In a Christmas message from the Christian Alliance for Progress, The Rev. Tim Simpson writes:
“We have heard a lot about "saving Christmas" during the last couple of Decembers. With people whipped into a frenzy by right wing pundits, it has become all the rage among certain branches of Christianity to protest by boycotting any retailer who makes mention of "Happy Holidays" or to sue local governments who balk at manger scenes on the town square. All this is apparently done for the purpose of reminding America of the "true meaning" of Christmas. But boycotts and lawsuits are hardly the substance of the Christmas season, as anyone with only a passing familiarity with the Gospels will no doubt attest.”
The zealots on the religious right, along with the Republican Party have set about pitting the people of America one against another over things best left to personal decisions. The meaning of Christmas transcends the culture wars in which we are now engaged. Christmas is God’s statement to all of humanity–Democrats, Republican, Christians, Muslims, Jews, blacks, whites–that God is for the world, for all of us, each and every one, and that although we have made a mess of things, God has not given up hope in our ultimate redemption and reconciliation. Christmas is the reminder that God still is hopeful for us and our futures, despite all of our shortcomings. It is the reminder that we have not been abandoned despite our efforts to destroy God’s image in our neighbor, Christmas is our reminder that God will be with us until all that is wrong with the world will be made right.
It is truly amazing that this wondrous sign came from God in such an unexpected package. Poets, artists, and lyricists have strained for centuries to capture the irony of this unexpected event: how the embodiment of this hope of God came not by way of the great courts and capitals of the world, nor was it preceded by a huge public relations campaign with all of the attendant media hoopla, but rather came to the world in the form of a child born to an unwed, homeless, refugee mother and her fiance in the humblest of shelter.
These humble beginnings would characterize the child as he grew into manhood. He did not allow the prejudices of his day of religion, ethnicity or health to color his view of the people around him, but rather saw in each of them the image of God and therefore treated them all as neighbors, meeting their needs whatever the circumstance. Even when such associations were costly to his reputation and even his personal safety, he would not abandon a single person, even one who betrayed him. When some sought to use him for violent political purposes, he refused to become that kind of leader and instead gave up his life to make friends out of his enemies.
As has become one of the traditions of my family, we attended the candlelight service of Lessons and Carols at my home church this evening in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. There is a warmth and comfort to returning to this place each year, and renewing this spirit of Christmas. It comes through not only in being with my family, but in seeing the other families of the friends I grew up with sharing that same togetherness.
There was a meditative prayer printed in the service bulletin that says a lot:
O God, help me to rightly remember the birth of Jesus, that I may share in the Angels’ song, Shepherds’ gladness and Wise Men’s worship. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Deliver me from evil by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach me to love you with all my heart. Help me to remember that The Good News of Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. May Christmas morning make me glad to be your child and Christmas evening bring me to my bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
Whenever one gives to a person in need, whenever one repays evil with kindness, whenever one stands firm in hopeful expectation where seemingly only despair could survive, one incarnates the spirit of that first Christmas so long ago in Bethlehem. Rev. Simpson tells the story of a visitor to an elderly woman’s home one August. The guest was surprised when she walked into the living room and saw the Christmas tree, still decorated, standing stoutly in the corner. Thinking the elderly woman to be losing her grip on her reality, her friend gently inquired as to whether she had forgotten what season it was. The elderly woman replied that she knew the season perfectly well, but needed help remembering something else. "Keeping the tree up year round reminds me every day of what Christmas really means. That’s what I am in danger of forgetting."
Perhaps we should all keep our trees up this year.
Some years ago, I wrote this short verse for my Christmas Cards. I offer it again as my wish for you not just this Holiday Season, but throughout the New Year.
The Christmas Gifts I Wish for You …
Happiness, Deep down within.
Serenity, With each sunrise.
Success, In every facet of your life.
Friends, Close and caring.
Love, That never ends.
Joyous memories, Of all the yesterdays.
A bright today, With much to be thankful for.
A path, To beautiful tomorrows.
Dreams, That do their best to come true.
Appreciation, Of all the wonderful things about you.