Last week, a Jewish friend of ours dropped by for a visit. Slightly overwhelmed by all our Christmas paraphernalia -- the tree, the ornaments, the cards, the gifts, the wrapping paper, the manger -- he said, wide-eyed, "Wow! This is amazing."
Shrugging, my husband said, "Well, you guys have Hanukkah. We have Christmas."
"Is that what you think?" our friend said. "That Hanukah is the Jewish Christmas?" He leaned in. "Well, it isn't. Hanukkah is about miracles."
Taken aback, my husband said, "So you think Christmas isn't about miracles?"
On it went in a friendly manner until I, mentally exhausted and anxious to see the finale of Homeland, finally sent everybody packing. Just what the world needs, I thought, more arguments about religion. The things we don't understand about our own religions would fill a cosmic library, never mind other people's religions -- just the skeletal dogma alone, never mind the infinite layers of cultural nuance.
But it got me thinking.
The next day as I ran in the park with my dog, I wondered what Christmas (or for that matter, Hanukkah) really meant once the religious and cultural elements were stripped away, or at least neutralized. After all, doesn't every religion claim miracles? Aren't miracles the very basis of religion -- supernatural proof that we aren't godforsaken?
But as an author of Visionary Fiction, for me at least, miracles are more than religious magic tricks. They are transcendent events ingrained in the human psyche, endemic to the stories we have told ourselves and recorded since the dawn of time and consciousness. Distant truths we hold sacred and deep, often defying language. Haven't we always known we were more than flesh and blood? There is more to this world than meets the eye.
Even for the most affirmed of us, however, belief in the miraculous remains abstract and untested. Only in terrifying moments of illness or emergent death is its latent essence teased from our subconscious into broad daylight--a flicker of hope that ignites the kindling of possibility. Maybe I can be healed! Maybe I will survive. Maybe peace is possible! (Maybe my hopeless team will finally win!) Maybe--just maybe--we really are supernatural creatures, in spite of the gravity that grounds us.
"Simply click the heels of your ruby shoes, Dorothy. The power was always within you!"
Of course, when cornered, most of us don't believe we can simply click our heels -- or at least not without reservation. It's easier not to believe. Not believing is a way of protecting ourselves against the odds. After all, miracles are scarce. If not, they would be reliable, quantifiable events that we humans would soon take for granted. We understand miracles to be extraordinary favors meted out by the discerning hand of a supernatural power from (name the religion). Miracles are few and far between. So if your neighbor is granted a miracle, you're probably out of luck. Right?
Not if you understand Christmas.
Before Christmas, we, through our Jewish forebears, reached outside ourselves to a distant, powerful God for help and liberation. God spoke to us through burning bushes, separated seas, manna sprinkled from heaven, and fuel that burned in our lamps for eight days straight. We cried out to him in anguish and desperation, and in response, he showed us his favor, granting miracles at great cost from a far away kingdom.
Christmas, on the other hand, is the story of many miracles accessible to all. It's the story of God made man. Of divinity awakened in the sleeping giant of humanity.
Christmas is not just about the birth of an exceptional man. And it is obviously not about trees and ornaments and stockings and gifts. It's about the re-imagination of humanity. It's about the incarnation, recognition, and realization of God within us. It represents the Divine element of our heritage fully-developed in an equally human Christ, a man who arrived in humility, led a life of humility, and expired by means of unsurpassable humility. Why? To introduce us to the angels of our higher nature. To redefine power. To dismiss the ego in favor of compassion. To ignite the flame of infinite possibility within our minds and hearts.
To create abundance.
Before returning to the Father, he said of his many miracles, "These things and more will you do in my name."
If only we understood his gift enough to believe it. If only we believed it enough to open it.
The next time someone tells you, "You're only human." Tell them not so quick. Tell them we are all equipped with the light that descended upon the Earth in an inexplicable event that produced a kind, loving, humble man who stood apart from the tribe. A light promised, not only in the Hebrew Bible, but in religions and myths that preceded those beliefs by millennia. An indefinable gift with unending potential that we are always learning to open a little bit more. It grows as our awareness grows. No one is without it. It lives among us still.
So are we human? Yes. And so much more.