Here at Christmas, I wasn't going to talk about Christmas, inasmuch as public mention of the sacred feast leads these days to exchanges of rocks and epithets -- none of it very conducive to "comfort and joy."
I changed my mind. I think I will talk for a moment about Christmas, due to recent immersion in the annual Festival of Lessons and Carols at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, as staged chiefly by the parish's extraordinary choir. Which occasion switched on a light bulb, showing the irrelevance of our annual "Christmas Wars" and the lawsuits they occasion over this or that public recognition of the Christ child.
To the ACLU lawyers, and such like, trying to muzzle Christian expression at Christmas, there is just one thing to say: Get a life.
Now, I know that's not the way many a serious Christian would talk about the perpetual toil involved in defending public Nativity scenes and pushing for general restoration of "Merry Christmas."
On the other hand, consider: You're at a choral service where sits, front and center, the Human Plight, our inability to get anything right for very long, if at all, due to an ancestral encounter with a talking snake in a pleasant garden. Scriptures and choral music escort the listener through the journey from despair to … to a stable in Bethlehem, where "in the bleak midwinter" (as Christina Rossetti put it) lies none other than the Son of God. I know, it hardly sounds like what you'd find on YouTube, but consider that the narrative of redemption through this miraculous birth has made the rounds for many a moon now, and continues to comfort and inspire. Here is affirmation. You want to ring bells, sound trumpets and weep for joy? By all means, do so.
That's a claim the Constitution enables, as it enables all manner of assertions, asseverations, declarations and avowals. But when you hear the summons to public secularism, do you want to ring bells, sound trumpets, prepare a feast? A few may; not many, I would guess. When you've pushed the Nativity figures out of sight and told the Christmas carolers from P.S. 121 to drop the angels and keep it to red-nosed reindeer, you've said, essentially … what? As much as Christina Rossetti said (in the Festival of Lessons and Carols)? "What can I give him, poor as I am/If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb/ If I were a wise man, I would do my part/ Yet what can I give him? Give my heart."
The contest is gravely unequal: Christmas against legal documents and editorials warning of constitutional transgression; shepherds against judges; angels against editors.
O little town of Washington ... or Austin, Boston, Moscow, Cannes. How would any of that sound? Half as inspiring as the name of grubby, down-at-the-sandal-heels Bethlehem -- where in the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed?
There's a reason bells ring out at Christmas and not on the opening day of Congress. Nor can secularism, the creeping creed of a creepy age, drive that reason from the hearts and minds of men. In the secular doctrine of man alone, bereft of God, there is neither warmth nor richness nor comfort -- just terrible coldness beneath a star that fails, perversely, to sputter out.