Christmas is a time of peace and merriment.
And we are most reluctant to celebrate the birth of Christ in any other way. Yet, as scholars have informed us, the first Christmas was shadowed by a power-hungry king who had no compunction about killing babies. He was, as the American poet John Richard Moreland identifies him, “Herod heedless of his people's tears!”
We want to confine Herod to the time of the Nativity and would like to believe that he is buried deep in antiquity. And yet, the painful and undeniable evidence shows that Herod is very much alive and continues to stalk our contemporary world:
If he should come tomorrow,
what marvels would he see,
White wings that soar the heavens,
great ships that sail the sea,
A million spires arising to praise his holy name,
But human hearts unchastened,
and human greed the same.
As in the days of Herod . . .
Lilith Lorraine, “If He Should Come”
Planned Parenthood offers us a most disturbing reminder of the continued presence of Herod with its new “Choice on Earth” holiday cards. Its website advertisement reads, “‘Tis the season to share with family, friends, colleagues, and loved ones the message of ‘Choice on Earth.’” It is a shameless advertising ploy not inconsistent with its previous sales of “I Had an Abortion” T-shirts and its promotion of a gift certificate for a holiday vasectomy — “Give the gift that stops giving.”
Christians do not believe that moral progress means forgetting to choose what is good and simply choosing anything one wants — life or death — in a spiritual vacuum. Light leads us to cherish life. Planned Parenthood's substitution of the word “choice” for “peace” is a mockery of Christmas and an affront to all men and women of good will. It is an institutionalized attempt to replace good will with sheer and often brutal willfulness. In addition, it is a certain way of keeping peace at bay.
Another American poet, Eleanor Slater, asks the poignant question:
Do you stop to wonder
Why men never see
How very closely Bethlehem
The baby Jesus escaped the wrath of Herod. Thirty-three years later, the man Jesus gave the world a witness to life after death. Two thousand years later, we find the world still very much in need of a Redeemer:
I think if Jesus should return and see
This hollow blasphemy, this day of horror,
The heart that languished in Gethsemane
Would know again as great and deep a sorrow,
With deathless words — would kneel again and weep.
Anderson M. Scruggs, “A Christmas Sonnet”
We want to join our prayer with that of the American educator Pinckney Hill:
God, save our land from that unblessed sedateness
Which arrogates to itself a greatness
Built on the rubble leavings of the past!
Beyond all empire then our eyes may scan
The coming Kingdom of the Son of Man,
Built of a dream, abiding, undefiled —
The glory of its throne, a little child.
Christmas is about life and light, two divine gifts about whose value the secular world remains curiously indifferent. Therefore, Christmas continues to be shadowed by death and darkness. The shepherds who attended the first Christmas could not have imagined the great and prodigious good that the Christ-child would ultimately bring about. Nor could they have envisioned the horror and injustice of his crucifixion.
From Henry Treece's “Christ Child”:
Who could have thought upon that hour
Those little hands might stay a plague,
Those eyes would quell a multitude,
That voice would still a rising wave?
Only the omens of the night,
The lowing ox, the moaning tree,
Hinted the cruelty to come:
A raven croaked, “Gethsemane!”
Dr. Donald De Marco is an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.