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Fred's Views


Season's Greetings

About two thousand years ago, probably in a small, middle-eastern town called Bethlehem, a child was born. He may have been born in a stable and a manger may have been used for his bed. Shepherds in surrounding fields may have learned of the birth and come to see the child. Perhaps even three (or some other number) wise men, magi or astrologers may have come from a distant land to pay homage and bring gifts. The child may have been the "Son of God" or just a great prophet. He may, as one book has brazenly suggested, have been almost the messiah the Jews were looking for - a political leader that would help them overthrow their Roman masters. Or he may have been, as Christians generally believe, a spiritual messiah, come to free (and save) the souls of men.

There's a lot we don't know about this child. And many things we do know. We don't know the exact date he was born, but he almost certainly was not born on December 25. We don't know if some of the events contained in the Gospels actually occurred or if, as one of the Gospel writers suggests, these events were invented so that Old Testament prophecies might be fulfilled. (Some of these prophecies probably had little if anything to do with the future Messiah.) We don't know what Jesus' childhood was like. We are reasonably sure that he followed in Joseph's footsteps, learning his carpentry trade. We have reason to believe that Mary and Joseph had children, that Joseph died while his family was still fairly young, and that Jesus started his ministry somewhere around his thirtieth year.

Some people will, no doubt, take exception to some of my "uncertainties" listed above. All I am saying is that the evidence, outside of the Bible is fragmentary at best. But you are free to believe what you will. I choose to simplify my beliefs, distill them, if you will, until only the truly essential essence remains. In a later column, I may start discussing my "Minimalist Christianity", but not here.

This Christmas it is impossible not to think of the horrors perpetrated and planned by a group claiming to be Moslem and claiming to be doing "God's Will". They are not the first, and they will probably not be the last to pervert their religion until what they do bears little or no relationship to the faith they profess. Down through all of the ages since that birth some 2,000 years ago, people have committed atrocities in the name of religion. The Jewish leaders didn't believe Jesus' claims and arranged for him to be crucified. Roman emperors brutally murdered early Christians, fearing what their new religion might do to the established religion of Rome and the established order of the empire. When Christianity became the accepted religion, the so-called Christians became some of the worst religious fanatics. They dealt harshly with anyone who dared to suggest beliefs that differed from the accepted. They persecuted the Jews. They massacred Moslems in their mis-guided Crusades. Much horror has been done in the name of religion.

And, slowly, little by little, much good has been done as well. Every once in a while, someone takes the central message of Jesus' ministry seriously: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". "Love your neighbor." Love your enemy. Women have begun to achieve the equality they deserve. Children receive an education. Sometimes, peace even breaks out. Is Christianity responsible? Maybe not. Some Christian faiths still refuse to give women equality. Much violence, as in Ireland, is done by people professing to be Christians.

For a few days, near the end of each year (at least according to one calendar), the world may pause, slightly, to consider the impact of a birth long ago.

I believe the message, for those who would hear it, is simple and yet profound. It applies regardless of religion. Treat the other guy the way you want to be treated. Show kindness, and you'll get kindness in return. Smile at a stranger, and he'll smile back (well, at least at Christmas. The rest of the time he may think you're crazy.) Allow a fellow driver to merge into your lane and, someone, somewhere, will do the same for you. By extension, since "there but for the grace of God go I", help your fellow man, when you can. Drop a "Loonie" in the Salvation Army pot, donate last year's clothes (or, in my case, ten year old clothes) to Goodwill, leave non-perishable foodstuffs in one of many drop off boxes, volunteer in a soup kitchen, deliver a hot meal to a shut-in, sing carols in an old age home, or simply wave hello to your neighbor. You'll get a warm glow inside, and you may just rediscover the wonder of Christmas.

So, no matter your religious persuasion, have a merry!

Copyright © 2001 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.


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