Celebrating Christmas by spending money on all sorts of trinkets and gifts has been the norm for several generations. Not that there’s anything wrong or immoral about it. Giving gifts to those we love, to make others happy, or simply for the sheer joy of celebration are all good things. So is the yearly reminder of our yearning for a peaceful world that’s embedded in Christmas cards and the lyrics found in Christmas carols. But somewhere along the way, we’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted from the central meaning of this holy-day.
According to tradition, the whole idea of Christmas presents originated with the Magi bringing gifts to the Child whose birthday we celebrate. But we’ve forgotten the significance of those gifts as acts of worship. We no longer see the big picture—for the big picture is far bigger than we can ever imagine. It is the story of God becoming a human being. It is also the story of God being born in us.
If we believe in God, we’re shocked that the creator of a universe containing billions of planets and solar systems would stoop so low as to become one of us. Whether we believe in God or not, we often think so little of ourselves—and other human beings—that we doubt that the divine image could be found in human hearts and lives. There is so much evidence to the contrary, both within us and also all around us.
But we’re wrong. Christmas is the assurance that unconditional love is the very foundation of reality. It celebrates the truth that God became human so that we may become divine, at our most deepest, most essential level. We have God’s DNA.
This aspect of humanity is real. It’s truer than appearances. Our purpose in life is to fulfill this ultimate destiny—not to become less human but to become more human, the humans we were created to be. God never asks us to relinquish our humanity, but rather to transform it. Paradoxically, by transforming our humanity we become more divine, and in becoming more divine, we become more human. The two are not mutually exclusive. And what makes it all possible is the Love, born as a baby over two thousand years ago, who moves the sun and the stars.
This year, as you celebrate Christmas, may you recognize the best gift of all—the Christ Child living within you.
Marietta Bahri Della Penna is the author of Song of a Christian Sufi: A Spiritual Memoir.