It was Christmas Eve, 1914, on the Western front when something strange began to happen. The British forces fighting in Ypres, Belgium began to hear singing. The German forces were stationed on the front lines were singing Christmas Carols, and decorating their trench with Christmas candles. These Carols were returned by the British, followed by greetings. This went on until both sides began to emerge from their trenches and greet one another, exchange gifts and play football matches in what became know as the Christmas truce, an unofficial cessation of hostilities between roughly 100,000 troops on Christmas day. All at once this singular event illustrates what Christmas truly means.
God With Us
What Christmas means, in its actual and religious meaning, is the appearance of divine good in the midst of human sin and fragility. “On earth peace, good will toward men” is not an injunction but a proclamation. The celebration of Christmas is inherently subversive to the powers of this world. Indeed, contained within the concept of Christmas cheer is a revolutionary claim. It is the assertion of joy in our world because of a shift that has happened in spiritual reality. There is no secular defense for such cheer. It is the idea that brotherhood, peace and joy exist in spite of evil because God has touched our world two thousand years ago wrapped in swaddling cloth and lying in a manger. If God is in our universe our universe has been sanctified by His touch. He has entered into our world, divided and enslaved by sin, and emerged triumphant. Goodness is rising. Why the celebration of brotherhood in the midst of slaughter? Why the assertion of beauty and levity in the midst of horror? What else does Christmas mean other than that men sent to slaughter out of mistrust and stupidity can perceive an underlying goodness both to one another and the world in the midst of it, and what else does this mean other than “Emmanuel, God with us?”
This is the basic problem with the attempts both at secularization and pluralization of Christmas. The attempt at secularization creates a holiday of peace without a basis for that peace. It is culture running on the fumes of a past Christendom. The secular want to keep the angels declaring peace and goodwill while muting the fact that these angels come declaring the birth of the Lord. How can we make the Christmas assertion that light has come into the world and conquered darkness, making all all men into brothers without a proper religiosity? This baseless celebration of a fictitious reality truly is a humbug. A similar issue follows on the more recent attempts to pluralize. On this model we speak of holidays in the sense of multiple winter holidays all of which are equally important. The holidays are plural and we honor all peoples through our pious celebration. The problem with this is two fold. 1. It also is a humbug, it creates a celebration of nothing. Multiple holidays (some contrived, some actual) all celebrating wildly different things creates a scenario in which the pluralist must either celebrate nothing, or else embrace contradictory assertions. However, in practice what he usually does is 2. Celebrate his own thing. Now instead of a concrete celebration of religious good he pats himself on the back for his tolerance. He is not respecting other traditions, he is respecting his own. He is worshiping at the alter of secular tolerance, elevating his liberal pluralism above other cultures as he asserts its superiority. Having done this he proceeds to celebrate a secularized Christmas, a westernized day of peace and goodwill carefully wiped clean of any mention of Palestinian Messiahs.