I’ve never been happy with some of my activist friends who send out Christmas cards with messages like: May the Peace of Christ Disturb You! Can’t we have one day a year to be happy and celebrate without having our already unhappy selves shaken with more guilt? Isn’t Christmas a time when we can enjoy being children again? Moreover, as Karl Rahner once said, isn’t Christmas a time when God gives us permission to be happy? So why not?
There is a common, and I’ll admit somewhat understandable, interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy that sees the great work as a celebration of the virtues of the Shire, that little town where the hobbits dwell in quiet domesticity. Neat, tidy hobbit holes, filled with comfortable furniture, delicate tea settings, and cozy fireplaces are meant, this reading has it, to evoke the charms of a “merrie old England” that existed before the rise of modernity and capitalism. As I say, there is undoubtedly something to this, for Tolkien, along with C.S. Lewis and the other members of the Inklings group, did indeed have a strong distaste for the excesses of the modern world.
Deploring the commercialization, secularization and general thinning-out of the spiritual meaning of Christmas is part of the stock in trade of commentators on things religious, of whom your humble servant is one. Nor should we fail to mention those annual church-state battles in the season of good will over whether Nativity scenes should or shouldn’t be allowed on public property.
As they celebrated their first Christmas in America 150 years ago, our Little Sisters of the Poor in Baltimore noted that the donations received included “twelve turkeys, four ducks, sixteen chickens and so many other good things that we didn’t know what to do with it all!” They concluded, “In this country Christmas is like the feast of the poor!”
It all started with a lost birth certificate. The Holy Spirit was at work that day and hasn’t slowed down since.
Perhaps you’ve heard the extraordinary story of John Chau, the young Christian missionary who tried to bring the Gospel to North Sentinel Island, one of the most remote and isolated communities in the world, and who, for his trouble, was killed before he even got past the beach. His endeavor has inspired a whole range of reactions — outrage, puzzlement, sympathy, deep admiration — and has stirred up in many people, both religious and secular, questions about the missionary nature of Christianity.