“How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.”

— Samuel Johnson

One of the things I ponder as the year draws to a close is how often I write columns that make it seem that, if Americans simply elect Candidate X or adopt Policy Y, we will automatically solve the serious problems which ail us.

Politics remains as it ever was, the art of the possible, not the science of achieving perfection, and I’m certainly not alone in inflating its powers. But circumstances (or calendar pages) do haul me up short.

Life is far more than politics, but politics and much else in our public life has seemed to grow more coarse in recent years — and not all of that feeling is subjective. It’s a small thing, but it seems odd that the Christmas season effectively opens with a nationwide holiday called “Black Friday.”

The name itself has no sinister meaning, being only a term used by merchants to describe the day after Thanksgiving, when some businesses see their sales receipts flip over from “red ink” to “black.”

Yet with the news dominated by Christmas stories entirely about commerce (and occasional fights over goodies, with one shopper this year using pepper spray to keep other shoppers at bay), what used to be thought of as a season of light has taken on more than a tinge of shadow.

If that is the case, we have no one but ourselves to blame. No one made us turn away from the central message of the holiday to focus on its ephemeral qualities, but we have listened to those who wanted to push us in that direction, even though other people appear willing to push back.

Nevertheless, it is unspeakably sad that a holiday marking the birth of the Prince of Peace should come to be marred by what has been called “the War on Christmas.”

Real conflicts may not be many, but they always get played up, perhaps appearing more significant than they really are.

But they are not the point, either.

Christmas the public holiday isn’t Christmas the religious celebration, and it actually may be a good thing that the line between them is growing more distinct.

The getting-and-spending side of the commercial holiday, however, isn’t all bad. Wanting to bring other people pleasure by giving them unanticipated gifts is an expression of charity, after all.

Yes, there are other reasons gifts are given, but because some are seen as a duty or a chance to curry favor with recipients does not mean that those gifts that are genuinely given out of love are somehow diminished. They remain gifts of love, and the best ones, as always, come with no thought of repayment.

Which brings us to the point: We give gifts because we once got a gift that we did not deserve — had no hope of deserving, in truth — and yet the Giver gave us everything he had to give.

That is, he gave us himself, wholly and completely, without any thought of repayment, because repayment was and is impossible. We had, and continue to have, nothing to give in return that is remotely worthy of the Christmas Gift.

Once, we as a nation knew this, and the holy day we mark on Sunday reflected that in many ways.

Now, that central day comes all too often as an anticlimax, too little remarked and too often shrunken and pale in the aftermath of all the effort that has gone before. I read again with sad bemusement that many evangelical churches have canceled their Sunday services because the day is “too important to families.”

If there is a War on Christmas, it is a war we make on ourselves and our own best interests, and its paradox is that those who win the battle to subordinate the day to other priorities have lost the most.

The “losers,” conversely, remain in full possession of the prize.

That’s a truth that’s not universally accepted, of course. But millions here, and billions more abroad, have not forgotten what the day is due, and honor it appropriately — with worship.

They know that in a rough-hewn stable full of humble beasts, one who could never have a true earthly home created an eternal one for us.

As G.K Chesterton noted in his poem, “The House of Christmas”:

“To an open house in the evening

Home shall men come,

To an older place than Eden

And a taller town than Rome.

To the end of the way of the wandering star,

To the things that cannot be and that are,

To the place where God was homeless

And all men are at home.”

 

M.D. Harmon is a retired journalist and freelance writer. Email at [email protected]

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