Is All Right
me, here I am a Lutheran pastor, and I hadn’t realized that
the liberals had stolen Christmas from the Christians!
Now that’s pretty dense of me, isn’t it?
I mean, I’ve been waltzing cluelessly through the last few
weeks thinking if I had to hear one more schmaltzy version
of “The Little Drummer Boy” or “O Holy Night,” I’d go nuts.
Or Paul McCartney’s “Sim-ply Hav-ing a Wonderful-Christmas-Time.”
Or Kenny G sounding all dewy and Sensitive—capital “S” essential.
Or, God help us:
got run over by a reindeer
Driving back from our house Christmas Eve.
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and Grandpa we believe
been wondering why I haven’t heard Adam Sandler and the Hanukkah
song—the original one where he says “so put on your yarmulke
and smoke your marijuanica,” which is sadly missing from his
And the other day I heard a song by some earnest-sounding
girl assuring us that God blesses the USA at Christmas.
Well, good. Because if I believed in a God of retribution,
I’d be pretty worried about the rest of the year.
Anyway, I had been going along, wondering why it seemed that
this year in particular so many radio stations seemed to have
gone to “All-Christmas, All-the-Time” when I heard the news:
Christians were being oppressed. The godless, liberal left
had stolen Christ and wouldn’t tell the Christian nation where
to find him.
Oh, dear, I thought, this isn’t good news at all. You don’t
want an empty manger in the town square crèche.
And on top of that, I hadn’t even noticed this hoodwinking
that had been going on.
For example, the Plano, Texas, school district apparently
has a ban against red and green decorations. And the White
House—um—Christmas card, says, “Best wishes for a holiday
season of hope and happiness.”
You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry. You’d better
not pout, I’m telling you why.
I had been vaguely aware of the whole Wal-Mart flapdoodle
over saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
And when I saw a fire department sign today that said “Happy
Holidays and Merry Christmas” it finally dawned on
me that this was an offering of good will designed to show
that we really needn’t quarrel over this.
But see—and forgive me if I’m slow—these Christians so convinced
Christmas has been hoodwinked have apparently forgotten that
it is not Christmas.
It’s not Christmas.
All those Christians indignant about taking note of other
holidays appear to have forgotten not simply a holiday, but
an entire season of their own. If we want to go all
sectarian about these weeks of December, it’s Advent,
for crying out loud, not Christmas. Advent right straight
up until sundown on Dec. 24.
Advent used to be considered a “closed season” in the church
year. You couldn’t get married during Advent. You couldn’t
get your baby baptized. That’s because these are bright, festive
events and Advent, like Lent, was supposed to be a period
of internal meditation and reflection.
Christians up in arms because Target doesn’t use the word
Christmas in their advertising seem to have forgotten that
whining and finger-pointing are not consistent with the spirit
of internal self-examination that characterizes Advent.
But whatever. Because when it comes right down to it, this
is not a battle I want to fight—the Christian versus Christian
To do that violates my own sense of what this time of year—these
weeks of deep, cold darkness—are supposed to be like.
They’re not about drawing lines demarcating “us” from “them.”
Instead, these weeks level us: We are all cold, we are all
in the same darkness. We are all trying to find the light
that gives us cause for celebration.
So some of the most mundane or clichéd things we do during
these weeks strike me as nearly holy activity.
I think of parties as a holy activity. Maybe not the de rigueur
office bash, but the small ones given by friends where people
who rarely get a chance to talk gather in a circle of light
in someone’s house and eat and drink and share the warmth
of goodwill—goodwill that is lacking so much of the time in
I think of picking out presents and wrapping gifts as holy
activities. Someone has thought about what thing, what
tangible something-or-other will delight your senses. Then
they have taken the time to fold and cut and tape and tie
so that the pleasure of the present is hidden within the joy
of bright papers and shining ribbons.
Writing holiday cards—and receiving them—is, for me, holy
activity. Yeah, I know, there are those annual letters and
you always get a few cards from people you know don’t really
like you. And I know it can be a real pain in the neck, in
the midst of all the other stuff you have to do to write out
the cards. Which is why it means so much when you do it.
And as much as pastors joke about the C & E-ers—the Christmas
and Easter tourists who make their biannual stops in at their
local congregation for the pretty services—I love to see the
candlelit sanctuary of the church I serve brimming with people
on Christmas Eve. They have left their homes and come out
into the dark, cold night not out of any sense of dogmatic
belief but because there is something irrationally compelling
about the idea that in the dead, cold darkness, some bright,
divine presence is promised.
And indeed, it is there, that bright, divine presence.
Not in the crèche; the crèche is only pretend, after all.
But the light in each others’ eyes is real. And the candles
we hold in our hands gleam. Darkness is broken. All we can
ever know—maybe it’s all we really need to know—about God
is right there in each other’s shining eyes.