Last Saturday I attended a caroling party, and I discovered an unpleasant truth about myself.
I am turning into a Puritan, at least where Christmas is concerned.
The Puritans, you may recall, prohibited Christmas celebrations as being ungodly. I wouldn’t go that far, but clearly something has to be done.
To get back to the caroling party. We sang all the Christmas carols people remembered liking that were in the songbook. We sang a few non-religious songs (“We Wish You A Merry Christmas,”“The 12 Days of Christmas,” “Deck the Halls” and “Wassailing Wassailing”) But most of the songs we sang were Christmas hymns, beautiful and lyrical and deeply meaningful.
Except we left out “the depressing verses.” You know, the verses that dealt with sin and redemption or sacrifice or the need for salvation. The ones with actual theological content.
I knew very few people at the party. None of them well enough to ask, “why are you singing Christian hymns if you find the basis for Christianity so inherently distasteful and depressing?”
Christmas is not about babies in mangers. Babies are cute, sweet, nonthreatening. Christmas is also not (just) about goodwill towards all people – who could argue with goodwill?
Christmas is about God made manifest on earth in the form of a human being – an unsettling thought – who will sacrifice himself for the sins of all the earth. The enormity is difficult to grasp. (The resurrection? Beggars the imagination.)
That manger stands in the shadow thrown by the cross, from light reflected from the empty tomb. Christmas’s light is thrown out against that shadow.
Without the cross, all you have are babies in mangers. How pretty. How… meaningless.
Don’t get me wrong, I think generalized holiday cheer is great – as long as it is generalized holiday cheer. And I give and get gifts like many other people. But subjecting everyone – regardless of faith – to “Merry Christmas”? Just plain wrong, regardless of what Bill O’Reilly says.* I say, let’s have more “holiday parties,” because all of us need to do something at the end of the year to cheer up, not so many “Christmas Parties.” Because no one should be subject to proselytizing when all you want is to have a good time. Unless you also want to have a hanukkah party (or eight!) for your Jewish friends, and a Solstice celebration for your pagan friends….
Season’s Greetings to you all.
*and before anyone brings it up, I do not think that the Great Commission in Matthew (“go forth and make disciples of all nations”) requires you to cudgel people into saying “Merry Christmas,” even if they or the person they’re speaking to are not Christian.