Christmas. Such an old and treasured holiday; celebrated since the beginning of the fourth century, in fact. What, exactly, is it about this holiday and this faith this at threatening enough that many “tolerant” folk want to erase it from the public square? There is a simple concept buried under the shopping, buying, preaching, and ever-increasing societal push-back when experiencing the Christmas season, and it should worry no one: Christians believe that a supernatural event occurred on the first Christmas, an event of the highest and holiest order – God sent his only son to earth to be born as a human being who would walk among us, experiencing our pains and struggles, and to show us both how to live, and what to live for. God, for a time, was with us — flesh and blood. It was an act of love that has to this day not been surpassed in the history of existence, Christians believe. We celebrate love at its core meaning, as the word itself was meant to be understood. Absurdly, in a world where almost everything is now acceptable, many now want us to do this behind closed doors.
To be fair, we believers have had a hand in tarnishing Christmas. We have attached so much buying, stressing, elf-on-a-shelfing, decorating, partying, and expectation to it that we are buried under the weight of our own efforts. The love of Christmas doesn’t flow to and through us, but instead we force a fake love made of glue and baubles and manufactured greenery. A love you can box up and put away. That is why tears fill our eyes when we watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” — it may be the only true Christmas feeling that reaches our hearts. We missed it, somehow. How did we miss the thing we were so busy creating? The operative word is “we”…we really can’t create it. It is a birthday that becomes a spiritual gift that should be felt instead of worked towards, purchase by purchase and light by light. It is a birthday that changed history, and man.
I am a Christian that didn’t always believe in Christ, as dumb as that sounds. I believed he lived, and was the Son of God, but I didn’t believe he was necessary to faith. I believed in God, and had been surrounded by family that taught me about a God that created the natural world all around us, and approved of adventure and happiness, individuality and laughter.
There were rules, and a way to live, but this God really understood the creature he created. The logic of that – that God smiled when I laughed at a Jerry Lewis movie, or that God felt (and even caused) the wind on my face when I was horseback-riding and thought that it was good, was appealing to both heart and intellect. But still, Jesus played a hazy minor role in my understanding – a son that taught well, and was killed for his efforts. He was nice, but not mandatory.
Until I started hanging out with my neighbor Louise. Louise was seventy at the time, and I was in my late thirties. Louise is a widow who knew both great loss and loving sacrifice; she nursed her husband for years until his death, and then her mother until hers, and would go on to nurse her sister until her death, too. She lost her brother in the street we shared, when he fell out of a tall tree while pruning it, and died before her eyes. And to top it all off, she had been praying for his safety, to the God she loved, when he fell.
Surely, I thought, Louise would doubt now. I was prepared to help her find her faith again, after the shock of her brother’s violent death. But like the Whos down in Who-ville, each blow, each sacrifice of her own life for the comfort of others, made Louise more cognizant of what is important in life, closer to God, and more positive that this life is in truth a waystation until we get to our real home. She still laughed, she still watched my children play from her window, and she still noted the birds that landed in the deck she couldn’t use because she was too busy nursing others to entertain or even sit outside for more than a fleeting moment. For Louise, everything good was bestowed by the same Great source – life, laughter, friendship, and birds. Louise drew people to her as she drew ever closer to her strength in this life.
One winter evening Louise and I sat in my idling car before saying goodnight. We had been out together at a program we were participating in at a neighboring church, and I cherished this time with Louise, away from the hectic landscape of children and chores behind my own front door. We were talking about Jesus as if both of us knew him, when only one of us really did. And suddenly – supernaturally – I looked out into the darkness and the knowledge came to me that all I had been told about Christ was true – rock-bottom, get-real, base-your-life-on-it truth.
It came quietly, mysteriously, and without fanfare, like a warm blanket being placed on someone who doesn’t even know he is cold. That moment is one of the most real moments I have ever experienced; as real as the births of my three beloved sons, as real as my wedding, as real as the life that I’m living every day. It was with profound clarity and a sense of great relief that I began to experience the world with new eyes.
As Christians, we know that you can’t take away Christmas, no matter how hard this increasingly politically correct and spiritually vacant world tries. Just as you can’t stop mountains from being high, or the sea from being deep, you can’t change the fact of Christ for us. There are many of us all over the world, and we will keep this holy date for as long as man lives on earth. We are not only celebrating because Jesus once lived; we are also celebrating because he lives now. We extend the peace of the season to all, even as we assert our right to our holiday, and our beliefs. Like Christ, we come in peace, and we aren’t going anywhere.
Deirdre Reilly has written one humor book, and authored a syndicated family life column for Gatehouse Media for 13 years. She has won a Massachusetts Press Award for humor, her op-eds have been published in the Boston Herald and The Hartford Courant, and she has had short fiction published in literary journals. Deirdre was raised in Columbia, Md., and now lives outside Boston, Ma. She enjoys outdoor pursuits, and is obsessed with the care and happiness of a retired carriage horse named Nello that she bought for a few hundred dollars on a menopausal whim.