Every year at Christmas the following lines from the Gospel of Luke are recited:
And there were in the same country shepherds watching and keeping the night watches over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them and the brightness of God shone round about them: and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people: For, this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger (Lk. 2:8-12).
In popular culture this wonderful passage has become associated with the Charlie Brown Christmas animation, which is the most overtly religious of the classic holiday specials. Even the ones about Rudolf and Santa Claus are enjoyable, but admittedly it is easy to be more attracted at times to the trappings of the season than the underlying meaning and purpose of Christmas.
It’s not that there is anything wrong with the feasting, gift-giving and good cheer. But it too must pass: the decorations eventually come down, the presents lose their novelty, people return to their grumpy demeanor and there are no more decorations to distract us from the winter cold and gloom. If Christmas were no more than a big party, I doubt it would be so profoundly treasured.
At the end of last year I wrote about Christmas past and present. Now I would like quote something from Thomas à Kempis that puts me in mind of “Christmas future,” or that perpetual festivity in which the best things we associate with the season never fade because they are founded on something deeper and permanent:
O ever-blessed palaces of the Heavenly City! O glorious day of eternity, on which night never throws its shadows, and whose perpetual light is the Sovereign Truth! O day of unending gladness, and of everlasting and unchanging security! (The Imitation of Christ, III.46).