If religiosity offends you, perhaps you better not read any further. Although you would never know it from the displays in store windows and public buildings, Christmas is, first and foremost, a religious holiday. It is not meant to celebrate Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer but the birth of Jesus Christ. And the more I think about it, the more in awe I am of what happened some 2,000 years ago, how the birth of a single Child transformed the world.
The birth of Jesus of Nazareth could not have been more inauspicious. Forced by the Roman governor to participate in a census so that officials in Rome could levy taxes, His parents traveled far from their home to Bethlehem. There being no room at the inn, He was born in a hovel used to shelter animals and placed in a manger to keep warm. When He was still an infant, He fled with His parents to Egypt, to avoid the slaughter of all male children under 2 years of age ordered by King Herod, who feared that a Jewish child had been born in Bethlehem who would one day challenge his rule. Jesus, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth after Herod died, and the Boy led a quiet, uneventful life, becoming a carpenter, like Joseph.
He spent only three years in public life, preaching, tending to the sick, caring for the poor and gathering round Him an odd assortment of men -- and women -- fishermen, prostitutes and housewives. He spoke well of Samaritans, a group much reviled by the Jews of His time, and of tax collectors, enjoining His followers to "render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God, the things that are God's." He spoke out against revenge, "if someone strike thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would go to law with thee and take thy tunic, let him take thy cloak as well; and whoever forces thee to go for one mile, go with him two."
He urged His followers to be observant in their religious duties, but not to be "like the hypocrites, who love to pray standing in the synagogues and at the street corners, in order that they may be seen by men." Rather, He instructed: "Go into thy room, and closing thy door, pray to thy Father in secret; and thy Father, who sees in secret, will reward thee."
Jesus abhorred sin, but loved sinners, recognizing that all men are frail and easily led astray. When the Pharisees, a group of learned and pious Jews, tested Jesus by bringing to Him a woman who had been caught in adultery, saying "in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such persons. What, therefore, dost thou say?" Jesus replied: "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her."
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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