I had just seen my first of the usual flurry of articles about the “War on Christmas!” when it came to me. Suddenly, in my 52nd year on the planet, my 17th in active ministry in the United Methodist church, I realized something that should have been obvious all along: There are TWO Christmases.
One is a commemoration of the birth of Jesus, the one we who call ourselves Christians believe was an incarnation of the Divine — God’s son. The church long ago designated the 25th of December as the Christ-mass, the day we would set aside to remember his birth. Well, most of the church picked this date — some picked a date 12 days later, one the Western church now calls “Epiphany,” the day the Magi found and honored the newborn child (hence the 12 days of Christmas).
As a person of faith I love this Christmas, this moment to wonder at the mystery of the incarnation, the birth of the one I know as Emmanuel — “God with us” — a light that shines in the darkness that no darkness can overcome. I take great comfort in the familiar songs and other traditions of the day that celebrates God’s gift of grace and hope. But I can’t deny that there is another celebration going on as I honor the “Christ-Mass” of my faith.
This other celebration is, in a lot of ways, older. It came from among my deep ancestors in northern Europe. It was a celebration of light in the midst of darkness, of life that endures even in the iciest cold. It was an expression of hope that the cycle of life would soon turn and spring would come again.
I love this celebration too! I love its symbols — its lights and candles, evergreens and holly. I love its stories of elves and flying reindeer. I love the traditions of homecoming trips and family gatherings and letters to those far away that brighten the darkest of days and remind me that warmth and life carry on. I guess that’s why I’ve never been able to take up arms in the war on Christmas — I can’t choose a side.
And frankly, I don’t see the need. Because at the end of the day, both celebrations (and many of the others that mark this time of year) are products of the same impulse.
My favorite TV show, “Doctor Who” perhaps summed it up best. In a Christmas episode written by Steven Moffat the opening narration says “… wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs. As if to say, ‘Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.’ ”
Whatever we may call this season, that is the message I pray it brings you. Light will overcome darkness. Life will endure. Love and hope will ultimately win out. Merry Christmas!