Because it is the day on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas is a time of great joy that we mark with a special spirit of generosity as we seek to honor with our gifts the generous gift of life represented to the world by the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a time when we strive with more than usual intensity to follow the advice of the apostle, to put off all
… anger, wrath, malice, slander and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices; and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free: but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.
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– Colossians 3:8-15
In this good counsel we see epitomized all that our gifts and ornaments, our special Christmas acts of charity, forgiveness and love are meant to express. We see the Christ in Christmas.
Of course, "the rest of the story" of Christmas includes the account of a very different spirit, one that momentous political events during this Christmas season inevitably bring to mind. In the aftermath of Christ's birth, wise men came in search of him, asking "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" Fearing that this portended both the end of his kingly reign and the removal of the succession from his descendants, Herod, the king of Judaea, sent for these men and "sent them to Bethlehem, saying, 'Go and search diligently for the child and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.'" But after they found the Christ child and honored him with gifts and worship, "warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way."
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Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem, and in all that region, who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more."
– Matthew 2:16-18
Though the birth of Christ inspires our goodwill to unite in forgiveness and love, it has a very different effect on those preoccupied with consolidating human power. They know that Christ's birth represents a threat to their vaulting ambition. They respond to that threat with an effort to slay all innocence to put down the hope of innocent life Christ offers to all humanity.
In recent weeks, America's elected leaders in Congress have been debating what is supposed to be a bill to reform the nation's health-care sector. Its proponents pretend that their intent is to better serve life by extending health services to people in need. But their true intent has been revealed by the sly maneuvers and corrupt practices they have used to enforce their insistence that, come what may, the supposed health reform act must include U.S. government funding for child murder. Though, like Herod, they cloak their real intent, this insistence reveals their true priority. Their chief aim is not to assure all America access to health services. It is to make all Americans complicit in the slaughter of the innocents. Though their deceptive slogan speaks of choice, in the moral realm they are insisting that Americans who reject the absurd notion of a right to murder our posterity shall have no choice but to see the fruits of their labor used to reward a practice they rightly regard as an abomination.
This Christmastide I am praying that the true spirit of Christmas will prevail in the counsels of our nation. I am praying that, despite the bribes and threats of those who give top priority to murder, the heart of Christ will truly be born again in the hearts of enough representatives in Congress to put a halt to the charade of evil which claims to serve our nation's health but aims in fact to destroy its healthy conscience and goodwill. With such courage, they will offer their nation a gift truly in keeping with the gift of God we celebrate: the birth of the one whose triumph over death renews, despite all evil human willing, God's offer of more abundant life for all. That's a health-care promise to believe in.