There was a time when I was convinced that Christmas couldn’t be celebrated without snow. In Northern Minnesota, there was snow.
It darkened at about four in the afternoon. Snow would be falling. Last minute shoppers, my mother among them, scurried about under the street lamps. The entire village of 800 was festive. “Merry Christmas” was heard in the streets and in the stores.
Santa came by on Christmas Eve while we were at my Aunt’s house. He never failed to appear. We always just missed him. Then, we would open the gifts. Then it was Midnight Mass.
It was magical.
AP Photo/The Muskegon Chronicle, Madelyn P. Hastings
My wife, Lynne, and I escaped Northern Minnesota to live for two years in San Antonio while I was in the Air Force. We then spent 40 years in Atlanta. Now we’re on a farm in Northeast Mississippi. Christmas followed us South - without the snow.
I am now of an age when, happily, snow doesn’t define the spirit of the season - family does. The music that is softly warming this room as I write, and the manger scene – now three of them – and the Baby. The Baby Jesus.
I have been amused lately by the Atheists who are spending huge amounts of money on billboards – one in Times Square – to assure us that this holiday season is not about the birth of Christ. It is, you see, about the winter solstice. Celebrations are still in order. The gift giving, the parties; they all can be enjoyed without the Jesus stuff. Then, the Atheists site public opinion polls suggesting that many enjoy the holiday season without religion.
If they believe that the message of Salvation should be settled by majority rule they are wrong. Jesus did not come to save the people. He came to save the person. The millions who come to the altar in churches across the world join a very large group of believers, but they do so one at a time.
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI gives Christmas Night Mass at St. Peter's Basilica on December 25, 2008 in Vatican City. In the fourth Christmas of his pontificate, Pope Benedict appealed for an end to all forms of child abuse. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Indeed, the Christian message remains. If you – just you – believe in your heart that Jesus was born of God to live among us and die for our sins then you will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Nowhere in our faith is your salvation contingent on your neighbor’s willingness to go along.
To be sure, there are those who think this entire idea is folly. That is their right. But why would anyone spend so much money trying to dissuade me from enjoying my faith. It seems very defensive. It’s as though they’re not entirely sure of their position unless they can find a significant number who will agree with them.
None of this happened in 1955 in Deer River, Minn. Oh, we knew there were non-believers among us. They didn’t seem to be filled with the same joy we shared. But they were always polite. And yes, they said Merry Christmas – if only to be polite.
In this season, as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, we say Merry Christmas to all the world. We do so in order to share our unbounded joy – if only to be polite.
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