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Time to get serious about the holidays


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POSTED: Saturday, December 13, 2008

Now that I'm over the initial shock of seeing the first commercial advertisements for Christmas gifts before Thanksgiving and have shared the experience of Advent worship, I can feel myself entering the preparation mode for the actual celebration of Christ's birth.

This isn't always an easy transition. It's easier to become sidetracked by those other preparations: buying gifts, planning menus, decorating, baking cookies, mailing holiday greetings and organizing whatever time is left over.

The purpose of this writing is not to repeat the familiar criticism of the commercial side of Christmas — though it certainly deserves our attention. Instead, this is offered as encouragement to create a more appropriate balance in our recognition of this Christian holiday.

For instance, we could seriously consider the suggested idea of giving gifts that are practical and usable; some cultures give gifts of soap and food. We could give money to our favorite charity in someone's name. We could find the time to write a personal note to family and friends. There are many other possibilities.

For those of us within the Christian tradition, reflecting on the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus and its connection with our personal lives always provides insight and inspiration. Our individual spiritual lives are journeys filled with dynamic growth and exciting change.

Each Christmas, Christians celebrate the rebirth of wonder and hope. Within the miraculous birth of a child lie all of the promises for humanity finally getting it right. The birth of every child offers the potential of renewed hope, but the birth of Jesus as a messenger of compassion and peace provides a focus that is critical for Christians.

My personal hope is for all Christians to put aside the beliefs that divide us, not only from each other, but also from other faith traditions, and focus on what we have in common. That is the hope we all have for a world at peace and for all people to enjoy lives of healthfulness and happiness, a world where every person experiences love and respect and the satisfaction of being a productive member of a thriving, supportive community.

At this point, my hope expands toward the possibilities of an inclusive, interfaith approach to community building and the holiday season.

Christmas lights proclaim the hope Christians have in their messenger of peace. Hanukkah lights symbolize the hope Jews have for religious freedom and peace. The lights of Kwanzaa reflect a similar hope for family and community. The Buddhist celebration of Bodhi Day, when the Buddha attained enlightenment, encourages followers to also seek mental clarity. When Muslims recognize Eid al-Adha, they are reminded of Abraham's obedience to God.

If we keep in mind that the origin of the term "holiday" is Holy Day, when we wish someone "happy holidays" we are, at the same time, honoring all spiritual traditions.

As our island community is enveloped by the sights and sounds of this wonder-filled season, may we feel united by all of the spiritual qualities we share with all humanity. Happy holidays and "namaste."

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The Rev. John Heidel is a United Church of Christ minister, president of the Interfaith Alliance Hawaii and a member of Christ Church Uniting in Kailua.