Christmas is a time of celebration and thanksgiving. Although sometimes lost in secularism, this holiday marks the birth of Jesus Christ.
Alone, we can never atone for the wrongs we commit. Instead, Jesus cancels our debts as his death is a substitute for our own penance. How should we respond to God’s extraordinary gift? We should keep our focus on this essential truth, whatever frustrations and hardships may afflict us and our families over Christmas.
The real story of Christmas is the miracle of Christ’s humble entry into global humanity and even America’s national identity. That Christmas is so much more than just an ordinary holiday is often sadly forgotten.
Christmas is a favorite celebration the world over. Children anticipate, neighbors decorate. Families gather, communities unite. Businesses close, politicians retreat. Much of the world joins together in celebration—and not just in lands of Christian heritage. For one moment a hush descends globally. Even battlefields sometimes stop the carnage, however briefly.
Yet, as much of humanity prepares to suspend normally busy lives, what does the holiday mean to those who most enthusiastically celebrate it, and to our national freedom as conceived?
Until Christ’s birth, of course, there was no Christmas. We have no evidence of Christmas celebrations until hundreds of years after his death. Moreover and the reason for choosing December 25 remains uncertain. Many scholars believe this winter choice was to supplant pagan festivals.
In years past, when Christ’s birth lacked today’s near universal commemoration, the event’s meaning, ironically, was more clearly understood. Christmas was not a cultural phenomenon but a commemoration of a dramatic moment in history that was the foundation for the Christian church. It acknowledged the essential sacrifice providing mankind’s salvation with no competing cultural figures, symbols, or meanings.
Hundreds more years passed before Christmas was more widely accepted. However, the day gradually turned from a religious to a cultural phenomenon, sometimes criticized for encouraging inappropriate revelry. Efforts were made to sanctify the message and civilize the celebration.
Over time, secular messages intruded. Christmas trees appeared, as did Santa Claus—a cultural mongrel that is a weird mix of religious, political, literary, and commercial roots.
For many families today, it is not Jesus Christ but St. Nick whom they celebrate on December 25. Parents like Christmas because it gives them a few days off—a bonus four-day weekend this year. Kids know Christmas is the day for gifts, a greedy splurge slightly disguised as a spirit of giving. The original reason for Christmas can be lost in the mists of time.
In principle, there is nothing wrong with a made-up holiday of lights, decorations, gifts, silly songs, tall tales about snowmen, reindeer, elfin toymakers, and a red-suited resident of the North Pole. Indeed, these fantasies are much like Washington, D.C. politics with its tendency to believe the impossible, promise the ridiculous, and subsidize the outrageous. At times, Uncle Sam and St. Nicholas seem twins separated at birth.
Much of the same me-first, consumerist philosophy animates our national government. The budget is busted, with spending out of control. Like children, many people believe: I want, someone else gives, I enjoy. The able-bodied grab assistance intended for the needy. Liberal politicians and their allies keep the borders open to import more of their voters. Many of these same people actively oppose protecting the integrity of America’s democracy. This is Santa Claus politics at its worst.
We should remember what Christmas commemorates, not what culture celebrates. The promise of Christmas is an eternal answer to the shortcomings, disappointments, and frustrations which are an inevitable part of our human existence. Christ was not born to excuse our purchase of a big screen TV.
Even for the nonbeliever, the holiday should be a time of reflection for the year to come. Christmas calls us to be generous while stepping back from the chaos of daily life. Implicit is the question: what do you value most in your life? The story of Jesus’ simple birth demands a truthful answer.
Half a century after the death of Christ, Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians – a culture drowning in secular immortality. With the kind but firm admonition he is known for, Paul wrote to the fledgling Corinthian church, “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty.”
To the Galatian church Paul advised, “it for freedom that Christ sets us free.”
It was under this Biblical guidance and these principles that our nation was founded, and should still be guided.
America protects liberties and opportunities that are available nowhere else. However, the ultimate guarantor lies well beyond politicians in our own land. This is why it is so important to contemplate the real meaning of the holiday we are about to enjoy.