Luke 2:11 (KJV)
I’m old enough to remember when Christmas was Christmas. When I was little, everyone went downtown to shop. No malls for us. Most people had never even heard of a shopping mall. In December, stores stayed open late on Friday nights, and only on Friday nights. Waiting until after supper meant you risked not finding a parking spot. Christmas lights stretched across Main Street from light post to light post. If you’re much younger than I am, you’ve probably only seen this kind street decoration in “A Christmas Story.” You know, the movie about the kid wanting a Red Rider BB gun? Our downtown was a lot like that. Hard to imagine when looking at Main Street today with its empty storefronts. No one goes downtown anymore. And elaborate Christmas lights? They’re too expensive to install and maintain. Some fake green garland wrapped around a light post with a wreath atop and a banner that says “Happy Holidays.” That’s all.
When I was a kid, The Salvation Army Band played Christmas carols on downtown street corners, and school and church choirs performed in the town square. And yes, they sang about Christ. A tall Christmas tree stood in the center of the square strung with big, multicolored light bulbs, the kind where the whole string goes dark when one light burns out. Sometimes, the fire department willingly sent a crew in a ladder truck to help change a bulb on an upper branch. No problem. No charge. An empty stable with an empty manger stood in front of the tree, and the week before Christmas, folks from the local churches put on a living nativity complete with real animals, a real Baby Jesus and a chorus of angels. The angels sang “Away in a Manger,” and when they sang about Jesus, no one protested. Not so in the town square today. When a Christian church wanted to set up a small nativity display, it caused a public debate. They finally got permission. Then, the Unitarian church worried that not all world religions were represented, so they put up a “peace obelisk.” No problem until a question was raised about whether or not the nativity scene and the obelisk were erected in the right spots according to proper city procedures. (Read about it here.) Atheist groups chimed in that Christmas doesn’t need Christ or God anyhow. (Here’s some of what they had to say.) And Jesus, the One they call “Christ?” He’s staying out of it — for now.
Today, when someone wishes me “Happy Holidays,” I reply with a hearty “Merry Christmas!” I do it because I remember downtown, and the Salvation Army Band, and choirs and the merry spirit that dwelt within us then, the spirit of CHRIST. There, I’ve said it – that offensive word. And I’ll say it again and again: ”Merry, Merry Christmas!”