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Memories of past childhood Christmases are warm, precious memories. In those long past times, life was a great deal simpler. My preacher dad, my younger brother and I would head for the Ozark forests to find the perfect pine tree to serve as our Christmas tree.
Our tree stand was a bucket of sand and dirt. We almost always had to carefully wire a few extra pine branches onto the tree to fill in the bare spots. My favorite part of decorating the tree was placing on the tree those long-forgotten thin strips of tinfoil that served as icicles.
When Christmas morning arrived, we knew the gifts under the tree would be somewhat few in number. We were poor in financial riches and the accumulation of lots of material possessions.
But we were blessed with lots of love and an understanding of the true meaning of the season we were celebrating.
Before a single gift could be opened, and this was true every single Christmas of my formative years, we paused to have one of us, Dad, Mom or, if old enough, myself or my brother, read the account in the Gospel of Luke of the birth of Jesus.
Next, one of us offered up a prayer of thanks for this marvelous gift of God’s great love. Then in that spirit, we shared our gifts with each other.
Times have changed and, unfortunately, to a great degree, the celebration of Christmas has changed.
Today, even those who call themselves Christians have chosen to join in the orgy of unbridled spending — the stampede to the retail stores to purchase as much as their credit cards will allow and then some.
Whatever happened to Advent calendars that daily keep us mindful of the meaning of this most special time of year? Are we just too busy for such simple reminders in our family life while “getting ready for Christmas”?
There is a war on Christmas, but on another level. Jesus came to be, as one small child once described the baby Jesus, “Love with skin on it.”
John Pavlovitz recently pinned the following, “Christmas is a child of Palestinian parents fleeing politically ordered genocide. Christmas is a dark-skinned refugee, born amid the smell of damp straw and animal dung, because no human-worthy welcome could be found. Christmas is a poor itinerant, street-preaching Jewish rabbi, living off the generosity of those around him. Christmas is a compassionate caregiver, feeding and clothing, healing whoever crossed his path.”
Pavlovitz further writes, “And this Christmas is now hiding in plain sight among the least of these.” It is the transgender teen seeking to be understood and loved. It is a Hispanic father of three seeking, in fear, refuge in a sanctuary church. It is a homeless vet starving and freezing on the steps of a megachurch. It is a gravely ill infant whose parents have exhausted all their resources to keep their child alive.
You see, Christmas is antithetical to an arrogant sense of white privilege and white supremacy. It is totally incompatible with a dogged sense of nationalism. Christ being kept in Christmas is counter to a ravenous, greedy form of capitalism. Keeping Christ in Christmas is diametrically the opposite to closed borders and building walls and the heartless, callous and myopic obsession with the “America First” hubris.
Yes, Christmas and its true meaning and spirit are under attack. But they are under attack by many who profess to be followers of Jesus.
Sometimes my emotions related to Christmas are best expressed in the poem by Longfellow, later put to music as the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”: “And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”
But in Longfellow’s more positive tone, I choose to embrace his hope, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”
Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.