I’m about to celebrate my 53rd Christmas. I have always celebrated it as a Christian. I will confess that Christmas over the years has been, emotionally speaking, a mixed bag for me. Many of the Christmases of my childhood flood back as some of the happiest times of my life. If ever a man knew how to make Christmas magical for a small boy, it was my father. I never think of Christmas as a child without thinking of my dad.
But, it was 18 years ago today, as my first child was approaching her first Christmas, that my dad, out of the blue, suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm and died.
By the following Christmas, my mother, a favorite uncle and my marriage had all died as well.
Since then, Christmas, with its attendant increasingly inflated material expectations and actual competition among my fellow affluents in the area of gift-giving, has lost much of its charm for me. Secular, material, middle-aged Christmas I do not find uplifting.
Christmas as a religious experience has taken a hit for me as well. How many of us are now afraid to say, “Merry Christmas,” for fear of offending a non-Christian? My contact with casual acquaintances and my correspondence ends with the benign, happy holidays. Not exactly the Dickensian English of “A Christmas Carol.”
So, if I’m not careful, Christmas can put me in a funk. I don’t want to be a latter-day Scrooge and so, as an antidote, I drag out a transcript of a broadcast by the late CBS News veteran Harry Reasoner. For years, I have kept this clipping where I can find it. Here is what he said.
“The basis for this tremendous annual burst of gift buying and parties and near hysteria is a quiet event that Christians believe actually happened a long time ago. You can say that in all societies there has always been a midwinter festival and that many of the trappings of our Christmas are almost violently pagan. But you come back to the central fact of the day and quietness of Christmas morning – the birth of God on earth.
It leaves you only three ways of accepting Christmas.
One is cynically, as a time to make money or endorse the making of it.
One is graciously, the appropriate attitude for non-Christians, who wish their fellow citizens all the joys to which their beliefs entitle them.
And the third, of course, is reverently. If this is the anniversary of the appearance of the Lord of the universe in the form of a helpless babe, then it is a very important day.
It’s a startling idea, of course. My guess is that the whole story that a virgin was selected by God to bear His Son as a way of showing His love and concern for man is not an idea that has been popular with theologians. It’s a somewhat illogical idea, and theologians like logic almost as much as they like God. It’s so revolutionary a thought that it probably could only come from a God that is beyond logic, and beyond theology.
It has a magnificent appeal. Almost nobody has seen God, and almost nobody has any real idea of what He is like. And the truth is that among men the idea of seeing God suddenly and standing in a very bright light is not necessarily a completely comforting and appealing idea.
But everyone has seen babies, and most people like them. If God wanted to be loved as well as feared he moved correctly here. If He wanted to know His people as well as rule them, He moved correctly here, for a baby growing up learns all about people. If God wanted to be intimately a part of man, He moved correctly, for the experiences of birth and familyhood are our most intimate and precious experiences.
So it goes beyond logic. It is either all falsehood or it is the truest thing in the world. It’s the story of the great innocence of God the baby – God in the form of man – and has such a dramatic shock toward the heart that if it is not true, for Christians, nothing is true.
So, if a Christian is touched only once a year, the touching is still worth it, and maybe on some given Christmas, some final quiet morning, the touch will take.”
Thank you, Harry. I needed that.
Scrooge, as we all know, finally got Christmas right. Charles Dickens, master wordsmith that he was, told of Scrooge’s redemption like this;
“It was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, ‘God Bless Us, Every One!’”