Is there anything new that can be said about Christmas? No, and that is part of its charm. Unbelievers use it to make money. Even believers rarely have enough time amid the shopping madness to pay more than lip service to the occasion. And the Christmas itself is the most fantastic, outrageous and unbelievable story ever told - unless it is true.
This Christmas, when we are confronted with a religion, some of whose adherents teach that God is angry about everything and wants his followers to kill anyone who believes differently, we are again reminded through the clutter and clatter about "Emmanuel: God with us. "
At a time when temporal power struggles go on in Washington and elsewhere, and when every effort is made to deny the meaning of Christmas - including X-ing out the title of the One who is its author - and court decisions that forbid caroling or speaking that name, we are again faced with the weakest thing known to Man: a baby.
Jesus, though fully a man, was and is an anti-Man. He is the antithesis of everything those He came to deliver represent. We seek power and prestige. His strength, St. Paul tells us, is made perfect in weakness. We want to be leaders. He says those who would be great must first be a servant. We want money. He said the state of your soul is more important.
No wonder He challenged the religious and political authorities of his time; indeed he challenges them still today. Then, King Herod, who was familiar with the prophecies about a Jewish Messiah to deliver His people, heard about the birth of a baby in Bethlehem and ordered the destruction of every child under 2 for fear that baby would challenge his position. Now, this Jesus is not so much opposed as He is ignored, even by many who claim Him for themselves.
Some say that commercialism has eroded His influence. But His appropriation for myriad causes is a greater threat. We hear people asking, "What would Jesus drive? " in their efforts to ban sports utility vehicles. Others use him as their anti-war spokesman. "What would Jesus do about Saddam Hussein? " they rhetorically query. The implication is that He would "turn the other cheek " and allow Saddam to continue on his murderous ways.
Those with political causes - left and right - misuse Him for their own purposes. The left cherry-picks His thoughts about the poor and seeks to turn them into government programs, not the personal alms that Jesus taught had a greater effect on the giver than the receiver. The right uses Him to elect to office people of their "faith " in the false belief that national righteousness can be restored through politics and government. He will not allow Himself to be used for anyone else's human cause. He has His own.
What is it about this baby and self-identified savior that produces such opposition, hatred or indifference? We like the nice things He said (some of them, anyway). But we are not prepared to give up ourselves - our ambitions, lusts (not only the sexual kind) and plans for our lives. When we think of Him at all, it is usually in the form of a complaint that we did not get what we wanted. We conclude God can't exist or He would ratify our desires and the pleasures we seek. But "God's ways are not Man's ways, " and the reverse is also true.
"Wise men still seek him, " says one of my Christmas cards. But another, sent by a fellow journalist (yes, Virginia, there is more than one), who in his mature years found the truth about Christmas as few do, contains this thought: "The best gift of all did not come wrapped in paper and a box. The best gift came in the form of a baby, who grew up to be Savior of the world. "
Unlike other "faiths, " this baby doesn't impose. He simply knocks. We have to open the door and let Him in. He won't break it down.
In the midst of terror and uncertainty, the story of Christmas offers comfort and hope to all who embrace it and its true meaning. As the carol writer noted, "Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in. " It's the "meek " part that is the stumbling block for prideful humans.
The old story endures. God came to be with us in order that we could go and be with Him.