Societal change is a funny thing. It is truly like the frog in the pot. If suddenly the government legalized murder, we, as dutiful frogs, would jump out of that pot and protest. But if one year we can abort babies coming out of the womb, and a decade or two later we can authorize a physician to assist an ailing elderly patient to end his or her life, and because these changes only affect a small segment of our population, we sit in the pot.
If you had told people in the 1970's that we will end up with 57 million aborted fetuses in the decades to come, they would have said, "Oh, you're just using scare tactics." If you had told people that counselors at Planned Parenthood someday would advise underage pregnant girls with older boyfriends to get an abortion, rather than report the fathers to the state under child abuse allegations, they would have said, "No way. Abortion is for consenting adults who are not ready for children, or for adult women to have the right to choose."
Now, people look at where we are in all of this, and say, "How did we get to this?"
It's been a slow-societal boil.
Many other pots are currently on the stove, but in this Christmas season, I would like to focus on one in particular. While it is not as morally reprehensible as the devaluing of life on either end of the bell curve, i.e. the newborn and the elderly, it indicates another shift and one that I find disturbing.
I have lived long enough to see this beautiful holiday be transformed from "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays," "Season's Greetings," and "The spirit of Christmas." But, it's been a long time coming as we have sat in this particular pot. Look on the outside of the pot and it says, "The Secular Christmas Takeover."
I grew up in a little suburb of Santa Barbara, California, in the 1960's. I loved Christmas time. We hung a plastic Santa sign on the front door, decorated a tree and waited for Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought. I read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and figured that Santa only talked about coming down the chimney. He probably slipped in and out through our front door. (We had that sign on the front door, after all!)
I was crushed when my older brother proudly announced that there was no Santa. I figured that he was probably make-believe anyway, but hey, there could be a guy in a red suit flying around the world on Christmas Eve...
What kept the message of what this holiday was really about were the Christmas carols. I could just picture the three kings of the orient making their way to the little town of Bethlehem. I tried to imagine the angels touching their golden harps and singing about the newborn King. I was confused with the words "with angelic host proclaim," however. What I heard was "with a jello host proclaim." This was after all, the early 60's, when Jello in all its splendor dominated salads and desserts.
We learned to sing "Silent Night" in German in elementary school. We also learned "Oh Hanukah, Oh Hanukah" and spun dreidels. We ate green and red Christmas cookies in class and hurried off to Christmas Break (that's what it was called--not Winter Break or Holiday Break).
We moved to Los Angeles and on our first Christmas there, we drove up a street well-known for its light displays. I thought it was pretty, but how it fit into Christmas and those angels was a mystery to me.
I received a book of carols with lots of illustrations and I loved it. Family, egg nog, going to Grandma's and opening gifts was all part of the season, but the wonder came with the music. I fell in love with "Greensleeves" the moment I learned it in school. I was over the moon when I discovered "What Child is This?"! I delighted in the these haunting melodies that spoke of a distant and sacred time. This music seem to be a kind of time travel for my young imagination. The songs spoke of a stable, a sleeping child upon hay in a manger, a star unlike any other...It was as if I could touch the face of the Baby and hear the animals lowing when the songs were sung.
Now? I turn on even the local Christian station (which, sadly, is currently indistinguishable from the secular stations) and the songs are about everything and only a little about Jesus' birthday. Walking in winter wonderlands, letting it snow, and decking the halls seem to be played over and over, interpreted by different artists from different eras. To be fair, the Christian station plays songs that the secular stations will not play, but when I channel surf across the stations that are playing Christmas music, they all yield a common musical set list.
The wonder seems to be hard to find. The music talks of sleigh bells glistening, sitting by a fire, being good for Santa and rockin' around the Christmas tree. The malls are festooned with lighted deer, colorful ornaments and lots of toys. The card section in any given store is largely devoted to holiday themes, with a smaller (it seems with every passing year) percentage of cards depicting Jesus' birth.
Nativity scenes on public lawns are gone. In our little Idaho town, we still have Mary, Joseph and Baby cut-out wood figures chilling out on the lawn with an inflated Santa. But, that is now very unusual. When I was growing up, Christmas still was about the birth of Jesus, with all the other holiday traditions.
Today, His birth is an after thought.
If you are a child now growing up in America, what would this holiday season actually mean to you? Toys, lights, presents, family, food and fun would probably dominate your thoughts. Jesus' birth would seem like a distant light on a hill--visible but not part of the overall atmosphere.
My granddaughter goes to a Christian school. She sang in a school play recently. The play was about a man selling trees on his lot and having no interest in Christmas other than how much money he was going to make. Through the efforts of some sweet and devoted children, he comes to accept the Lord into his heart. The children sang songs that told of Jesus, His desire for us to follow Him and how much He loves us.
Wow. It touched my heart so much to hear of children singing of the wonder of Who He is.
But what about children outside in that bigger, post-Christian America? If children only have the culture to learn from, this Holiday Season is very far removed from that manger and that little Baby. Sadly, the message that the angels sang is no longer heard. Do children out there hear that Jesus was born to save us and He invites us to gather around Him?
I stood on the front lines watching the Christmas Takeover when my children were in school. In the 1980's (20 years isn't a long time, is it?) my daughter was in kindergarten. I would help out in the classroom and I especially loved it when a woman came in to play the piano and lead the children in singing. I shared with her teacher the Hanukah song I had learned many years ago, and she was excited to have the children learn it. During one session, one of my daughter's little friends asked the music leader if they could sing, "Away in a Manger." The woman turned from the piano and said in a voice that could have stopped time, "That's illegal." I was boiling inside, not only from the tone of her voice but the look on the little girl's face.
Later I was told that our city had an ordinance that any songs referring to anything religious during this Holiday Time could not be sung in a public school classroom. It was then I learned that the Wonder was being slowly being replaced with Ordinances.
I loved A Charlie Brown Christmas as a child. But even that had to be updated, so as to not offend people with that stirring speech Linus makes taken from the very words of Matthew.
In fact, as my kids were growing up, we didn't have a Christmas tree for many years. We would set up a nativity scene, and on Christmas morning, we placed the Baby in the manger--He was, after all, the greatest Gift we could ever receive.
Having lived a half-century, and seen how the Christmas Takeover has gone, I wonder what Christmas will be like 10, 20, 30 years from now.
But when I think of my granddaughter singing about her Savior, I still have hope that Christ will be honored in the years to come.