At the end of every year – especially if we move among faith communities -we hear protests against the secularization of Christmas.
Though the warnings are not unwelcomed it’s hard to see how they blunt the irreligious manias of our age.
Songs, social commentary, public policy, advertising campaigns and pretty much everything in the season combine in an attempt to evict the theological core.
And there is a theological core.
Theology means the study of God.
And the core is simply this:
Roughly 2000 years ago in Palestine God became Man.
We call what happened “The Incarnation”.
And the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation insists that God became a Man just as surely as if He had never been God and He remained God just as surely as if He had never become a Man.
At one level the effort to desacralize the stupendous claim is quite understandable.
The mystery, after all, is deep enough to break our brains.
Why not just drink the eggnog and enjoy our days off without bothering with the supernatural?
Though the secularizing impulse is much to be lamented there remains a silver lining.
Christmas changed everything.
Even the fragments which remain after the spiritual is airbrushed away have been infused with something indelible.
That something happened in an obscure suburb of Jerusalem in the long ago.
That something retains a power to beautify and dignify every common thing and even some very tawdry things.
A stable and a star, wise men and shepherds, the weather in December and even commercialism itself take on a radiance impossible to imagine apart from their connection to the New Testament claims.
For twenty-four years I lived outside America.
I spent lots of time with lots of people who grew up in countries where Christmas was either ignored or opposed.
Never did I want to leave the impression that my culture was superior to their own.
Still, I always aimed to make it clear that after Mary and Joseph left Nazareth to comply with the Roman decree, something happened which elevates all cultures willing to reverence the Event.
If I could have bequeathed to my foreign friends only one gift from my country, I would have made them feel what it was like to be a child in America at Christmas.
Of course, there are other countries which celebrate Christmas with equal or greater relish.
But I have been a child in only one country.
Without doubt it is impossible to export a feeling.
The goal is hopelessly subjective.
Nevertheless, the experience is palpably real.
GK Chesterton wrote that Bethlehem is the place where God was homeless and all men are at home.
He declared that not only because he believed it but because he felt it.
It’s a belief and even a feeling shared by over 2 billion people on our planet.
How do we account for it?
Simply in this way.
Long ago in Bethlehem God became Man.
WE HAVE BEEN VISITED.
The evidence is everywhere and the wonder has been explained.
Snow and reindeer and mistletoe and mangers and shepherds and music -ESPECIALLY THE MUSIC-have taken on capacities and audacities impossible to account for unless…
Unless He really has made the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love!