“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Charles Dickens”
When I was a radio news reporter, I wanted to do a special Christmas feature for the morning drive program.
I wrote a poem to record to music but wanted another voice along with my own on the piece. So I went to my kids’ elementary school and interviewed six first graders. I asked them, “What is Christmas?”
Three of them talked about Jesus. But the other three made no mention of Him. To them, Christmas was all about Santa and presents. Nothing more.
My sample was small and young. Hardly a statistical representation of first graders, let alone Americans in general.
But my results actually came close to how Americans view Christmas today. Pew has issued a study showing that only 55 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. That’s down from 59 percent as recently as 2013.
Many of us bemoan such news. It’s the War on Christmas!
But our complaining about the de-sacralization of the holiday hasn’t changed the minds of those enjoying a holiday they deem secular. All our griping has not turned a tide toward keeping the day holy.
The Pew study investigates not only what bothers us–or doesn’t– about the growing secularization of Christmas. It also investigates belief (or disbelief) in the assertions of the Christmas story: Jesus’ virgin birth, the shepherds, and angels.
Belief in those details, of course, reflects faith in who Christ is. To deny the details of the Christmas story is to deny the deity of Christ. Those details hold great meaning.
He is sinless because He had no human father. God as His Father means He is perfect God as well.
When Christ was born, God the Father sent angels to the socially lowest of people–the disregarded, the outcasts–the shepherds.
The presence of shepherds within walking distance of Bethlehem indicates that Christ was not born in December. Shepherds typically did not keep their flocks near villages because of the odor they caused. They would be nowhere near Bethlehem except during a 30 period before Passover–a period of preparation for the yearly sacrifice.
The shepherds outside Bethlehem were Levitical shepherds. Ironically, they were ritualistically unclean. They walked through feces. They touched dead things.
The angel told them to find a baby lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling cloths. To shepherds raising sheep for Levitical sacrifice, swaddling cloths would be vastly significant. For a lamb to qualify for sacrifice it had to be perfect, without blemish.
The shepherds swaddled lambs intended for sacrifice–they wrapped them in cloths to protect them. The angel saying that they would find the infant wrapped in swaddling cloths indicated that the baby would be a sacrifice. That baby was the Messiah they had long awaited.
Many would have expected a Jewish king to be born in Jerusalem–the city of the king–not Bethlehem. But Bethlehem was the City of David–a keeper of sheep.
God’s choice of a birthplace for his son wasn’t just a fulfillment of prophecy–which it was. It was also a symbol that Christ the King would be the fulfillment of sacrifice on our behalf.
Christ was the sinless Son of God, the perfect Lamb to be sacrificed for the shepherd’s sins–for our sins.
Most of the world isn’t interested in investigating the Christmas story. The trinkets, toys, and glitzy lights of Christmas are enough for them.
They try to fill the empty spaces of life with the clutter and noise of a secular Christmas. When we complain about society’s treatment of Christmas, we merely add to the noise. We can’t fill the empty places of their hearts. Only Christ can do that.
So aside from complaining, what else can we do? We can keep the true Christmas in our hearts. We can heed the angels’ message of “Fear not.”
“Don’t take this sobering news [of the study] as a reason to rend your garments and wail. Use it as reason to make your family’s celebration of Advent and Christmas more religious.” Rod Dreher.
As we do, we recognize that, on that first Christmas, God invited the unclean to see His Son. Those who reject Him today are yet among the invited.
People seek purpose and meaning today. But they cannot find it without Christ. One of those children I interviewed understood what so many fail to see today.
“What is Christmas?”
“It’s Jesuseseses’ birthday.”
He brings peace on earth–within our hearts. He is the perfect sacrifice for us.
When we celebrate Him, our silence can overwhelm the noise and darkness.
Embrace His peace. Celebrate Him. Shine the true light.
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