December 20, 2011

The Reason for Christmas Lives!

by Donald G. Mashburn

The Reason for Christmas lives, in spite of what man can do to hinder those who want to celebrate His coming at Christmas time and spread, practice, and sing “Joy to the World.”

It gets more difficult, however, for some parts of the world to experience the joy and peace that Christmas represents. Where children once were allowed to enjoy Christmas in the special ways known only to children, in special places we call schools, the fight has intensified to mute their joyful voices.

Just a few years ago, no one could have imagined that the forces that oppose allowing religious music in public schools would receive powerful support for their efforts in October of last year from the U.S. Supreme Court. Or that the High Court would refuse to hear an appeal of a 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that banned religious holiday music in the School District of Orange and Maplewood, Maplewood, NJ.

The ruling by the High Court was greeted with enthusiasm by all those who not only want to ban hymns like “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World,” but would also like to ban the mention of the name of Christ in prayer, hymns, and other songs. Some zealots want to even ban the printing of the names of Jesus or Christ on signs, banners and placards on public property.

So, in some schools here in this Land Of the Free, Christmas carols, if they are also religious songs, will remain off the program at holiday school concerts.

The 3rd Circuit ruling, according to some legal authorities, will probably apply only to Pennsylvania and New Jersey. However, some parents and other observers are worried that the high court’s rejection of the case could lead to a countrywide chilling effect on religious music in school districts.

Attorney Robert J. Muise of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said of the 3rd Circuit ruling, “There’s nothing more, short of the school district changing its policy. There’s no other legal avenue to take.” He added, “Religion has not been banned totally in schools but we’re headed in that direction,” he said, adding, “The South Orange-Maplewood Schools are in the forefront of taking that step.”

The anti-Christmas, Anti-Christian battles have intensified over recent years. Previous targets included North Bergen, New Jersey, where the American Atheists posted a large billboard on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel, with the words: “You KNOW it’s a Myth,” and below, “This Season, Celebrate REASON.”

The sign mocking the Christmas holiday prompted the Catholic League of New York to counter with its own sign on the New York side of the Lincoln Tunnel, with the words: “You Know it’s Real! This Season, Celebrate Jesus.”

The atheists’ campaign against Christmas is one of the more confrontational efforts to remove or diminish Christ as the “Reason for the Season.” In recent times, some of the biggest retailers have tried their hand at political correctness at Christmas time, and later decided it was too expensive when their customers let them know they didn’t like it.

The “un-Christmas” crowd for a while drew the likes of Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and Target, who joined those trying to remove greetings such as “Merry Christmas” and other reminders of the Reason for Christmas by removing displays containing manger scenes and other traditional displays.

The retailers became not-so-merry merchants when they were “bah-ed and humbugged” by customers who didn’t like the stores’ avoidance of “Christmas” in their ads and store displays. They later saw the light and “Christmas” is now acceptable in many ads and displays.

However, the anti-Christ campaigns of groups like the American Atheists and the ACLU have cranked up the anti-Christmas war and are pouring money into the effort. And to the more intolerant, Nativity scenes in public places still bring knee-jerk reactions. Many public schools avoid traditional signs – even colors, in some cases – of Christmas.

The more politically correct still oppose words or works depicting or naming Christ in Christmas plays, students’ drawings, and banners. Even the innocent and primitive artwork of students in the lower grades is enough to bring on a case of the vapors for the anti-Christ-ers and their supporters. They and their allies have in some places hijacked the traditional Christmas season from children, and the hijackers have made the schools a favorite battleground because the courts have failed to uphold the freedoms of expressions in public schools.

Additionally, the commercial orgy that has distorted what Christmas used to mean to most of us has caused Christmas to lose its meaning for many. With the loud commercial clamor and glitter of selling the “stuff” of the Christmas season, it’s no wonder that in the minds of many children – and adults, sadly – the real meaning and substance of Christmas have become blurred.

It’s unfortunate that anti-Christmas groups like the ACLU, the National Education Association (NEA) and their ilk, in their efforts to ban any sign of Christ public places, have been allowed to make battlegrounds of our public schools. However, supporters of the Constitution and Christian groups like the Catholic League of New York and many evangelical Protestant groups are pushing back and speaking out.

As these pro-Christmas groups proclaim, the real substance of Christmas – the Christ of Christmas – is much more than a banner, tree, or manmade display. The real meaning of Christmas, and its story, is that Jesus Christ came from God to die on the cross to atone for our sins and the sins of the world.

Believers in God and His Christ also believe in a Constitutional right to the free exercise of their religion. Thus, they oppose anti-religious efforts to discriminate against them for exercising that right. They see anti-Christian discrimination in the actions of school administrators banning or prohibiting anything with Christian significance, while approving decisions to permit Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Islamic displays.

It’s natural that Christians do feel discriminated against when anti-Christian activists protest hearing or seeing any public display or mention of the name of Jesus. To them, it’s senseless to ban “Merry Christmas” from schools, when permitting it does not in any sense “establish” a church or religion.

Their feelings are not groundless. One school reportedly removed “Christmas” from its calendar so students would not be exposed to the “Christ” part of “Christmas.” There are numerous accounts of Christian hymns, such as “Silent Night,” putting some school administrators, and a few anti-Christian parents, into a tizzy.

To the political-correctness-above-all group, “Happy Holidays” fits the season of commercialism better than “Merry Christmas.” But Christmas is a time of special meaning, of lasting historical and spiritual importance. And only short years ago, Christmas had special meaning for us, and without apology or fear of opposition we celebrated the coming of the Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace, “Immanuel, … God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

If those who are cynical and intolerant of the Christ of Christmas were to take a close look at this Jesus who willingly suffered the agony and shame of the cross to atone for our sins, it would make us a better country, and a better world.

The Reason for Christmas is worthy of our worship and celebration. The empty tomb gave irrefutable and timeless testimony that He was who He said He was: the Son of God. Further, the empty tomb was evidence that God accepted His perfect sacrifice, and that He was worthy in God’s sight to be the Redeemer of imperfect mankind.

We need to remember that this historical, resurrected Christ does not live in the commercial tinsel and glitter of the secularized “Christmas Season.” He lives in the hearts of changed men, women, and children whose lives have been transformed by the teachings, life, death and resurrection of the babe born in a manger on that first Christmas night.

He has continued to divinely transform lives, from the first martyr, Stephen, and the martyred apostles, to those who stand for what’s right today. These changed lives attest to the divinity, power and real meaning of the Christ whose coming we celebrate on Christmas.

Christmas without Christ is empty. Against His life, death and resurrection, the worldly trappings of Christmas fade to nothing. If we see Christmas only as a time to acquire “stuff,” we rob ourselves of the real meaning of Christmas. The stuff acquired at Christmas, and in life, is of no lasting significance – a one-day garage sale will take care of most of it after we’re gone.

What is of eternal importance is the real meaning of Christmas: Christ came; He loved us enough to suffer and die for us; He arose from the grave, and that makes all the difference for believers, now and for eternity!

Christ truly is the Reason for Christmas. And, good news! He’s coming again!