I have always thought of the coming season this way. Season of light: this is a phrase that for me sews together all the trivial and significant layers of this time of year. And if these thoughts have a solemn ring to them, know that somewhere, trying to burst from these solemn seams, there are lots of sleigh bells, songs and festive candles.
Like the students in it, our school can be considered a living entity – as we encourage our students to think and reflect and pursue truth and goodness, so our School is encouraged to think and reflect. The School has traditionally celebrated Christmas; what may be different now is that we think and reflect about how the best impulses of this season can be an opportunity also for those whose faith is different, and those who have a set of guiding principles that might mirror the principles of Christmas but who store those principles in a box they wouldn’t label as Christian. A former Anglican Bishop, John Spong, has said that God is an entity so much larger than any one religion can conceive or own, and that although one might honour one’s tradition of belief, it is a mistake to believe that one’s tradition can conceive and own God exclusively; rather one’s tradition points to God. I like to think our celebration of Christmas follows this line of thinking: an invitation, an offering to share in something that illuminates us, an opportunity not to narrow or limit our best impulses, but to expand them. And I would hope that on other occasions we would answer this invitation if it was offered by others.
A few years ago, in a summer retreat, about forty staff engaged in a book study of Cosmopolitanism, a long philosophical essay by Kwame Appiah. The central question of the book was how we can create a space where ideas and values can grow together in an environment that respects the differences between those ideas. The central answer to that question is the word, “respect,” of course.
Next Wednesday we have the new version of our Carol Service. All are welcome. Next Friday we will have our annual School-wide Christmas assembly. The climactic moment of that assembly will be an attempt to make the Twelve Days of Christmas the most rousing version in history. After that song I will wish everyone a Merry Christmas, offered in the way I have reflected here, as an opportunity for us to honour the best in all of us. Respect.