The passage of angels
Christmas arrives this year in the wake of an unspeakable massacre of children. This should not ruin our holiday, but rather deepen our understanding of what we are celebrating. Christmas is for children. We celebrate the birth of a child, and adults share a silent night of communion with the eternally youthful spirit who lives at the center of our souls: little boys and girls who watch the experiences of our latter years pile up around them, like books in a library.
On many other days, we may find ourselves mourning lost innocence, but on Christmas we remember that it still lies within our reach, not lost but misplaced. The true point of no return lies in deeper shadows than most of us will ever visit. How many of us live in guilt and misery because we have forgotten the face we wore as children, and falsely convinced ourselves we can never wear it again? You can see that face again on Christmas, and you don’t even need a mirror. Just look upon the little ones at play around a Christmas tree, and see yourself beside them.
It’s a pity that we remember the names of our monsters, but too quickly forget the names of our heroes. The halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School were filled with blood and thunder, but they were also lit everywhere by the passage of angels. The world will always have a dreadful surplus of those who take life, but it is also filled with brave and loving folk who cherish and defend it, even at the cost of their own. Let us remember those like Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, the champions of the light, and resolve to recruit more members of that bright company. Christmas is the day for them to rally, by the sound of gentle bells and carols rather than martial trumpets.
Christians in these years face efforts to cleanse the last shreds of their faith from public observance of the holiday. This saddens and puzzles them, because they offered that faith as a gift, not a command, and they asked for nothing in return. The words “Merry Christmas!” carry no burden, and the recipient signs no contract by accepting them.
Over the years, there have been grumbles about the commercialization of Christmas, as a saint became Santa, a cheerfully indulgent grandpa with deep pockets and a sled that can shatter the space-time continuum. And now the Christmas tree has been assailed as an unacceptable religious symbol, even though one may search the artificial branches of many such trees without finding a single cross or tiny manger. But somewhere in even the most commercialized, secular exchange of gifts can be found an echo of the day’s true meaning, for on this day the greatest gift ever given was bestowed upon a human race that spent the next two millennia doubting they deserved it.
Look at the children opening their presents on Christmas morning. Do you see any doubt in their eyes? Of course not. We should all view the day with young eyes. There was no receipt attached to the first Christmas gift; it cannot be returned, it will never be taken back, and we were all judged worthy of it, long before our fathers met our mothers.
You don’t have to accept the divinity of this holiday to contemplate its meaning. Unconditional love, the celebration of life and hope, pure benevolence that asks nothing in return for what it bestows… a warm and pleasant night may be passed contemplating these wonders, without buying a single tiny grain of Christian faith. That is why “Merry Christmas” is a gift without price, given without demand. To say it, or hear it, any other way would be missing the point.
So here we are, on an evening when some believe the Author of the universe sent His son to become part of the story… to live, and die, for us. And look at us, all these years later, handing over brightly-wrapped bundles, eagerly anticipating the delight that will dance in the eyes of our loved ones when they are opened! Look at all these cynical, world-weary “grown-ups” growing young again! Look at human history, grown another few pages longer… written down by scribes with morbid obsessions, to be sure, but there is so much kindness and love scrawled in the margins.
If you read grim headlines and think the monsters are winning, I offer you Christmas in answer, as proof that they already lost. Rest easy and be merry, champions of the light, for we’ll have much work ahead of us before we gather again for our next victory celebration, one year from tonight.
Merry Christmas, everyone!