Traditionally, Christmas is a season of warmth and light. Even as the northern hemisphere reaches its darkest days, and the arctic blasts of January approach, the world sparkles with tinsel and smiles, and ubiquitous signs of universal good cheer.
At least, so it was in my youth, and so it has remained for the most part, though with each passing year the grinchly spirits of our cultural overlords manage to chip away at what their miserly hearts can only regard as a two thousand year old humbug.
Though sentimentalism is a sin, in the matter of keeping Christmas, I am entirely on the side of Dickens and Andy Williams. So long as we remember the “reason for the season,” it is a divine cup whose inebriating influence is a proof of overflowing grace.
As with any blessing, however, our appreciation for the gift of Christmas is deepened, and our possession of that gift better secured from spiritual theft, when we pause to contemplate the Giver and his intentions.
On that first Christmas, the shepherds were bathed in the “brightness of God” and beheld an angel of the Lord, who brought them “good tidings of great joy.” It was their privilege to hear the choirs of heaven praising the glory of God, and announcing a Savior who would bring “peace on earth” (Lk. 2:8-14).
Let the reader note, however, that the text attributes this message, joyous as it is, to “a multitude of the heavenly army.” It is, in fact, a song of war, and the Savior it hails, precious infant though he may yet be, has come to earth for no other reason than to make war.
On earth, Christ brings peace “to men of good will.” The earth, however, has long been under the sway of men notably lacking in that quality. From inns that simply had no room for their Redeemer, to the slaughter of Innocents born in proximity to their Savior, to the betrayal and execution of the Prince of Peace by his own subjects, the joy our Messiah offers his disciples has been accompanied by the sword of strife and suffering.
Nor did this conflict end with the death and resurrection of our King. “At Nicomedia,” the Roman Martyrology tells us, “many thousand martyrs . . . had assembled for divine service on our Lord’s Nativity.”
“When Emperor Diocletian ordered the doors of the church to be closed, fire to be kindled here and there, a vessel with incense to be put before the entrance, and a man to cry out that those who wished to escape from the fire should come out and burn incense to Jupiter, all with one voice answered that they preferred to die for Christ.”
“They were consumed in the fire, and thus merited to be born in heaven on the day on which Christ vouchsafed to be born on earth for the salvation of the world.”
The blessings of Christmas cheer are among the many fruits of a culture that, over the centuries, learned to pay homage to a Babe who is the bringer of Light. The Kingdom of Light over which he reigns, however, is “not of this world” (Jn. 18:36).
In this world, therefore, the “children of light” are never perfectly welcome (Lk. 16:8). What influence they have gained in two millennia has been purchased at the price of Christ’s blood, and that of the benevolently militant members of his mystical body, many of whom imitated their Head by choosing martyrdom over submission to earthly kingdoms of darkness.
Today our world is once more governed by those who, instead of wishing us a Merry Christmas, prefer to threaten us with a “winter of death.”
In charitable defiance, let us bid them good cheer anyhow, and lead by example. But let us not forget that true joy is found in taking our place in the ranks of an army whose mission here is a spiritual combat, whose glorious victory is guaranteed to those who stay true to their peaceful Prince.
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