Many years ago, when my family lived on the island of Oahu in Hawai’i, my wife, Annie, wrote and received a grant to start a volunteer group at the Hawai’i School for the Deaf and the Blind (HSDB). Our middle daughter, who is deaf and legally blind, went to school there. Annie had German measles (rubella) when she was in her first trimester of her second pregnancy, which can do serious damage to the fetus.
An international rubella epidemic from 1964–1965 adversely affected thousands of children all over the world. HSDB usually had three or four new students a year, but from 1968–1969, fifty-five new students entered the school. This had a severe impact on the school, teachers, and staff.
Annie saw a need and met it. The volunteer group she started trained people to help the teachers in the classrooms, on the playground, in the cafeteria, and wherever else they were needed.
One young woman from the University of Hawai’i was especially interested in the students and was training to be a special education teacher.
At Christmastime in 1969, this young woman sent us a handmade Christmas card with a powerful message that still resonates with me today: Christmas presence—give yourself away.
As of this blog post, we are only a few days away from the major holiday Christmas,celebrated on December 25 in most of the Western world by both Christians and secular people. (Most Eastern Orthodox Christian churches celebrate January 7 as the birthday of Jesus because they still use the old Julian calendar instead of the modern Gregorian calendar.)
I thoroughly enjoy the secular yuletide season because it seems to bring out the best in humanity—for the most part. Charitable giving and generosity rise to new levels. People seem more willing to forgive and to patch up old wounds.Christmas music brings a renewed sense of joy (as I write this blog post, I’m singing along to Handel’s Messiah). Holiday greeting cards reconnect us with family and friends. Christmas parties are filled with delicious food and happy people. Gift giving is one of the most meaningful parts of the holiday.
However, Christmas is not high on my list of favorite Christian feast days. It can deliver a very confusing and misguiding message. My faith is not about cute little babies and warm, fuzzy fairy tales.
My favorite feast day is Easter, not as a literal event but as a metaphor that reminds us that through Jesus’s message of agape, we can change our Good Fridays (those times when the world seems to collapse around us) into Easters (positive outcomes).
My Christmas theology is centered around the great joy that I experience from remembering the humble birth of this man who changed the course of civilization. Christmas celebrations always remind me that greatness doesn’t necessarily come through wealth and power but often arises from humble beginnings and a willingness to fulfill Jesus’s command in Matthew 25:40 to show agape to the “least of these.”
As a Follower of Jesus, my Christ, Christmas is my annual reminder that I have the tools (agape) to change myself and be an agent to change the world.
That wonderful Christmas card said it all: Christmas presence—give yourself away.
I hope your Christmas season is filled with peace, love, joy, and hope.