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Keep sight of the original meaning of Christmas

When my children were small, we referred to today as Christmas Eve, Eve. Now my daughter tells my excited grandchildren that it’s “One more sleep until Christmas Eve!”.

We can’t let the moment pass without making a few comments about what Christmas 2020 means. Christmas is just as unique as everything has been since spring.

Not since a time of war have we been so altered and beleaguered by outside events, and instead of an invading force, we’ve been waylaid by a tiny virus that is only about one-millionth of an inch across.

Just like watching television, let’s change the channel. Turning from the problems that are all around us, let’s tune in to this season and all that it means.

One of our favorite family traditions on Christmas Eve is gathering to read the Christmas story directly from the Gospel of Luke. It is clear—to all of us, I think—that our society has all too often laid aside the story of the birth of Christ and substituted it with Santa Claus, or even worse, a politically correct secular “holiday celebration”.

Now, I love Santa Claus, and I can enjoy a holiday celebration as much as the next guy. But it should be clear to all of us that turning away from the original meaning of Christmas is to surgically extract all of its essence, reducing it from a vibrant season of celebration, renewal, and hope, into a season of spending, exhaustion, and despair.

We can’t allow that to stand.

Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, the most important event in human history. Without His birth there would be no life, none of His earth-shaking principles, no death in payment for all of our wrongs.

In a word, there would be no hope.

Christmas is the beginning of that hope.

We enter the story with Mary celebrating that she had been chosen to give birth to the Messiah. Her reaction was to break into a hymn of praise that is so beautiful that it has been given its own name—the Magnificat. It begins with “My soul magnifies the Lord”, talks about all that He would do as though it had already been done, and it ends with thanksgiving that the long-ago promise was being fulfilled.

Matthew tells us that when the wise men left to find the baby, a star appeared to show them the way. What a great metaphor: we need a light provided by God to find Jesus. Most of the Gospel is right in the middle of that sentence.

In many ways, the story is retold in Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol. Dickens begins by discussing the death of Jacob Marley (described with that delightful simile “dead as a door-nail) , whose resurrected ghost (along with the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and yet-to come) becomes the ironic light to show the penny-pinching cold-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge the path to happiness—all at Christmas time. Shown what his life will be unless he changes, Scrooge reconsiders his life path, turns from the lonely darkness toward the shone light, and “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old City knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world.”

It is my hope that we all take a moment and think about the original Christmas story and all that it means.

It is my prayer that we will all follow the light to find the baby Jesus, and having found him, that we all take Ebenezer Scrooge’s path. May that light forever change us.

Merry Christmas, all.