This year it has been difficult to get into the spirit of the year-end holidays.
It has been almost impossible not to get emotionally captured by the high drama and fateful events over the past few months. Too much has happened, and too quickly. It has the surreal, hallucinatory quality of a dream.
We are united as a people in the War on Terrorism, and there is a resurgence of interest in God. But these changes have not been tested by time. Beneath the surface, we hear and feel the shifting, rumbling fault lines which threaten our national foundations.
It seems that each year, the spirit of Christmas becomes more and more dim, fading from our minds and hearts. It was true when old Ben Franklin said it more than two centuries ago; it is still true today: "How many observe Christ's birthday! How few, his precepts! O! 'tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments."
Before proceeding, I would like to join with the publishers of the Federalist who expressed this thought concerning their special Christmas edition: "We know that some of our readers are of faiths other than Christian. We hope this message will serve to enlighten your understanding of our faith, and we wish God's blessings and peace upon you and your families, in whatever setting you may worship."
For many believers, the birth of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago is easily the most significant event in the history of the human race.
There is nothing complicated about the reason. Jesus came to live among us, gather our sins unto Himself, and die in atonement for them. He who created us into this life promises to create us again, perfected, into life eternal, making sense of it all. We need only believe.
Despite the renewal of faith, Christians are not as popular in America these days as they were only a few generations ago. Jesus was not a very popular figure either, particularly toward the last few years of the time He spent on Earth. His message threatened too many people, just as it does today.
He was the Truth they feared. His presence gave the lie to the self-serving illusions around which they had built their lives. He was the Light which illumined dark corners and recesses, exposing the black sins they sought to hide.
He was the pure mirror which reflected back to them the image of the evil they had become. His very existence was a threat to their lifestyles and their rationalizations. They could not change nor corrupt Him … so they killed Him.
It was all said in John 3:19-20: "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved."
Centuries have passed. Nothing has changed. They are still trying to kill Him. The fear, even the loathing, of His message is why the celebration of Christmas gets more pagan each succeeding year.
For over 150 years after the Constitution was ratified, children prayed in schools, and teachers were not terrified of using the word "God" in the classroom. At no time did religious freedom in schools put America in any danger of becoming a theocracy, nor was the singing of a Christmas carol considered to constitute such a danger.
No people in the world are more self-effacing than Christians. We are much more inclined to fault ourselves rather than others. We have accepted our own insufficiency. We know we are flawed and desperately in need of redemption, and we are trying hard to do better. We are not trying to have our sins declared virtues – we seek to have our sins forgiven, not approved.
Despite all the calumny and harassment, Christians are generally happy, well-adjusted and uniquely unconfused about the purpose of life.
We are unimpressed by the pompous idea that we are born out of nothingness, to live and die, only to disappear back into nothingness. We know this kind of thinking makes no sense at all, and we recognize this dark rhetoric for what it is: the verbal flailing of disoriented and frightened people who do not have philosophic handles on themselves or the universe in which they live.
As Christians, we know that, in the course of time, from the perspective of eternity, everything is reconciled, every detail attended, every wrong righted, every kindness thanked, every wound healed, every love requited, every sin atoned, every life vindicated, every loss recovered and every loved one found.