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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Merry Myth-mas

I wrote this several years ago. Unfortunately, little has changed.
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At first, I didn't notice the difference. But that's not unusual. I miss a lot of
things right under my nose. Like the Christmas poinsettia my wife set in the
middle of our dining room table. It took two days before it finally caught my
eye.

So, when Nancy said, "have you noticed how rarely you see the words, "Merry Christmas" any more?" I shrugged and went back to my newspaper. I'd been too busy juggling responsibilities at work, at home and with my aging out-of-state parents to pay much attention to anything else. Even Christmas.

Two days later, a commentator on National Public Radio (NPR) voiced a similar observation; Then I read an essay by columnist Don Feder.

"Christmas," Feder observed, "is being rapidly replaced with a generic holiday that, by coincidence, comes around December 25. "Merry Christmas" has been generally discarded in favor of "happy holiday." Stores have holiday sales. Schools have a winter recess . . . The "C" word is conspicuous by its absence.

But it wasn't until an email dropped into my inbox from a cyberspace acquaintance that I began to stir. We belong to the same email community and she wanted us to know her son had come up with a great label for Christmas.

"Mythmas." Then she added, "I love it."

I might be slow to notice poinsettias on the dining room table, but I can recognize a spotlight when I see it. Why has the "C" word has fallen on hard times? Why do some people label December 25th as "winter-holiday" and prefer "Mythmas" to "Christmas"?

Perhaps it's the roots of Christmas.

Christmas is rooted in the miraculous. Six hundred years before Jesus' birth, the Jewish prophet Isaiah wrote: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son" (Isaiah 7:14). Two chapters later he added, "and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). For those who don't believe in miracles and God-inspired prophecy, the virgin birth of Jesus is simply a
fairy tale.

Christmas is rooted in the record of Deity living among us and, through the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist, has remained uniquely with us ever since. When we lie down, He is there. When we stand, He is beside us. When we are lonely or troubled -- God is with us. For people who scoff at the idea that God became Man, Christmas must seem like nonsense. Maybe even blasphemy.

Christmas is rooted in God's inexplicable love for us. His Christmas gift, wrapped in strips of cloth in a Bethlehem stable, offered us eternal forgiveness because the Babe in the manger would, as an adult, take the punishment God required for our sins. And in so doing, God assured complete pardon for everyone who repents and calls on Christ as their savior. For people accustomed to earning love from a parent or spouse, belief that God loves them, despite their sins, is probably more like a child's fantasy than an adult reality.

Christmas is rooted in God's immeasurable grace. Many of us might not admit it out loud, but we think we deserve a pat on the back from God. We're good to our neighbors. We support charities, take care of the earth, protect whales, coyotes and other animals. And, if front-page headlines are any indication, we're a lot better than most people.

But God tells us we're not good enough. Nor could we ever be. He set the bar at absolute holiness, and we will never reach His standard on our own. Christmas reminds us God personally intervened in human affairs to bridge the unbridgeable gap between our weakness and His strength, our sins and His holiness. Those who believe they don't need help to gain God's favor might think Christmas is a story for the weak.

Long before the first Christmas, God said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8,9).

Christmas will remain a myth, a day to call by any other name, for those who reject the Bethlehem story of God who became Man, of God who loves the unlovely, rescues the lost and walks with the penitent. But for those whose hearts look toward God, trusting Him for forgiveness and rescue from sin's penalty, Christmas is more than historical fact. It is nothing less than miraculous.

Merry Christmas.

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