The opinion reprinted below first appeared in The Citizen Christmas week, 1999.
In the year of our Lord 19 hundred and 99…
Many cultural commentators argue that the United States has entered the post-Christian era, and many applaud that transition as a desirable change in an increasingly multicultural society with diverse religious viewpoints.
Although the Republic somehow endured Christian prayer in public life and private, first in great universities and later in public schools, for nearly two centuries after the Founders crafted the First Amendment — with little apparent damage to our great institutions — many now see even the mention of Christian values as a grave threat to the very foundation of our Constitutional nation.
In the dizzying course of under four decades, we have seen a sea change in moral values and political response to a religion most of the Founders — including the oft-misquoted Mr. Jefferson — publicly and privately acknowledged as having formed the very underpinnings of Western civilization and the creation of the American nation.
We have come to a point in our national life in which the old values are reviled as “extremist,” the old virtues are labelled “bigoted,” and the old ways are scorned as “insensitive.”
Those acts which 40 years ago were not discussed in civilized gatherings are now asserted as basic human and Constitutional rights. The mention of “sin” elicits puzzled looks from those who proclaim that almost nothing is forbidden, most things are acceptable and unlimited “tolerance” is considered the crowning virtue of the late 20th Century.
And the unthinkable has been visited upon the prime unit of civilization: the Supreme Court of the state of Vermont has declared that homosexual “unions” must be accorded the same legal weight and rights as the multi-millennial institution of marriage between one man and one woman, one at a time.
Great denominations are debating the sanctity of such novel “marriages” and our great liberal voice to the north opines approvingly that church splits are inevitable.
Meanwhile, millions worry about the absence of two digits in computer system programming, and many more scurry about in the malls and streets accumulating materials to add to others’ already bounteous array.
The Founders would be aghast.
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil,” the prophet Isaiah cried out 2,600 years ago to a similarly values-challenged nation, “who put darkness for light, and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight.”
Just another nation. Just another year. Just another Christmas.
And yet through the din an ancient melody soars softly, a background, but insistent: “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant … O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”
They’ve prohibited the school Christmas plays, they’ve outlawed the city hall manger scenes, they’ve even changed Christmas cards into “holiday greeting” cards, but they haven’t figured out a way to erase public consciousness of Him, this quietly insistent Babe in the stable, with His outrageous claims on all of us: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
This same Babe, some 30 years later, attest ancient documents, made the most shockingly intolerant statement: “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
This gentle Babe defined what sin is. He still does. His standards are unchanged.
What is bad news for those who do not believe is good news — the Gospel — for those who choose to believe this gentle Babe.
This Word becomes a most intolerant dividing line between people. “Do you suppose I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided …. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother ….”
He impolitely insists on each person making an in-your-face, life-or-death choice: “But who do you say that I am?”
The good news answer, the right answer, the truthful answer, the eternal answer is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
American culture of the late 20th Century can’t erase it; the Supreme Court can’t annul it; the Constitution can’t stop this most un-multicultural and intolerant proclamation by the gentle Babe: “… Do not be afraid of those who would kill the body, and after that, have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say, fear Him.”
Christmas is about a Child who came to claim a Kingdom. The issue on that otherwise unremarkable night two millennia ago was this: Who’s in charge?
It was the issue in the Beginning. It is the issue in this year of our Lord, 19 hundred and 99.
Joyful and triumphant, come — let us adore Him, Christ our Lord.
(References — Isaiah 5:20-21; Adeste Fideles; John 1:14; John 8:23; Luke 12:51-53; Matthew 16:15-16; Luke 12:4-5.)
[Cal Beverly is editor and publisher of The Citizen.]