pastor no longer felt pastoral. I met some nice sheep, but I suppose I just couldn’t see the connection any longer between the baby-god, his poverty and the religion of stables and pastures.
I jumped the fence to be a chaplain among the poorest people, those who have no homes, no families—whose holidays are often empty days, cluttered with sad sleighrides of emotions—who stand in the cold with cardboard signs as churchloads of credit-card-carrying followers of the Christmas Child pass them in the Winter night.
Now, I’m a writer and teacher, a lover of Nature and the wild. Every day is a holy (extraordinary) day, a holiday, a day for peace, light and the good. Each day is my birthday, a day to celebrate life and the new birth of hope. The nativity of every lifeform on the planet is special, “blessed.” I don’t need any wise people on camels or in cadillacs to tell me that. I need no star. I need the universe of stars, because they remind me that life is a spark of a gift and I am incredibly small, but somehow significant.
Along the snowy way I also discovered that I don’t need the baby anymore. The manger is empty for me. There are millions of poor children born every day and even on December 25. I could learn a thing or two from them, but I don’t need someone to tell me to love or be compassionate, that I need saving from something. That all seems to me now to be a huge distraction–to look back in history and mythology to find a savior, a messiah, to make me a better person, to make the world better. We’ve had two thousand years and I wonder if we’re any better for the birth of a little Palestinian Jewish boy to teenage parents in a dusty reststop called Bethlehem.
I still find powerfully disturbing teachings in the life of that boy (about justice for instance, challenging religion for example) but my honor of him as a teacher and reformer doesn’t include the add-on title of “god” or “lord.” Why would we get distracted from his life and simple instruction for that? And more poor people die for me, because of me, each year through unhealthy work conditions, poverty, pollution, political policies and war, than anyone could have sacrificed themselves a long time ago. Heaven is here (“the kingdom of heaven is within you”) and I’m reminded every time the seasons change that I am a part of Nature and Nature is good, beautiful and yes, sometimes brutal. Nature is the present we seek and it is no toy or game to technologize or theologize with. The natural world is all we have and that’s wonderful! What a holyland we live in!
I left Christmas, like the crumpled wrapping paper around the tree of my childhood. I stopped cutting a tree, choosing instead to climb one to honor the changing seasons of my life. I need no hymn or carol to cause me to dance for higher, simpler presents.
So, I no longer celebrate either the Christian holyday or the consumer hollowday. I opt out of the spending, the driving, parking, indebting madness, when millions of children (and adults) get more stuff and stuffing than they’ll ever need-–things, unneeded toys, symbols of nothing but the opposite of the original, “simple” message of love, justice, compassion. . .the true, lasting gifts. And as I said, all the junk simply distracts us from the beauty of Nature. Junk or Jesus, it adds up to the same thing: we are no better human beings than last year–-we just have more junk, in our minds and our over-stuffed mangers.
What could take the place of the manger and the mall? Can anything replace the Elves or Angels, Santa’s Shack or the Stable? Let’s hope so. For me, I am trying each year to return to a simpler, saner way.
I honor the Season itself. The Solstice offers those free gifts described by the poet Robert Burns on his own birthday: “What wealth can never give nor take away.” I am learning to cherish the simple “things” and “stuff” freely given to all by Nature.
I practice a deeper understanding of all beliefs, of all nations, races, creeds, colors and languages on this small spinning blue-green-brown ornament. And I have a growing dislike for those who crucify the Bethlehem baby along with his message of compassionate justice on their artificial trees heavy with ignorance, judgment and bigotry.
I try not to kill anything to celebrate a holiday! I don’t kill an animal or a tree to honor Life. That’s just crazy.
Whatever your beliefs or means of celebrating, may you create a new tradition of peace in this beautiful time of year, find some universal goodwill, and avoid getting trapped in the wrapping of the past. You don’t have to “Do the Holidays” this year. You really don’t.
A Peaceful Green Season of Light to You!