The Light of Christmas
By Christopher S. Brownwell
One of my favorite Christmas movies is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. My favorite line in the movie comes when Eddie surprises Clark after they arrived in time to see Clark finally successful in getting the lights on his house to work.
Eddie asked Clark “You surprised?” Clark responded “Surprised, Eddie?… If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.”
While watching this Christmas movie this year, however, I discovered a pernicious lie about Christmas. Near the end Clark reflected on seeing a light in the neighborhood. “It’s the Christmas Star, and that’s all that matters tonight. Not bonuses or gifts, or turkeys or trees. See kids, it means something different to everybody. Now I know what it means to me.”
This feel-good, post-modern, existential, pluralistic comment doesn’t enhance the meaning of Christmas. Rather, it attempts to destroy it. You see, kids, if Christmas means something different to everyone, Christmas has no meaning at all.
To Griswold, the true meaning of Christmas was to bless his family with a pool. To Frank Shirley, it was to cancel Christmas bonuses and give out one-year subscriptions to the Jelly of the Month Club. To Margo and Todd it was to avoid things that are dirty and messy and corny and clichéd. But these different meanings ultimately clashed.
Post-modernism doesn’t believe in a fixed, absolute truth. Everyone defines his own “truth.” Existentialism is about defining your own meaning of life through your own personal experiences. Pluralism has devolved into a personal philosophy comfortable with believing in contradictory truth claims.
Despite Griswold’s post-modern, pluralistic, existential philosophy, Christmas has a fixed meaning. The message has been the same for 2000 years. That message is that Light has come into the world to make a way for us to escape the darkness.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved darkness rather than light because their works are evil.” John 3:19. “Remember, therefore, from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5.
Light brings knowledge. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” II Corinthians 4:6.
America has always been a conduit for that Light to shine. In 1630, the Pilgrims’ pastor, John Winthrop, encouraged his congregation in the New World that the establishment of their colony would be a city on a hill if they obeyed God. “[F]or wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our God in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us; wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of God and all professours for Gods sake….”
The concept of a “City on a Hill,” from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, was that all can see the city. It is exposed. While exposed, those in the surrounding valley would be guided by its light to a place of safety. But, what was the source of this light to be passed down from one generation of Americans to another?
Our Founding Fathers knew.
George Washington in his Farewell Address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”
John Adams in his letter to Zabdiel Adams, 21 June 1776: “Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.”
Benjamin Rush in an essay: “The only foundation for…a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”
That message handed down from our Founders is that the Christian faith, which carried the belief in the Light, was indispensible for liberty to exist. Light had come into the world that first Christmas morn in the form of Jesus. It is the Light of Christmas that shines from our City on a Hill.
Some, however, want to extinguish that Light because they prefer the darkness. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which is not about the military, religion or freedom, and other angry atheists have stepped up their efforts to darken the Light of Christmas. Groups like the MRFF swoop onto a military installation with supposed complaints from anonymous service members to get Nativity scenes removed from Shaw Air Force Base and Guantanamo. Brave warriors, trained to fight despite fear, then cower at MRFF’s demands and remove the offensive Light without a fight. This type of cowardice goes on throughout our country where public schools remove “Christ the Savior” from “Silent Night” or a Christmas tree from school grounds.
What turns brave men into moral cowards? Atheism is not to blame. The philosophy that has been the most successful in hiding the Light of Christmas is the philosophy of Clark W. Griswold. The reason why there is a war on Christmas and that atheists are winning is because the vast majority of the rest of the country believes just like Clark Griswold, that Christmas means something different to everyone.
The War on Christmas isn’t so much a War on Christmas as much as it is a war on Christ. There is a war on a specific meaning of Christmas.
You see, kids, if we can define our own meaning of the Star of Christmas, we don’t have to worry about the consequences of sin. We get to choose our own morality. We can define our “own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
So, capitulating to the noisy atheists at Christmas is easier and more desirable than to stand for the Light. By doing so, many have dealt falsely with God, as Winthrop warned against.
People love darkness rather than Light. We, as a nation, have no moral clarity because too many of us are thinking in the dark. Our moral cowardice as a nation is showing in areas like our acceptance of same-sex “marriage,” in our fondness for sexual promiscuity, in our idolatry of sports, sex and alcohol, in our divorce rate.
The light is going out in our churches because we have rejected the Light of Christmas. As the light goes out in our churches because of moral cowardice in their members, our nation’s lampstand will be removed. No one has the power to extinguish the Light, but there is One who can remove it.
The philosophy of Griswold is wrong. The ultimate meaning of Christmas must mean the same thing to everyone. That Light is the only source for our liberty. If we don’t recognize the true meaning of Christmas, the Light will go out of our nation and we will lose our City on a Hill.