“This holiday stress is killing me.” “Yeah, my schedule is murder too.” Hold it; Christmas and death in the same thought? That can’t be right. It actually has been right for 2000 years now. Life is brutal, and it was not in denial but in defiance of evil that Jesus’ followers believe he came.
A wave of death from the Judean king accompanied the holy birth, according to Matthew: “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” Joseph and Mary fled for their lives with the baby. The world has only gotten bloodier since then.
This Christmas finds human life more endangered than ever, with weapons of mass destruction emboldening the Islamic East and a new, ghoulish bioethics rising in the secular West. The old saccharine Yuletide of happy endings died with Dickens – if it ever existed even for him; such somber works as “Hard Times” suggest not. Murderous holidays indeed.
In Backbone, Colorado, my hometown of the heart, up near timberline on Cottonwood Pass, folks celebrate this season of Christ’s nativity with a sensible approach – warm and reverent, yet realistic and unsentimental – that holds a lesson for all of us amid the jaded clamor of a flatlands urban Christmas. The key is perspective.
There among the aspen and lodgepoles, towering firs and wind-gnarled cedars, Backbone folks have learned not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. They see things in scale.
Not all worship Jesus, but nearly all recognize how much his worshipers with their biblical worldview have done to civilize and humanize our world. So recognizing, they insist on keeping that worldview (which informs the Declaration of Independence, after all) central in their civic life. Dissenters, though politely accepted, are given no veto over so vital a question.
Backbone folks don’t imagine that the birth in Bethlehem solved all problems or perfected all believers. Each is aware of his own dark side. But history convinces them that the Christmas star illumined the darkness for good, and that wise men still follow it. My hometown knows that Mary’s son changed the human scene dramatically. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining,” as the carol says, “till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”