This year I have been thinking, not just on this night, but over the past few days--weeks even-- about the resonance of this holiday with so many of us. We hear again and again about commercialism and how it is all about sales and greed and the like.
I disagree rather strongly with this notion; there is something else about Christmas that strikes our collective psyche. It does not matter if you are a believer, an unbeliever or amongst that group who fall somewhere in between the story of Christmas reaches us.
"For God so loved the world, as to give his only-begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting."
Even an atheist (one of those capable of thinking in the hypothetical anyway) might read those words and think; if there were a God, that is the sort I would want, a god who cares enough to try to save human beings rather to punish them or turn them into playthings or servants of some inconceivable will. This god sends his son, as a baby, into the world! This shows not only care and concern but trust--his only son, helpless comes amongst the people he is trying to save, this group who NEED saving. It is a powerful notion that I believe gets at something in many of us frail human beings.
They might even compare that god to other gods in other belief systems from the ancient world. The Roman and Greek gods were petty in ways even the most awful of humans would consider outside the pale. The Norse gods were bloody in a way only a Viking could truly get behind since their ways would justify his (or her) own cultural path. Even the god of the Old Testament had a certain bloody handedness in dealing with even his chosen people (and there was a big problem if you were a Philistine or an Egyptian!).
He sent his only son...
The story isn't all sugar and spice; there are those who want the child, the King of the Jews, dead. Herod, who was more culturally of the Greco-roman than a Jew and who was also one of four brother ruling as clients of the Romans during this time, would have felt anyone who might be referred to as "King of the Jews" as something of a problem. And since the Herod family routinely murdered one another it is fairly easy to figure the reaction to even a baby king.
But there are always villains in any story.
Then there is the rest of the story, angels appear to shepherds, people come to see the babe, some from afar bearing gifts (possibly taking years to arrive) but really it is that first line, "For God so loved the world he sent his only begotten son..."
You don't have to believe to love the story and in the memory of the story, at the very least, take comfort that someone, whether simply human or divine, felt that we humans were worthy of saving, and worthy of such trust.