Linda Downing

Are there always exceptions to the rules?

Some believe "to everything there is a season" (Ecclesiastes 3:1) and to every rule there is an exception. Some want to believe there are no rules when it comes to the Christmas season, rendering exceptions a moot point. But, what if the only rule about Christmas brooks no exceptions? What if without this rule there is no Christmas?

If the only rule for observing Christmas is we must believe in Santa Claus, it is less troublesome than the truth: We must believe in Jesus Christ. And, like that famous vacillation delivered by former president Bill Clinton - "It depends on your definition of 'is'" - Christmas depends on your definition of "believe."

For many, Jesus Christ is in the same category as Santa Claus. Each is based on a real person - the 1st century Jesus of Israel - the 4th century Saint Nicholas of Turkey - but myths are easier to embrace than commitment to that which demands changes in our souls. Myths allow room for ego while truth exposes it.

Santa Claus shows up once a year somehow knowing if you've been bad or good, supposedly rewarding the "good." That myth leads to greed, debt and disappointment. Only when Santa points to Jesus Christ, the one whose birthday is celebrated and whose title gives Christmas its name, is the myth justified. Then we can all play the game knowing it has a point.

Wise men brought gifts to the newborn king that first Christmas, sacrificial gifts that did not put them in credit-card debt. Shepherds sang a simple, heartfelt song that had nothing to do with economic status: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to men." Christmas delivered what mankind to this day does not acknowledge it needs-a Savior.

Exceptions to rules are, well, exceptional. Some of us thought there could be no possible reason to have our tongues pierced. To us it is a mark of purposeless pain, primitive evidence of slavery, not freedom, certainly not a thing of beauty. But, we have just learned of an exception: Paralyzed individuals are piercing their tongues with a magnetic stud that allows them to drive wheelchairs. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."

Who will admit there is a time when Russia's leader might be justified in rebuking the West, might make some points worth listening to? President Vladimir Putin did just that in his recent state-of-the-nation address. He called for an acknowledgment of conservative family values in 21st century culture, a re-evaluation of national traditions, and recognition of the equivocating of good and evil. He questioned U.S. motives in its dealings with the East.

We should embrace any call to question our motives. Though painful, it leads to truth. It is the exception to some people's rule to "make a decision and stand by it no matter what."

The December issue of Conde Nast Traveler features an article by Dorinda Elliott about ancient China's wealthy creating gardens designed as "architectural masterpieces" and places of escape from the world. Modern China, feeling that need again, is recreating its green spaces, places of "perfect balance: soft and harsh, simplicity and complexity, order and chaos."

Christmas provides that balance only if Jesus becomes the rule-with no exception.

Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side.

Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at