The joyous Christmas season has become increasingly secular, religious, and fragmented, helping make the most wonderful time of the year perhaps also the most manipulative. We celebrate, and that is good, even healing. And given the hectic pace of life in America, there is much to admire in our ability to rise to the occasion of Christmas festivity every December.
But on a deeper level, the awe and cheer that attend a Holy Night and a Christmas Day seem more than ever to rest upon cultural understandings weak and eroding. Consider how fact today is alienated from meaning, “faith” from life, spirit from matter, and wonder from the real things of life in a searching, troubled world. The optimism of a new beginning in a New Year fades when we lose touch with secure points of reference by which to measure hope and find comfort in progress. Power elites employ malleable symbols of religion and politics to manipulate money and masses towards results that overturn the original content of words and action rooted in history.
There is a remedy for this, and it is found in the humane and concrete realities of the events that started it all some 2,000 years ago. What follows is a kind of Christmas and New Year’s debriefing related to information given in Luke 2, where familiar but revolutionary words await: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).
What Luke gives us is part of a narrative that has comforted many millions of people around the world and throughout history. And yet, in this passage is no mere comfort. For in it is a cosmos of light and humanity that challenges settled expectations about what many regard as normal life in enlightened society.
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