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Christmas and Secularism’s Futility

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©Heidi Bratton Photography

Every December cultural warriors mourn the incessant attacks on Christmas and secularism’s rise in society. News headlines carry stories of modern day Herods banning nativity scenes, religious performances, and even the word “Christmas.” Just as a majority of young people profess they will have less prosperity and opportunity than their parents, many people now expect less out of Christmas. Continual bickering over holiday messaging in corporate advertising itself points to a shrinking and limited Christmas.

Yet these problems are signs on the way to important truths, if we have the eyes to see. Record spending and debt, whether in Washington or the home, allude to a society trying to fill an emptiness of the heart. Even our disappointment in poor leadership in America reminds us that we crave a true King and are expectant of a greater day.

Part of the cause of the rise of secularism and a less meaningful Christmas is that we have lost this spirit of expectancy. Advent not only points to preparation for and celebration of the Nativity but also to the second coming of Christ. The New Testament ends with anticipation of Christ’s return: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev 22:20) In their lifetime, the apostles lived in anticipation and excitement for the return of Christ.

What Christmas actually announces to the world offends modern sensibilities. The mystery and depth of the incarnation seems unfathomable. Praising Christmas carols, G.K. Chesterton noted, “It is extraordinary to notice how completely this feeling of the paradox of the manger was lost by the brilliant and ingenious theologians, and how completely it was kept in the Christmas carols. They, at least, never forgot that the main business of the story they had to tell was that the absolute once ruled the universe from a cattle stall.”

Christmas has united much of the world and is responsible for the common identity of the West and its rise out of barbarism. “In adoring the birth of our Savior, we find ourselves celebrating our own nativity; for the birth of Christ is the birth of the Christian people,” declared Leo the Great.

Christmas reminds us of the shortcomings of man and what God has accomplished and done to intercede on our behalf. It’s a reminder of our sinful nature and it’s not simply a great holiday or time of joy for the unrepentant.

While our culture faces new hostilities to the Christmas message, the real culprit is indifference to its greater meaning and a lack of appreciation of its power on the part of believers.  It has always been the task of believers to transcend the secular culture.

Modern Herods, rising secularism, materialism, and a host of political problems may combine to rob Christmas of its meaning, but it’s a futile effort in the face of faithfulness. Unfortunately, many this Christmas will try to fulfill their desires through acquiring more and politicians will promise and spend more in hopes of attaining worldly recognition and building a better society through debt.

But the true gift and hope of the world can only be received and not acquired. That’s the Christmas message. In his beautiful hymn, “Come thou Long Expected Jesus,” Charles Wesley simply called Christ the “desire of every nation” and “joy of every longing heart.” It’s a timeless message and one that is not made less true or powerful by cultural secularism. A world devoured by political failings, materialism, and economic and moral bankruptcy only points to a desire and need for the real Savior. In the words of Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.  Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:1-3).


Ray Nothstine is associate editor at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich.

(This article is a product of the Acton Institute — www.acton.org, 161 Ottawa NW, Suite 301, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 — and is reprinted with permission.)


  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    Happy Christmas every one and I hope all of you are very blessed in 2013.

    The US is now very Catholic with both the VP and the nominated Secretary of
    State both being Catholic.

    I see “The Catholic Church in the United States …. with more than 77.7 million registered members, it is the largest single religious denomination in the United
    States, comprising 25 percent of the population. The United
    States has the fourth largest Catholic population in the world” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_in_the_United_States.

    I also see “Currently there are 25 Catholics in the United States Senate, 16 Democrats, 9 Republicans, and 134 (out of 435) Catholics in the United States House of Representatives, including the current House Speaker John
    Boehner”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_politics_in_the_United_States.

    I also note that now most of the members of the Supreme Court are
    Catholics

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    Happy Christmas and every blessing in 2013 to everyone.

    Second attempt to submit.
    ___________________

    The US is now very Catholic with both the VP and the nominated Secretary of
    State both being Catholic.

    I see “The Catholic Church in the United States …. with more than 77.7 million registered members, it is the largest single religious denomination in the United
    States, comprising 25 percent of the population. The United
    States has the fourth largest Catholic population in the world” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_in_the_United_States.

    I also see “Currently there are 25 Catholics in the United States Senate, 16 Democrats, 9 Republicans, and 134 (out of 435) Catholics in the United States House of Representatives, including the current House Speaker John
    Boehner”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_politics_in_the_United_States.

    I also note that now most of the members of the Supreme Court are
    Catholics

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    Happy Christmas and every blessing in 2013 to everyone.

    The US is now very Catholic with both the VP and the nominated Secretary of
    State both being Catholic.

    I
    see “The Catholic Church in the United States …. with more than 77.7
    million registered members, it is the largest single religious
    denomination in the United
    States, comprising 25 percent of the population. The United
    States
    has the fourth largest Catholic population in the world”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_in_the_United_States.

    I
    also see “Currently there are 25 Catholics in the United States Senate,
    16 Democrats, 9 Republicans, and 134 (out of 435) Catholics in the
    United States House of Representatives, including the current House
    Speaker John
    Boehner”.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_politics_in_the_United_States.

    I also note that now most of the members of the Supreme Court are
    Catholics

  • Bob Struble

    Noel. Merry Christmas to you, sir. And to all the CL family.

  • And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. May all my friends at CL have a happy and blessed Christmas season.

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    PH and Bob,

    many thanks for your posts. I admire your commitment to the Church and your solid Catholic views, so I wonder what did you think of the points I raised that the US is now very Catholic and that the old anti-Catholicism in the US is greatly diminished.

    However the US is playing a huge role in Irish Catholicism. It is a case of good cop-bad cop.

    Cardinal Dolan is the bad cop and his savage and brutal attack on Irish Catholicism is not very helpful. Treating the Irish archbishops, including the
    Cardinal Primate of All Ireland, as naughty school-boys who did not do their home-work. It makes collegiality among bishops a fiction as Cardinal Dolan acts as a Vatican heavy (http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Irish-Catholics-angered-over-Cardinal-Timothy-Dolans-comments-on-Irish-College-in-Rome-159851775.html).

    On the other hand Archbishop Charles Brown, Papal Nuncio to Ireland, is the
    good cop e.g. http://dublin.anglican.org/news/2012/10/Papal-Nuncio-Addresses-Trinity-College-Dublin-Welcome-Service.php. He is encouraging and focuses on the positive.

    Condemnations and negative disapproval are not helpful, while encouragement
    and positive affirmation may lead to a renewal of Irish Catholicism.

    I still have problems submitting posts to CL, are others in the same position?

    • GuitarGramma

      Merry Christmas, Noel!

      Two points: First, I too have had many problems posting to CL. My posts appear for a few seconds and then literally disappear. I wait and wait, refreshing the screen to see if they come back, and so far none ever has. I believe, though, that I’ve figured out the solution! For my posts to “stick,” I must be signed in TWICE, once to Catholic Lane and secondly to DISQUS. The fact that you’re reading this is evidence that this technique works.

      Second, your far more important question: Is the US now very Catholic and is the old anti-Catholicism greatly diminished. The answers? No and Yes.

      It is true that the old anti-Catholicism has vanished. The old anti-Catholicism reared its head in discrimination for employment, housing, and respectability. Today, it is virtually unheard of for someone to be denied a job or an apartment due to their Catholic faith. And being Catholic no longer means that you will lose an election.

      But there is a new anti-Catholicism here. Large families are demeaned. Those faithful to magesterial teaching are looked upon as rigid and out of touch. Many times we are met with scorn in most public ways. Not to go into too much detail, my husband has met it at work and I have been highly criticized in local newspapers simply for standing up for what is right.

      Even within Catholic institutions, there is discrimination. For example, many Catholic schools no longer give multi-child discounts; with tuition upwards of $3000 per child, few large families can afford parochial education.

      You cite many examples of politicians who are Catholic. Many of them do not vote with Catholic consciences. To be precise, many of them vote to keep abortion firmly entrenched in American law. They may have been baptized Catholic, but at what point do we cease to consider them so? Is a pro-choice Catholic really a Catholic? If he votes to continue abortion on demand, has he excommunicated himself?

  • goral

    “Part of the cause of the rise of secularism and a less meaningful Christmas is that we have lost this spirit of expectancy”

    The modern day celebration of Christmas is a victory for the secularists. While the Church tries to differentiate between the two seasons of Advent and Christmas, the faithful do not.

    Christmas was celebrated during Advent and now it’s just the sweep-up.

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    GG,

    thanks for your reply.

    I agree with much of what you say. The blatant anti-Catholicism in America is gone. However we are all sinners and perhaps we should not be too
    judgemental. But…

    In Ireland now American Catholics have a huge influence. As I previously wrote Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Brown seem to have a bad cop good cop relationship.

    Cardinal Dolan’s savage and brutal attack on the Irish hierarchy has damaged
    the loyalty of Catholics to the Church (http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Irish-Catholics-angered-over-Cardinal-Timothy-Dolans-comments-on-Irish-College-in-Rome-159851775.html).

    However the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown is positive and
    encouraging about the Church in Ireland. His approach is constructive and is building up the Church (http://www.irishcatholic.ie/20121227/news/papal-nuncio-i-have-seen-vitality-courage-and-great-hope-S4440.html).

    Next year (2013) I hope to be positive and avoid negative criticism. In this way I hope I will help build up the faith here and be of help to my friends in CL.