The Pew Research Center recently 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 American 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 strongly Kentuckians felt about Christmas when he dubbed what was 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 shelves.
The battle over Christmas displays and terminology pales in comparison to the inordinate amount of evil that seems to rear its ugly head this time of year. Just last week, Taliban terrorists attacked a Pakistani school and killed 148. Most were 12-15 year old students. It was the Sandy Hook massacre times seven, and now reopened the wound of Newtown, Connecticut parents still struggling with their grief this time of year. Horrible tragedies have made headlines in recent days: Two New York City police officers gunned down; 16-hour hostage standoff in Sydney leaves two dead; Ex-marine kills 6 family members in Philly suburb. Such news of violence and death starkly contrast with the words of the Angel who brought good news to the shepherds—news 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 an oppressive tyrant. That a maniac-for-a-king named Herod slaughtered all the Jewish boys two years and younger because he feared one would grow up someday to take his place. We forget that evil is integral to the story of Christmas. The Christ child didn’t just stay in the manger. He confronted injustice, dispelled darkness and delivered us from evil by his first coming. In return, mankind treated Him like an unwanted present and perpetrated one of the greatest evils by crucifying their Savior. The sinless, perfect and compassionate one, killed by those he came to save. 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 earlier this month 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 own life in the struggle. The Christmas story strikes some similar chords. A pregnant and vulnerable Mary gave of herself in order to give birth to a Son who would deliver us from chains of sin and evil. It’s a story of God’s greatest gift to us. May we treasure that good news today—news of the Christmas story that most Americans say they believe.
This appeared in the December 23, 2014 edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader.