Soliloquies from a Secular Heretic
Perhaps the two most beloved Christmas stories that we see every year on television are Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The former involves a man from hell, Jacob Marley, who shows Ebenezer Scrooge the ruinous future he is preparing for himself and for others. The latter involves an angel from heaven, Clarence Odbody, who shows George Bailey what a wonderful life he has had. In both stories the order of time is changed so that the trajectory of the two lives can be seen from the perspective of eternity. Also central to the stories are the families of Bob Cratchit and George Bailey. Each person can have a profound effect on others, especially on intimates, according to how that person views the significance of his or her life.
Christmas is about eternity, since it represents the eternal God’s coming into a world of time. It is the conjunction between the timeless and the temporal. It offers us, therefore, an occasion to reflect on our lives and consider where we are going. It beckons us to see our lives in a larger perspective and to think about the relationship between our birth and our destiny. Christ’s birth is inseparable from his destiny. The light he brings into the world is one that illuminates all of human history.
This larger perspective, achieved at Christmastime in both of these timeless stories, is needed for the conversions of the two central characters. Given a frame of reference that transcends the moment, they come to realize the essential importance of love and generosity. They come to understand that life is a blessing, one that must be shared with others. Both the Bailey and the Cratchit families are the immediate beneficiaries of this insight. They are the beneficiaries of what the Holy Family represents.
Christmas, as we know only too well, is a time of gift-giving. This popular practice, however, has been roundly criticized for commercializing a holy occasion. But gifts can transcend commercialization when they are given in the right spirit. They should be gentle reminders that the greatest of all gifts is the gift of life, one that was threatened on the first Christmas by King Herod. The gifts we give are finite and limited. They often fail to last a year. But what they should symbolize is far more. They should say, “This gift in itself is merely a token. On a deeper level it says that I am happy you are here and I want this gift to enhance your life, make you happy and remind you that you are part of a loving family, a loving community.”
Gifts should elicit thanks. The reason Christmas presents are wrapped is so that the beneficiary can say “Thank you” twice. The initial thank you may be more pure than the second because it is said without knowing exactly what the wrapped package contains. The sight of a myriad of presents at the foot of the Christmas tree is an image that fills us with expectation, the anticipation that packaged love will inspire grateful hearts.
The gifts of the Magi have spiritual significance that symbolizes the eternal. Gold honors Jesus’ Kingship, frankincense celebrates his deity and myrrh (an embalming oil) refers to his death. These gifts proclaim the eternal significance of Christmas because Christ’s Kingship is everlasting, because he is God and because he was destined to rise from the dead.
Christmas expands our hearts and minds as it unites us with an eternal plan. The two aforementioned stories stir our hearts because they offer us credible tales of how Christmas is not simply about having a good time, but of having a wonderful life.
Dr. Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest works, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going Mad; Poetry that Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart; and How to Flourish in a Fallen World are available through Amazon.com.