December 26, 2010


Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord. _ Ps. 128: 4

First, let’s not confuse the fear of the Lord with the fear of a wild bear we meet unexpectedly on the path. The latter is a cause for apprehension, while the former is a cause for blessedness. Fear of the Lord is more like awe, respect & devotion. In this one brief verse, Scripture draws the line between a fulfilled life & the empty life, between joy & despair. It’s a pity we don’t take it more seriously.

As a festival, Christmas has had a bumpy history. The Church baptized the Roman pagan feast of Saturnalia which was filled with eating & drinking, gift giving, evergreen wreaths, & concern for the less fortunate. Even so, this identification of the birth of Jesus with December 25th did not inspire any special religious festivities- the secular ones were still in place. It’s worth noting that most of the activities we associate with the Christmas season were pagan in origin, not Christian. Still, it was a minor issue for most Christians.

It wasn’t until Francis of Assisi invented the crèche or manger scene that its religious significance began to gain traction. Christmas caroling was added in the fourteenth century. The Protestant Reformation came along in the sixteenth century, & outlawed the observance of Christmas. The English Puritans banned Christmas in 1647 & the New England Puritans soon followed suit. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that poets & writers began to make to feast a popular item. In the 1860’s the artist Thomas Nast gave us the popular visual image of Santa Claus that evolved into the obese red-union suit character we have today. The Scandinavians added the Yule log, the Germans the Christmas tree, the Mexicans the poinsettias & hordes a Catholic immigrants to this country began putting pressure on others to celebrate the religious feast day, & Christmas has been on a Victorian roll ever since. Not to lose customers, the Protestant churches soon went along with the trend.

Today, Christmas lives in an entirely different imbalance. It is now a frantic merchandising venture fueled by around the clock advertising. Carols have given way to Red-nosed Rudolph. Christ as “the reason for the season” is simply out-classed & out-glitzed. “Too bad,” we say. But instead of lamenting the fact, let’s strategize for next year. Yes, the hype will reappear – we know that – but before we’re overwhelmed, let’s ask now how we can comfortably celebrate the pagan Saturnalia & STILL make a statement for faith!

Here are three practical suggestions:

1) Make up your mind now to use religious stamps & send religious Christmas cards next year. Enough of dogs, Santas & snow scenes. You’re a celebrating Christian. Don’t worry about what people will think. Don’t be afraid to announce your Christianity. They will admire you for it.

2) Plan to shop, party & visit, but along with your lights & decorations, also display the crèche in your house, in your window or on your lawn. Think for a moment. The nation is 80% Christian. What an impact we’d have if 80% of that 80% displayed crèches instead of those huge inflated Snoopys, Santas or snowmen that cover our lawns. I even saw a plastic inflated crèche this week, but the result was more of a caricature than something to be taken seriously.

As it is – and we know this is true – people can go around our neighborhoods & get no indication that we, or most of our neighbors, are Christian. No clue at all that makes us stand out from the Disneyfied crowd. We have to face it. The honest truth is that the secularists haven’t stolen Christmas. It is we who have given it away & the next time we decry another lawsuit removing a tree or crèche from the public square, let’s first look at our own homes & our own private square. If Christ is absent in our private “here,” we should make no fuss if He’s absent in the public “there.”

3) Target a charity now & lead up to it all year, like having the family toss loose change into a coffee can for the next 11 months.

So here we are, post Christmas, looking forward to the next one & considering 3 things: Christian symbols in our choice of stamps & cards, Christian display on our lawns, Christian charity in our hearts. If we can meet these 3 minimal requirements, someone just might get the idea that we too are a holy family. AMEN!