“What are you hoping for this Christmas,” the young woman ringing up my book purchase asked me happily.
“A real Christian,” I said without pausing, thinking, or even looking up from the credit card slip I was signing.
“Excuse me?” she said.
“A real Christian,” I repeated. “You know someone who truly loves Jesus. Someone who teaches us that God is love and to be with God is to be loving; someone who isn’t afraid of other people’s sexuality; someone who isn’t afraid of other people’s religions; someone who knows that God’s house has many mansions, and that a day is coming when we won’t worship God in church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, but in the spirit, in pure contentless awareness; someone who refuses to bow to injustice whether perpetrated by governments, religions, corporations, or ordinary individuals; someone who helps us see the beam in our own eye rather than the splinter in the eye of our neighbor.”
“Isn’t that Jesus,” she asked. “Aren’t you describing Jesus Christ? Are you saying you want Jesus for Christmas?”
“We don’t need Jesus. We had Jesus. We need Christians, true followers of Jesus of who think what he thought and do what he did.”
“You mean die for our sins?”
“No, I mean, live for our promise. Jesus showed us what we can be. We just never took him seriously. As soon as we could we turned his teaching inside out making believing in Christ rather than living like Jesus our central theme. Jesus came and taught us to love one another. Then we killed him. Then we killed his message in his name.”
“The Jews killed Jesus,” she said.
“Even if they did, and in fact they didn’t, they only killed him once, but we kill him every Sunday; every Sunday when we walk into church and pretend that Jesus died for our sins rather than lived for our promise. We are killing him, killing others, killing all hope that we can ever be the children God we were created to be. The first Christmas was the last Christmas. That first Christmas God sent us the gift of radical hope and a new way of living, and every year since we refuse to accept the gift, and instead worship the wrapping.”
The woman just stared at me for a moment, then noticing the line of shoppers behind me, she said hesitantly, “Next.”