By KENNETH R. CHAMBERLAIN
I cringe with anxiety around this time each year, as we enter into the Christmas home stretch. It’s not an anxiety from worrying about buying the right gifts, or out of concern about spending more time with family. It’s an anxiety based in the nagging fear that I’m missing something, and I’m not sure what that something is.
While I’m hardly a Bible-thumping, seven-day-a-week church-going Christian, I fully embrace the central message of Christianity. People should treat one another with kindness and embrace those who are less fortunate, no matter who they are. Like most people, I never fully embody the message. But it’s something that’s worth trying to attain, even if I never fully get there.
To me, Christianity’s stories — the virgin birth in the manger, the resurrection — are secondary to the central message, if relevant at all. Most people seem to focus on these stories, though, often to the exclusion of the message. The legends seem designed to bolster the case of Jesus’ divinity, which, again, seems less important than Christianity’s humanitarian mandates (although, admittedly, it’s pretty cool if Jesus really was God incarnate).
Many people would probably disagree that the stories are secondary to the message, which might be a source of my uncertainty. What if I’m wrong about the true meaning? And, how do they know that they are right?
My grandmother would have certainly disagreed with me. She was a charming, politically liberal lady with a strong religious sense instilled in her by her Southern Baptist missionary parents. Although her Kentucky-born mother was certainly steadfast in her beliefs, it was her father, Solomon Ginsberg, who was an especially strong influence. A Polish Jew who became a missionary after he “found” Jesus on a Russian street corner, he was fervent in his desire to spread the word in rural Brazil, often risking his life to preach to people who didn’t want to listen.
My grandmother tried to instill in my sister and me the same beliefs she grew up with, dragging us to a large Presbyterian church in my California hometown whenever she could. It was here that I probably first heard the stories of Christmas, Easter and other holidays, but I never had that moment of clarity when the skies opened up, and the spirit of God descended and enveloped me in the glow and magnificence of His divinity — as my great-grandfather believed had happened to him. I’ve never felt anything like that at all.
This is, then, what’s missing, and why Christmas produces the anxiety it does for me. For while everyone else is passionately celebrating the divine history of the holiday, I find myself clinging to the central message that is nevertheless miraculous in its own right.