Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center reported that nearly three-quarters of Americans are OK with religious displays on public property. Apparently, America still has room at the Inn, or at least the public square for baby Jesus and a nativity scene. Only 20 percent according to the survey say that such displays should never be permitted. Must be Grinches, all of them.
Pew also found that most Americans believe in the literal Biblical story of the virgin birth, the magi and angel’s announcement to the shepherds. Altogether, 65 percent of adults believe the Christmas story is true. Interesting numbers in light of the trend toward a secularization that finds some sensitive souls wince at the mere mention of “Merry Christmas.” And we’ve had our share of political correctness in the Bluegrass. Just two years into his first term, Gov. Beshear discovered how strong Kentuckians felt about Christmas when he dubbed what was formerly known as the state Christmas tree, a Holiday tree. Bah Humbug, Kentuckians replied. And the governor retracted the verbiage as quickly as a defective toy is pulled from Walmart's shelves.
The linguistic battle over Christmas terminology pales in comparison to the inordinate amount of evil that seems to rear its ugly head this time of year. Two years ago this week the news brought pictures of horror into our living rooms when 20 first graders were mowed down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. The news hasn’t gotten much better. Two days ago in Pakistan, Taliban terrorists attacked a school and killed 145 mostly students. A 16-hour hostage standoff at a cafe in Sydney, Australia left two dead. And an estranged Marine in Pennsylvania killed his ex-wife and five family members before authorities found him dead Tuesday by self-inflicted wounds. The latest news of violence and death starkly contrast with the words of the Angel who brought good news to the shepherds that was supposed to bring great joy to all the people.
So where’s the joy in the midst of such pain and evil? We forget that part of the Christmas story is that Israel was occupied by a foreign power and that there was a half-crazed king who slaughtered babies and toddlers because he feared one would grow up someday to take his place. We forget that the story of Christmas is the story of a Savior who confronts evil. Jesus didn’t just stay in the manger. The God-man, perfectly innocent, eventually had the greatest evil perpetrated against him as he was killed. We’d rather insulate ourselves from such thoughts—both past and present. Yet if we are honest with ourselves we cannot.
The manager of a Sydney café could not insulate himself either when a terrorist threatened several others including a pregnant friend of his. Tori Johnson attempted to wrestle the gun away from the terrorist but ended up losing his life in the struggle. The Christmas story is not dissimilar. It's one of sacrifice. Mary gave of herself in order to give birth to a Son who would deliver us from darkness and evil. We need good news today—news of the Christmas story that most Americans say they believe. We just need to start believing it and embracing God’s gift to us. Only then will peace on earth be possible.