Our Two HEIR Lab Humanoid Robots, Sonny and Rosie, dressed in their Christmas gear
I affirm my mutual respect for friends and others who may have other beliefs and religions than I do or may not believe in God at all. This essay is for them. My goal is not to offend or prove that my point of view is more enlightened or better than others. My goal is to first say what Christmas is not and then what I believe Christmas is. I hope you will keep an open mind as you read this.
First there is some confusion about Christmas, the “tradition”, and Christmas, the story of the historical Jesus’ birthday. Christmas, the tradition, is explained on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas . We Christians, those who profess to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind, often get caught up in some of the secular traditions of Christmas including rampant materialism. We subconsciously think in order to have a “good” Christmas, we need to get the presents we want for ourselves, our loved ones and our kids. This often drives us to unnecessarily charging our credit cards to buy things that we can’t afford that often are forgotten in the new year. Debt and financial pressures can lead to depression or other problems during a season we profess is supposed to be a joyous occasion. The Christmas season could also be a depressing time because we feel like we are supposed to be happy but that’s not always the case. Personally, the Christmas season would bring a slight depression for me because December 25 is my Dad’s birthday and he’s no longer with me. My last memory of my Mom while she was alive was shortly after Christmas and the season would bring painful memories of missing such a loving woman. Christmas, for a true Christian, is not about buying and receiving gifts. It shoud be a time of celebration but that doesn’t mean it’s a pain-free time.
Second, we Christians can seem very disrespectful of others who who don’t believe as we do. I know and have friends who have Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist backgrounds or who may consider themselves atheists, agnostics, or humanists. I value them and their friendship, intelligence, and the beauty of their personhood just as much as anyone else. They may or may not have grown up in a family that did not celebrate Christmas, go to church, or even know about the historical Jesus. They may have grown up in a society where believing in Jesus could result in being physically persecuted or ostracized. I apologize for us Christians that can come across as being arrogant and self-righteous against others that don’t believe in the same things we believe in. I can relate to those who don’t believe because my Mom grew up in a Buddhist culture and my Dad was a stay-at-home Baptist. But I loved them and they loved me dearly. I even went through a period in my life when I wasn’t sure if God even existed.
Third, we Christians can sometimes be the meanest, rudest, and most hateful people on earth. Some Christians in the past tried to justify slavery in America using our most holy text, what we call the Bible. Even today, what Martin Luther King, Jr. said about the Sunday morning hour in America is still true. The fact remains true that on the very Sunday morning when “blacks” and “whites” go to church to celebrate Christmas, it will still be the most segregated hour in America. I rememer as a fifth grader, I did a book report on the Klu Klux Klan, a group that terrorized African Americans in America. Some of them called themselves Christians. It pains to me to think that some children were abused by Christian priests who taught the Christmas story and traditions. If you were or are a victim of abuse by these evil men, please do not think that God was responsible for these evil acts of men. Do not blame it on yourself either. Please know that the one true God offers healing for you and will offer true judgment for the violators’ evil acts.
Finally, what I believe Christmas is and what I hope it will be for you. One of my earliest memories of the Christmas season was a nearby church, called the Free Methodist Church of Junction City, Kansas, bringing my family some bags of groceries, a turkey, and some Christmas gifts. Times were financially tight for my Dad, who as WWII and Korean war veteran, either worked as a garbage collector or in a small manufacturing company in Kansas and had to feed and clothe six children. The members of this all-white church brought these Christmas gifts of food and clothes to our mixed-race family. I still remember the gift I received was a blue shirt with red trim and a red lamp emblem on it. I must have been around kindergarten age. In that church, I first learned the story of Christmas. The story was simply that God, the One who created everything including people, loved me more than anything else He created, and gave the best Christmas gift He could, His only Son, Jesus, so that I could live forever with Him in heaven, even after I die on earth. The story is rooted in history and can be traced througout that book that was written by many writers and one Author, what we Christians call the Bible. Parts of the Bible we share with other religions such as Judaism and Islam. What my hope is this Christmas season is that in the midst of the gift-giving, depression, times with famiy, times being lonely without family, feasting, parties, or celebration, that there will be a part of you in your heart that will seek the truth about the real meaning of Christmas and your spirit will meet the Person that Christmas is all about. With this in mind, here’s what true Christians believe why Christmas, the birthday of Jesus, is celebrated: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (New Living Translation)
Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is a humanoid robotics and AI professor and an ordained Christian minister. His recent TEDx talk, Belonging in Technology, What I learned from Steve Jobs, http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Xv544iQi1GE addresses creativity and its relationship to innovation, diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).