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Published December 25 2008

Forum Editorial: Christmas message unchanging

Today’s issue:Today the Christian world celebrates Christmas.

Our position:Without the birth of Christ, the holiday is mostly meaningless.

A discussion Tuesday at The Forum’s morning news huddle focused on Christmas. The season generates lots of holiday-themed stories, one of which was a Wednesday piece on Christmas traditions by J. Shane Mercer. Regarding the traditions, which sometimes are described as myths, editors tried to characterize the holiday: It’s consumerism on steroids. It’s family. It’s holiday party time. It’s about gift-giving and shopping. It’s cultural. It’s religious. It’s Santa and toys. It’s charity. It’s our once-a-year outpouring of good will.

No consensus was forthcoming.

Christmas is all of the above. But without Christian faith, it’s really not much at all. The cliché is true: Jesus is the reason for the season. Confirmed secularists and nonbelievers can spin the cultural context of the holiday until they’re dizzy, but only the birth of the Messiah some 2,000 years ago defines the meaning of Christmas. Clear-headed and total belief in the divinity of the Christ child is the sacred heart of Christianity. Without that faith, Christmas does indeed collapse into a glitzy orgy of buying, feasting, travel and even hypocritical occupancy of church pews this morning.

Western 21st-century society can overwhelm. Despite polls that show most Americans believe in God and go to church regularly, real commitment to the message of salvation Jesus brought to the world often is tentative or weak. In our pluralistic society, Christians sometimes are reluctant to proclaim – let alone live – their beliefs for fear of offending neighbors who believe differently or don’t believe at all. One result is diminishment or dilution of Christianity in the name of tolerance. Modern, secular, consumer-driven Christmas might be the best example of the erosion of the true meaning of Christmas.

And what about those Christmas traditions/myths? Were there three wise men? Two? None? Was the birthday Dec. 25 or some other day? In a stable? A cave? In Bethlehem, or Nazareth, as some scholars believe? Did Mary ride a donkey or walk? Or did she and Joseph not travel the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem at all? And what’s with two seemingly different accounts of the nativity story – one from Matthew (the wise men and the star) and one from Luke (shepherds and angels)?

It’s all great fun for History Channel specials and news magazine cover stories. It is seasonal grist for the scholarly mills of doubters who revel in emphasizing contradictions rather than understanding differing accounts of the same event.

No matter. The message of the birth that was foretold is far more important. A savior was born long ago. Christians believe – must believe if they are to be Christians – he was the son of God. There can be no manipulating or ignoring that bedrock tenet of the faith. The Christmas miracle is what Scripture says it is, or it’s a lie. Christians believe the message of the Nativity is the most profound truth of all, and no secular iteration of Christmas can change it.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.