There are a lot of people worried about Christmas these days. Many retailers forbid their employees to utter the word. They’re coached to say, “Happy Holidays.” Nativity scenes have been purged from government buildings and “Christmas songs” – the ones that actually speak about Jesus – well, they’ve been purged for Rudolph and good ol Saint Nick.
Oh, and all those trees you see with lights on them and something that looks like an “angel” on top, well I know you’re tempted to call that a “Christmas tree”, like all our forefathers before us, but we’re over that now. More mature minds have decided that doing so might needlessly offend a Muslim, or Jew, or Hindu, or Buddhist or … somebody! So let’s just call that a “holiday tree.” Goodbye Mr. Tannenbaum!
I recently went to a well-known boat parade that happens every Christmas, uh, holiday. Its been a tradition for years in the back bay around Newport Beach. Everything from wooden skiffs to multi-million dollar yachts line up to parade around the harbor with their vessels lit up like, uh, “holiday trees?” Many of the larger ships have corporate sponsors that spend thousands of dollars on the decorations. One boat had cute little dancing girls in Santa suits, another had lights portraying an entire beach surf scene, including a VW woody, palm trees, surfboards and beach boy tunes blaring on loudspeakers. If that weren’t enough a small powerboat lit up as a shark with a Santa’s cap tagged along behind. There were twenty-foot tall blow-up Santa’s, a couple of large blow up Frosty the Snowman’s, and for good measure, and for no apparent reason, there was even one colossal Frankenstein.
At the conclusion of the parade I remarked to my wife that it would’ve been nice to see at least one portrayal of the Christ-child – some acknowledgement for why the holiday exists. No sooner had the words left my mouth when a small little boat, that seemed no larger than a bathtub, came bobbing past us carrying one man with a brightly colored sign that said: “Thank-you God, for Christmas!”
It took awhile for the moment to fully sink in, but that humble little boat, bearing the least of all in decorations, carried the most lasting, most significant of all the messages on parade that night.
You see, over the past five days 20 innocent little first-graders had been murdered in the classrooms, just days away from the excitement of Christmas. Two of my colleagues in ministry had also passed away … people I had worked with elbow to elbow were suddenly gone. And just the day prior, a pastor friend watched as his little five year-old daughter slipped into eternity while he held her in his arms.
How does one reconcile all of the sorrow and all of the pain? Do Santa or Rudolf or Frosty offer any sense of meaning or purpose to our lives? Do parades and gifts fill the void we all sense in times of sorrow?
Yet, that little child that lay in that nativity encompassed hope for all mankind. Isaiah told us: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given …” He was given to us, not for the purpose of embellishing a “holiday” season but to bring forth hope for eternity, real joy, and real love to a world that is searching aimlessly for meaning and purpose.
And that was what jumped out at me as I watched that little vessel, tossing in the wake of the big parade. You can throw all of Madison avenues gimmicks and all of its glitz into the season, you can strip the “Christ” from Christmas in our government halls, you can mute the chorus of traditional songs and hymns – but Christmas, real Christmas, will just keep bobbing along. What that babe in the manger came to do, HE HAS DONE! You can ignore it, decry it, or say it isn’t so, but in those times of deep despair when friends and loved ones are no longer home for the holiday, there will be a time when your heart will cry out and say: “Thank You God, for Christmas.”