Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas
This is the first of what I hope will be a long line of Christmas Day blogs. I had a whole essay planned out in my head, thought through in detail over the past few days—but I wanted to save the actual writing for Christmas Day itself. Little did I know that the events of Christmas Eve would completely change what I had to say. Luckily, the new thoughts can still tie into the articles I intended to include, so hopefully this won't be too disjointed. Before you read what I have to say, I want you each to know how grateful I am that you are visiting my site. I don't have nearly the readership of the Glenn Reynolds or Andrew Sullivans of the world, but fundamentally I blog to be read. It is my readership that keeps me coming back, and that encourages me to do better each time (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I often fall short of improvement, but what can you do?). So thank you for your presence—and Merry Christmas to you and all of your loved ones.

When I was a little boy, Christmas Eve did not mean very much in the grand scheme of things. At about 3:00 I had to put on my little khaki pants, my little navy blazer, and a tie, to head over to the church for choir rehearsal. We would rehearse for an hour and a half or so, before singing the choral prelude, followed by the Christmas Service itself. Afterward, we would go to the house of some fellow parishioners and stay until around the time that people started leaving to go to the midnight mass—at which point we would go home, and my brother and I would head to bed.

Most of this, in my mind, simply led up to the next morning. That, of course, was the entire point of the holiday: presents. I was young enough that I didn't really care about the religious aspect of the day. "Sure, baby Jesus was born, and he was God or something, right? Now, what was that about a new computer game?" I was the stereotypical, consumer-driven American automaton.

Over the past four years or so, however, I've grown quite a bit spiritually. I'm still an Episcopalian, as I was raised. I love the tradition, particularly of the high church with its chanting and incense and so on. And I love Christmas for those reasons—because I am back in the church where I was raised, singing the hymns I know, with my family and the people I grew up around. That's comforting. It feels good. Christmas, yes, is a time of love and family. Of showing one another how much we care.

But I love Christmas even more because of itself. I love the way it inspires me to introspective questions of faith. I love the way I am so confident in my belief that millennia ago, a baby was born to a virgin woman—and that baby was fully God and fully man, come to earth to save us from ourselves. This used to be a big sticking point for me, as it really sounds like a science fiction tale. But more and more I find myself unable to accept a world without God. As a fellow Episcopalian put it this week: "Of course, the human mind can be deceived. But there are some matters in which internal human experience can neither be usefully dissected nor practically gainsaid. One may refuse to accept that there is a meaningful concept of God as one may refuse to accept that there is a meaningful concept of beauty or love. But what is such a refusal in balance with the kiss of your soul mate, or the playing of a Bach cantata, or the overwhelming awareness of God's guidance and care?"

And we can debate the usefulness of Christmas in a secular society, as I've done for about two weeks now, or what actually happened over two thousand years ago, or even why we celebrate Christmas when we do, but none of it, none, even approaches that central theme of this date. We are able to spend it in love with family and friends because God has granted us that ability. In His infinite love, we are given leave to love one another, to tolerate those who disagree with us, and to find happiness in the simplest things, be it a holiday snowfall, a warm bed, a kind gift from a loved one, or even just a day off from work. We are free, thanks to His kindness, and we must always remember that the only thing he wishes of us, the only way he expects us to repay him is with peace and goodwill towards men.

I'll leave you with my favorite gospel passage, in my favorite translation. This is Luke, chapter 2, verses 1 through 14, and, as Charlie Brown learns in A Charlie Brown Christmas, it is what Christmas is truly all about. This is how God came into the world, and whether you believe in it or not, this is what the miracle of Christmas is all about:

1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David)
5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

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