THIS CHRISTMAS FOLLOW THE NATAL STAR
This was the Editorial from our local paper the London Free Press, 24 December 2000
(CopyrightÓ London Free Press)
Tonight, after the cash registers have rung up their last sales, shopping malls close, variety stores lock up and coffee shops turn out their lights, the world will finally get around to celebrating Christmas.
Even this newspaper, which publishes every other day of the year, will silence its presses this evening to observe what, in the frenzied culture of post-20th century society, has become a nearly obscure part of the holiday season: the essential meaning of the Christian Christmas.
For weeks now, office parties, Christmas shopping, school programs, decorating and holiday planning have been in full swing. So much to do in so little time; nary a moment to think about anything else.
Popular culture, too, conspires to blur and dull our perception of biblical Christmas message. TV specials feature singers and skaters, dancers and divas; few, however, make much more than oblique references to the reason for so much revelry and celebration. Hollywood has provided an entire generation with a new common lexicon of Christmas images, metaphors and language, from Jimmy Stewart's It's A Wonderful Life to Tim Allen's The Santa Clause. While the warm and fuzzy sentiments they convey about family, duty, loyalty, charity and togetherness are very much worthwhile, they have little to do with the meaning of the Christian Christmas tradition. Even the Grinch, portrayed in the hit movie this year by Jim Carrey, discovers only that he cannot keep the holiday from arriving and being celebrated by the residents of Who-ville. We never really learn why.
This month, patrons at London's Grand Theatre enjoyed a rare opportunity to become re-acquainted with the characters created by Charles M. Schulz, who died this year on Feb. 12 -- the same day his comic strip ended. It was Schulz who probably came closest to expressing the Christian meaning of the season for the mass audience with his 1965 animated classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
In the half-hour family feature, Charlie Brown searches for the true meaning of the holiday amidst the glitz and commercialism. Near the end, the blanket-toting Linus Van Pelt reveals the enigma:
"And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid.
"And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.'
"And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace and good will toward men.'
"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
The notion that God would choose to identify with and affirm creation by being born into it as a helpless baby to unwed parents in a backwater region of the mighty Roman Empire is awe-inspiring and worthy of our most careful reflection. It speaks of a God so loving as to choose to take human form in order to fully empathize with our difficulties and deepest terrors.
Today's mass culture, however, has rendered most of us unable to grasp these subtleties. We know many of the lines from the TV classic A Christmas Story, where Ralphie yearns for the Red Ryder BB gun as his parents warn, "You'll shoot your eye out," but we don't know the meaning of Immanuel: God with us. We're able to order thousands of dollars worth of gifts from virtual warehouses through the Internet, but few of us know exactly where to find the original Christmas story.
Maybe this is the year to dust off the old family Bible, turn to the New Testament and read through the second chapter of Luke's Gospel. Do it with family or do it alone. Rediscover how the holiday got its name.
Then celebrate. Light the tree, invite neighbours and friends, give and receive gifts, play games or spend time with family, because the truth found there is worthy of most joyous festivities.