Today it is Christmas. On the corner of Astor Place and Lafayette on Christmas Eve I overheard a young man says that in a couple of more years Christmas will not exist. It will be over. Yes, it might seem that way looking at my block, half or more of it covered in darkness, the other half with blinking red and blue lights, “Let it snow” signs, and animated reindeer whose heads move side to side.
Growing up in Astoria as a child I remembered the awe of riding in the back of Baba’s Oldsmobile as it turned the corner of block after block of two-story attached houses bejeweled in necklaces of light —a fanfare of glittering magic and larger than life Nativity sets. As a child, weaving my eyes around house after house as the car inched down the blocks, I felt the wonder of Christmas through the spectacle of speckled lights and the chutzpah of each neighbor outdone by the ego of the other. Today, these same pockets of streets are dim or dark— the evidence of a changing demographic. Some are out-of-towners, renters who have no time or energy to deck their front yards; some are millennial hipsters who have better things to do than deck their windows with cheesy Christmas cheer. Some are Muslim or Buddist without a tradition for these sorts of things. Still others are agnostic or against the whole faith thing whatever.
I can see the turn in the times through the changes of the block. Yes, I am sad that things have changed, a sure sign that I have gotten older. But to live without the tradition is to be handed a gift box without a gift. Why would anyone want to live this way?
“God is dead” the new world texts, so don’t expect him to be born on Christmas day. “Don’t delude yourself,” the intellectual says. “It’s a story like many other stories compiled by old men,” the feminist says. “Don’t hold on to the past; grow up and out of this fairy tale. Like the myth of Santa, it’s time you put childish beliefs away,” says the post modernist.
Today it is Christmas and this is what I know–love came into the world and took the form of a babe. It is that love, that hope in swaddling clothes that has made all the difference. It is faith that the God-Man, the very embodiment of love, was born to live an earthly life with all its suffering and sorrow to make my life meaningful.
There is no greater gift than this. In our God-forsaken age (not because God has forsaken us but that we as mankind have turned away from Him) the greatest gift is Christ himself. The greatest gift is faith. It is a gift to believe in God in the 21st century. To hold a flickering light of faith in a sea of dark doubt. It is indeed a gift to love the figure of the God Man, the hero of all time and space in an age that blots Him seeks to erase him from all of history.
I can not argue to an atheist why I believe. Try explaining to someone who does not love your fiancé why he should love her too. “It’s subjective,” they would say. “I don’t see in her what you see.” You can’t convince anyone about the truth of your love the same way you can’t convince them or force them to love you. Love like faith is a matter of the deepest center of the heart. It defies logic.
But my point is beyond this. My point is that on the day we give gifts to the Messiah the one who has given of Himself in the most intimate way, this God-Man has gifted us first. He has given Himself to the dark cruel world knowing full well that it will despise him, it will obliterate him. He has come to allow us to live and live more abundantly through His love and loving kindness.
Let me repeat again–the greatest gift in a godless age is faith itself. It is a grace, a gift. The Greek word for grace is “charisma” the same root for our English word charm. It translates to “gift.” Grace is something you are gifted with. Above something you can will on yourself. Those who are gifted with the grace of faith these hold the charm of the season.
On this day the Nativity of Christ, the Lord, let us glorify him. Let us give thanks that he has given us the gift of Himself. In the reciprocal act of believing Him, this faith has made all the difference. It’s the difference between setting out a flickering display of lights for the passersby to see and be glad and letting it all be a bland infernal blackness.
Christ is born. Glorify Him.