Monday, December 18, 2006

Horse Sense: American Christmas

In some parts of the world, they don’t celebrate Christmas. The people in such places think they’ve done all they can, fasting and praying five times a day; and preparing for another pilgrimage to Mecca. They haven’t heard the Good News yet, but sometimes I think neither have all of us. Many countrymen never pause to think that celebrating Christmas, well, sort of means you’re Christian. We are forced to admit there are a lot of secular Christians around, who like the lights and enjoy the music, and sincerely appreciate the smiles and cheer, but who don’t necessarily infuse their personal observance with a religious signification. They haven’t heard the Good News any more than, say (as a commercial would put it), a caveman has. Mind you, I don’t wish to insult any particular caveman or any of your relatives. Indeed, as soon as they realize the auditory nerve is not in the ear but in the heart, most secular Christians will have heard, because at least they know the Story.
In our country, we celebrate Christ’s birthday. As surely as we celebrate the presidents’ birthdays, we celebrate His. As historical fact, and in memory of what He stood for. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln share their day in February, but Jesus has His own on the 25th of December, in the Year of our Lord, 2006 and forever. Moreover, His is the Season that surrounds this Day. Traditionally, between Thanksgiving and New Year, the American holiday period centers on Christmas and on the fact of Christ’s birth to a Virgin in a manger long ago.
The secular Christian knows that Christmas morning holds a special magic for every child. He also knows something of the sense of fulfillment we have as adults at Christmastime: peace and love at the hearth, joy and laughter around a Christmas tree; the feeling of warmth and safety indoors, and the crisp air and freshness outdoor as the world begins anew. All of this is pretty good news by itself, and Christmas blesses all mankind regardless of religious views. But the Good News that crowns the Season and gives the most meaning to a star or angel on top the tree, is the message God sent with His Son. The miraculous circumstance of His birth demonstrated to the world a new reality, hitherto unknown—life beyond material confines, a spiritual universe besides our own. The message was of hope, because now we could look beyond the mixed up present moment, beyond the harshness of conditions we had little control over. Jesus brought light and was the light to a benighted world. Prior to His birth, the world knew mysterious and mostly detached gods and only the desperate, temporal reality of daily struggle for survival. Jesus came to tell us, God knows who you are and loves you without measure—enough to die for the sake of the world’s notice, and for the sake of your eternal soul. God could of course erase existence, end it all at the door of death; but suddenly there it was, a way through in the form of a Baby. He chose instead to redeem your life, to make it perfect, to bring you back to an image of Himself. Through Jesus, He draws us out of the morass. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” (Ephesians 2:8). The message of Redemption starts at the cradle, and Life born at Christmas.
Today we live in a time that some say bodes the end. But don’t forget the message of the Babe is that all things start anew: the newness of the earth at the turning of seasons; the newness of days with each new dawn’s light; the newness of the future with the birth of every child. There’s no need to be so mopish! What’s done is done, and what is past is justified if only by the path we choose in forging ahead. The other thing to remember is that we are American, and this is our American Christmas, secular or otherwise. Our path as a nation is forged by what we choose, and since 1776 we have prided ourselves on being independent. Globalization does not have to change the fact, nor any amount of immigration, unless we succumb to a lack of will to live and to pass down the Story. We could of course trade independence for international standards of what it is we should do, which holidays to celebrate and how—whether to say Merry Christmas, or Happy “Whatever.” We could trade the strongest heritage of liberty in the history of the world for any number of lesser and unmanly patterns, for the watered-down European notions of freedom or civility sans character. We find that we can just as easily, however, reinforce the culture as well as our hope and optimism, by pledging allegiance to the flag and to the Lamb.
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he ran for U.S. Congress (TX-District 31) in the 2004 Republican Primary. Email:

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