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Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” — Luke 2:10 KJV

As the feast of Christmas is almost upon us it is time for me to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

As a person growing up in the 1940s I have many warm memories of Christmas. As my father was exempt from the draft in World War II due to his work in factory producing materials for defense I was fortunate to have him at home during the Christmas season. Unlike some of my friends and school mates, who had fathers in far flung corners of the world fighting for our freedom, my dad was able to celebrate each Christmas during WWII with the family.

Those WWII Christmases, while sparse when it came to toys and gifts, were always great family affairs with the entire family gathering at the house for Christmas dinner and celebrating the holiday. As a said toys were sparse as metal was used for defense, not children’s toys and there were no toys or games that required batteries. I still recall one Christmas gift, a toy gun that was a replica of a Colt .45 made of compressed sawdust. The gun lasted for a couple of days until I dropped it and in broke into pieces and my dad attempted to glue it back together. After that it took a great deal of my child’s imagination to think of it as a gun. Another toy was a bomb sight made of cardboard and a mirror that you held to your eye over a cork target and dropped darts in the shape of little bombs. Of course the cork target had maps of Germany and Japan on it.

After the war ended and steel was available I remember going with my dad to the store to pick up my first erector set. For those who are not familiar with the AC Gilbert Erector Set is was a collection of small metal beams with regular holes for nuts, bolts, screws, and mechanical parts such as pulleys, gears, and small electric motors. that allowed you to build things like oil derricks, building frames, and bridges. It provided hours of educational entertainment for my father and I.

Of course there were no outdoor lights on houses and department stores had great Christmas displays in their windows. We never had outdoor lights on our house until 1959. The lights on the Christmas tree were always a problem as they were wired in series so that when one bulb burned out you had to spend time taking each bulb out a replacing it with a “good” bulb hoping the string of lights would go on again. Of course there were the bubble lights that were filled with liquid that bubbled when the bulb heated up.

As a child going to Catholic elementary school I sang in the choir. We performed at Sunday Mass and for the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. We would sing the Mass responses in Latin with Christmas Carols intermixed. I can still recall walking to church with my parents on those cold Christmas Eves.

After the war Christ began to become more and more secular. I remember that when people began using “Xmas” instead of “Christmas” they were a campaign to put Christ back in Christmas. There nativity scenes and Christmas trees in the public square and elementary schools had Christmas pageants depicting the birth of Jesus along with traditional Christmas carols. No one complained — it was expected and welcomed. Salvation Army Santa Clauses were commonplace in front of department stores with their bells and kettles — no one complained, no one was offended. People wished you “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” “happy holidays” was rarely heard.

There were great Christmas movies and TV shows where the mention of the birth of Christ was commonplace. Films such as “It’s Wonderful Life”, ”Miracle on 34th Street”, and “ A Christmas Carol”, staring Alistair Simms were traditional favorites.

Of course there were the numerous albums of Christmas Carols and songs by recording artists like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and almost anyone you can think of. TV shows always had a Christmas themed episode in December. When someone mention mentioned “Black Friday” you thought they were referring to the stock market crash of 1929 — not the obscene shopping orgies that take place on the day after Thanksgiving where people riot over the chance to buy the latest smart phone or some other popular toy or gadget.

Houses decorated with Christmas lights came into vogue and neighborhoods would enter competitions as to who could use more lights to decorate their homes and people would come from miles around to view the displays. In my neighborhood there are several homes that have spectacular displays of lights including one house where even the interior is decked out in Christmas trappings. The home owner opens his house to the public and welcomes people to walk through to marvel at all of his work. All he asks is that you bring some can goods to donate to those who are in need.

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As godless secularism becomes more and more entrenched in our culture, the Christmas season is one of the most contentious times in our calendar. Every year, there are stories in the news of banned Christmas trees or of Christmas trees renamed "holiday trees." Christmas concerts at public schools draw threats of a lawsuit (even when the poor in Africa are the beneficiaries!), and U.S. congressmen are barred from wishing their constituents a "Merry Christmas" in their official mailings. This ban also applies to school children and even the exchange of Christmas Cards is outlawed. This year, even Charlie Brown is creating controversy.

Actually, when it comes to A Charlie Brown Christmas, there was controversy from the beginning. In 1965, just as the culture wars were heating up in the U.S., the "enlightened" executives at CBS balked at the Peanuts classic containing Bible passages. Most every American has heard Linus, in teaching Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas, perfectly recite the King James Version of Luke 2:8-14. Of course, the Scripture reference is what was "controversial."

Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts (the most popular and influential comic strip of all time), was insistent. As Lee Habeeb of National Review puts it, "[Schulz] knew that the Luke reading by Linus was the heart

Today children (and adults) are bombarded with deceptive (but alluring) messages about "Christmas spirit" and how Christmas is about "spreading joy throughout the world" and "a time for warmth and brotherly love" (as a recent TV cartoon declared). Even Dickens's iconic A Christmas Carol is bereft of the complete message of Christmas.

Of course, brotherly love and spreading joy are not bad things, but they are far from the "heart and soul" of Christmas. Schulz was right. The "heart and soul" of any Christmas story is "behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, Christmas is the story of how "the rightful King has landed." Just prior to His death, as Jesus stood before the Roman governor Pilate, Pilate asked Him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" After some discussion, Pilate concluded to Jesus, "You are a king, then!" Jesus answered him saying, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world."

Of course all of these so-called bans on based on the fact that schools and public officials are fearful of lawsuits by disgruntled people who have a personal axe to grind — not on the law, the Constitution or Supreme Court rulings. According to the American Center for Law and Justice Several federal district courts have ruled that under certain circumstances, it is permissible for a public school to display religious holiday symbols in school calendars and in holiday displays. For example, a district court in New Jersey directly addressed this issue in Clever v. Cherry Hill Twp., 838 F. Supp. 929 (D.N.J. 1993). In Clever, the plaintiffs challenged a school policy that provided for religious symbols to be used in school calendars and in a Christmas display. After noting the importance of context and the absence of denominational preference, the court upheld the policy:

“Christmas and Chanukah are celebrated as cultural and national holidays as well as religious ones, and there is simply no constitutional doctrine which would forbid school children from sharing in that celebration, provided that these celebrations do not constitute an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and are consistent with a school’s secular educational mission.”

There are numerous other Federal Court rulings permitting the celebration of Christmas in Public Schools and the Public Square. I am happy to report that in my town we have Christmas displays on public property and in neighboring cities there are nativity scenes in the public square.

So Christmas is a celebration of the birth of our Savior King. "Hark! The herald angels sing; glory to the newborn King!" This is the reason for the all of the conflict and contention when it comes to Christmas time. This is why so many fear a Nativity scene, a Christmas tree, or even a meek "Merry Christmas."

Who wants to be confronted with the idea that maybe they are ignoring the most significant event in human history? Who wants to be reminded that perhaps Jesus Christ really was (and is) a King?

And He's not just any king, but a king with a holy mission. "Amazing love, how can it be, that you my King would die for me?" Jesus was the Christ, the "Messiah," the "Anointed One." As the angel reported to the shepherds, "today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you". Jesus was a king who was born to die — not only to die, but to rise again and rule forever.

His death was to "redeem" us and to serve as "atonement" for us. Jesus came into the world so that the world, through Him, "might be saved." And on the third day after his death, our King, born in a stable, conquered even death so that we could live forever with Him.

When Christians truly celebrate Christmas, we celebrate not just a birthday, but the beginning of a sequence of events that would change the world forever. He was born, He lived, He died, He arose, and now He is preparing a place for all of those who would believe in Him. Just as sure as all of the other events took place, we who celebrate Christmas look forward to His return, and we will celebrate for all eternity.

Have a Merry Christmas and may God's light shine bright upon you, your family and our great nation in the coming year!

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