With the gross commercialization of Christmas, we tend to forget the basic message of the celebration: the gift of true freedom. An almighty God saw the suffering and poverty of humankind and decided to do something about it. Instead of being born in a palace and ruling us with an iron fist, he was born in a smelly and dirty barn, his crib: a feeding trough. Instead of respect and honor, his being born of a teenager who wasn’t even married could only have generated a mountain of sneers and gossip to last a lifetime.
But why should God have taken the trouble to become a human? Some take offense at having someone suffer for them without their being asked, and see it as a manipulation designed to elicit guilt. Many times they are right, because this is a favorite proselytizing tactic of religious people masquerading as true believers. And then, they see the threat of an eternity in hell and are even more offended. But who is responsible for hell? Aren’t we humans creating, with our actions, our own hell on Earth, and our own little private hells in our minds? Imagine being free of our bodies for an eternity, only to live our own private hell in our souls forever?
The birth of that poor, despised, presumed illegitimate, Jewish boy was necessary, not to free us from an oppressive political regime like the Roman empire. It wasn’t to forever indebt us to God and enslave us to him for all eternity. It was to free our minds from slavery: the conscious and unconscious slavery to evil, the illusion of freedom.
The desire to do as we please, and not what is best, and the consequences of letting it loose, are the seeds of hell. This desire can begin with child-like self-centeredness, and end with murder and genocide. It can begin with an absence of love, and end with a shooting spree or massacre. It can start with a glance, and end with adultery and promiscuity. It can start with an honest desire to do good, and end in a self-righteous religious lunacy. It can seem very pious or very carnal, but in someway or another, all of us are infected with it.
How does the birth of a child free us from the desire to do evil? He lived a perfect life, and died the death we all would have deserved, to pay, in his own eyes, the debt of humanity. Now we all have the choice and freedom, either to believe in him, and be free to do right or wrong in the security that all our imperfections are paid for, or to reject him and do as we please, but in reality live as slaves to our own selves. Heaven or hell are our choice, and they begin today, in our own minds.