Did you ever wonder what families do for the holidays when a Jewish woman marries a Christian man or vice versa and they have kids? I know two such couples for sure, and I’m having dinner at one of their houses on Christmas Eve.
The so-called “war on Christmas,” which so many people claim is running out of control when it comes to the political correctness of wishing people a “happy holiday” instead, never happened for these people. Sure, the Jewish half of each of these couples has commented to me that “everywhere you look, it’s Christmas,” but it wasn’t to try to correct the practice of putting up a Christmas tree in their house or something.
And this year, Hanukkah starts on Christmas Eve, an alignment that happens every so often. The Muslim celebration of Ramadan is a little more distant, but the Jewish and Christian holidays occasionally align.
But my point is, Jews know who Jesus was. They recognize him as the prophet foretold by Isaiah, in Chapter 7:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
For Christians, the virgin who gave birth was Mary, as told in Luke’s gospel, in Chapter 2:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
In the Qur’an, the story of Jesus’ birth, still to a virgin, as Mary (Maryam) was called, has him being born under a tree, not in an inn, as in Luke’s gospel, but other significant elements of the story are the same, in Surah XIX (Maryam):
He said, “I’m only a messenger of God, and I will give you a pure boy.” Mary said, “When shall I have a boy, since no man has ever touched me and I haven’t been unchaste?” He replied, “Even so, your Lord says, ‘It is easy for me, and the boy will be a sign of mercy for all people to see. This is as it has been foretold.'”
So she conceived a son and then withdrew herself to a remote place. The throes of childbirth compelled her to seek the shelter of a palm tree, and she said, “Oh that I had died before this and I never would have known such suffering.”
Then the child called out to her from beneath her: “Grieve not, for surely your Lord has made a stream to flow beneath you. Shake the palm tree now, so that it will drop on you fresh ripe dates. Then eat them, and drink, and refresh your eyes. Then tell all mortal men you see, ‘Surely I have vowed a fast to the beneficent God, so I will not speak to any man today.'”
She pointed to the child, and he said, “Surely I am a servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet; and he has made me blessed wherever I may be, and he has enjoined on me prayer so long as I live; and dutiful to my mother, he has not made me insolent, unblessed.
“And peace on me on the day I was born, and on the day I die, and on the day I am raised to life.”
Such is Jesus (Isa), son of Mary (Maryam), the Word of God.
I always find the similarities between people of different faiths more beautiful than the differences. Plus, whether it’s “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Happy holidays,” or “happy whatever,” the philosophy of happiness has always been more important than the details of the stories or the words we use to convey our love for each other.
These stories—whether they’re true or not—tell us a lot about who we are, and different circumstances at different times in our history have brought different meanings to these words. Right now in the US, there’s a tendency to despise intellectualism, science, and political correctness. I’m sure this will pass, but I’m fairly certain nobody’s trying to get rid of Christmas or ban it from our landscape. On the contrary, even two Hindu shop owners in a store I frequently visit have put up Christmas decorations.
At the same time, though, I don’t claim to have some exclusive Christian knowledge of the truth. Nobody knows the truth, and recent archaeological discoveries actually put the oldest versions of stories about the birth of Jesus closer to the one in the Qur’an than in the Bible. Besides, what’s not polite—and what has led us into wars—isn’t wishing a Jewish or Muslim person a merry Christmas, because let’s face it: whoever God is, you’re not fooling him into thinking someone’s a Christian just by wishing that person a merry Christmas. No, what has led us right into conflict has been implying or saying out loud that Christians are right and everyone else is wrong.
So I wish my friends a merry Christmas, even if I don’t know they’re Christian, and they wish me something happy and merry back. Just have a happy whatever this year, stay away from the self-righteousness, and keep the happiness coming, no matter what you call the day or season.
“What you find hateful, do not do to another. That is the whole of the law. All the rest is just a story,” Rabbi Ben Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus, famously said, according to a few unconfirmed sources on the internet.
Peace on Earth and good will toward everyone. Assalaamu alaykum.