Christmas Reformation Long Overdue
In these latter years of the twentieth century no other season of the year reveals so much religion and so little godliness as the Christmas season.
Since Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, scarcely anyone dares to come right out and say what he thinks of Christmas. To do so, we fear, would be to identify ourselves with a nasty old grouch who hated everybody; so we go along with the tinseled festivities, doing our best to preserve a misty smile on our faces and a happy, vibrant ring in our voices, no matter how we feel.
Now, Dickens to the contrary notwithstanding, I do not believe that we are compelled to choose between old Scrooge and Tiny Tim. Surely there is a middle ground where mature, love-inspired, Spirit-illuminated adults can locate themselves and make up their own minds about that most beautiful but most abused and abased holiday we call Christmas. I for one want to do just that and love everybody in the process.
I never knew an Ebenezer Scrooge. My own childhood was brightened by the annual return of Christmas. My sweet-faced mother struggled to provide a few extras for her family on Christmas morning and somehow she always succeeded. If there was no more than an orange, a popcorn ball and a cheap toy for each of us, it was yet a memorable time for all. Even the old yellow mongrel that lay on the homemade braided rug was on that happy morning treated to a handful of hard candy which he crunched loudly and solemnly to the squealing of delight of the younger children.
The children that later came to my own home could, and I am sure would, testify to the almost unbearable delight Christmas morning brought to them. Their near delirium as they tumbled out of bed and gathered around the tree to unwrap their gifts amid shouts of surprise and delight will never be forgotten by them or by their parents while life and memory endure. No, whoever else might drop in during the day, Scrooge was never there; he�d have died of apoplexy if he had come near the place.
Yet Christmas as it is celebrated today is badly in need of a radical reformation. What was at first a spontaneous expression of an innocent pleasure has been carried to inordinate excess. In one section of Chicago, for instance, the excited citizenry vie with each other each year for the biggest, gaudiest and most vulgar Christmas tree, on the porch, on the lawn, along the street; and one gigantic, flashily dressed and cold but determinedly smiling Santa Claus drives a fully lighted herd of reindeer across the yard and over the house!
How far have we come in the corruption of our tastes from the reverence of the simple shepherds, the chant of the angels and the beauty of the heavenly host! The Star of Bethlehem could not lead a wise man to Christ today; it could not be distinguished amid the millions of artificial lights hung aloft on Main Street by the Merchants Association. No angels could sing loudly enough to make themselves heard above the raucous, earsplitting rendition of �Silent Night� meant to draw customers to the neighborhood stores.
In our mad materialism we have turned beauty into ashes, prostituted every normal emotion and made merchandise of the holiest gift the world ever knew. Christ came to bring peace and we celebrate His coming by making peace impossible for six weeks of each year. Not peace but tension, fatigue and irritation rule the Christmas season.
He came to free us of debt and many respond by going deep into debt each year to buy enervating luxuries for people who do not appreciate them. He came to help the poor and we heap gifts upon those who do not need them. The simple token given out of love has been displaced by expensive presents given because we have been caught in a squeeze and don�t know how to back out of it. Not the beauty of the Lord our God is found in such a situation, but the ugliness and deformity of human sin.
Among the harmful abuses of the Christmas season in America is the substitution of Santa Claus for Christ as the chief object of popular interest, especially among the children.
The morality of Mother Goose stories and fairy tales has been questioned by serious-minded Christian parents, but my opinion is that these are relatively harmless because they are told as fiction and the child is fully aware that they are imaginary. With Santa Claus it is not so. The child is taught falsehood as sober truth and is thus grossly deceived during the most sensitive and formative period of his life.
What shall we do? Cultivate humility and frugality. Put the emphasis where the Bible puts it, on the Christ at the right hand of God, not on the babe in the manger. Return to the simplicity that is in Christ. Cleanse our churches of the unscriptural pageantry borrowed from Rome. Take the Scriptures as our guide and refuse to be pressured into conformity to paganism practiced in the name of Christ.