Obama and the meaning of Christmas – and some advice for Christmas sermons

You have to wait until minute 13 of this 18 minute video to hear it, but President Barack Obama, in a Dec. 21 visit to the Washington D.C. Boys and Girls Club, does a little evangelizing about the “reason we celebrate Christmas” after reading the Polar Express to the kids and listening to a litany of multimedia acronyms on their wish lists. He does a good job, and when one child talks about giving gifts instead of just receiving them, Obama delivers a little Three Wise Men theology. Anyone who still clings to the “he’s a Muslim in hiding” conspiracy theory would do well to check it out.

I love Christmas, and it isn’t because of the presents. It’s because of the story. (GodBlogging warning: If you’re not into Christmas, are a non-believer, or just Grinch, stop reading here.) Christmas is the theology of God loving us, nothing else. We didn’t (we don’t) have to do anything except accept that love and grace and love back. It is very hard to describe. I mean, I could tell you the story, connecting the verses in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, bringing the annunciation of Gabriel and the tax-registration in the City of David and the shepherds and the wise men and Joseph’s dream and the manger birth and the Wise Men’s visit as done in popular media, but I cannot express what happens deep within me when hearing the Biblical recitation or when setting up my family’s Nativity scene.

So, I offer you this article about having a Merry Christmas and, for clergy who might be wondering how they can make their Christmas eve and Christmas day sermons great, you could do far worse that take a page from this guy’s message.

In other news, the Vatican’s official paper gave props to The Simpsons on Tuesday, according to this report in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. I love it when the Catholic Church does something like this because it throws people off. I have never liked Homer and the gang because the show seems overly crude most of the time and the kids are ridiculously disrespectful to their parents. But I’ve only watched a handful of shows, so I am not seeing what many fans see and, especially, I’m not seeing what the Vatican did, which is the possibility of a “Simpsonian theology.” Still, cool to see that someone in Rome pays attention.

From Philly.com comes this trenchant piece by Christine M. Flowers about her irritation over non-believers’ irritation over Christmas. (Two of the best lines: “Call them atheists, agnostics or seculars. They quarrel among themselves about terminology, trying to find paper-thin layers of distinction in their godless philosophies.”) She argues that nonbelievers hate Christmas because “it reflects a joyous celebration of the divine that society, for all of its materialism and flaws, is unwilling to abandon. They hate the fact that so many are willing to give God (or Yahweh, or Allah, or Buddha) the benefit of the doubt.”

This is something that bugs me as well. O.K., so you don’t believe – then don’t celebrate Christmas. But don’t sit there and try to claim that this is a secular holiday, because it is not. It is the anniversary of Jesus’ birth, something that, if it were a mere hallucination, would have faded out a thousand years ago or so. Yes, marketers will take advantage of any holiday they can get their hands on and we stupid humans will buy into it (no pun intended). But that doesn’t negate the fact that the reason this whole thing started was to mark Jesus’ birth. Yes, I know it was moved out of what was probably a spring celebration into the deep of winter to merge and/or convert Pagans with their winter feasts of light, but that doesn’t negate the fact that there was an original annual marking of the birth of Christ by the early Christians.

On the other hand, for those who might be wondering about the “faithless”, here’s a very interesting audio from NPR from the author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.


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