“Stay tuned for our upcoming segment on ‘Getting to the Heart of Christmas’.” Thus chirped one of the carefully coiffed TV anchor/hostesses on a popular breakfast talk show this morning.
Of course, since this was a secular, network program, I had no illusions that anything remotely related to the “heart of Christmas” would ensue. The closest mainstream media ever chooses to get is using the word “Christmas,” and even then, it is doubtful that any passing thought is given to the derivation of the word. That, of course, is “Christ” and “mass,” two terms considered politically incorrect unless the second is used in the context of physics.
What followed was a story about families who had lost virtually all but their lives in a ravenous wildfire near Austin, Texas four months ago that apparently burned for 35 days. Featured were accounts of two families, one with four children whose belongings were literally reduced to cinders, including one young daughter’s favorite Barbie doll. The second story had to do, somewhat ironically, with one of the firefighters who had fought the blaze and yet also lost all but his wife, baby and a single photo album. Tragic stories, under any circumstances, but somehow especially so at Christmastime…which, of course, is about the celebration of families brought together as a seasonal tradition.
Or is it?
Cut to the next scene as a pleasant reporter, donning a Santa hat, recapped the story briefly with the two families before gleefully leading them through a warehouse door to a waiting crowd of festive WalMart employees standing amidst mounds of wrapped presents and glittering trees. The camera zoomed in on several astonished faces, as the reporter explained that what we were seeing was truly “the heart of Christmas.”
No mistake, it is truly heartening to see those who have suffered loss not only cared about but provided for. The camera panned and then zoomed in on the little girl who had lost her doll as the reporter guided her to a brand new Barbie doll, just for her. As a smile broke out and she pumped her small fist in delight, the reporter was clearly moved and declared “this is really the heart of Christmas!” And now back to you in the studio.
But…this is only part of the story, and a comparatively minor, mortal part at that. Whether they realize it or not, all people inhabit two worlds, one mortal and one eternal; and this story did not scratch the surface of the heart of Christmas.
What am I talking about?
Merely the fact that we are eternal beings, wrought in the image of God, and for whom mortal life is an important way station, but not the destination. Unpopular concept, that. But you have to reckon with it if you want to come anywhere near the real heart of Christmas.
Is this a time of year when extra focus is placed on acts of kindness and compassion? Without a doubt. But there’s a reason for this, and it is rooted in the historicity of Christmas.
Perhaps we need to look as far back as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to find an example in popular media that told the truth about Christmas. Near the end of this animated classic, Linus Van Pelt volunteers to tell Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about by taking the stage in his shepherd garb and simply, matter-of-factly, reciting a passage from Luke 2. This little scene stands out in greater relief than ever now, not only because of its simple audacity in telling the truth, but also because we are hard pressed to find anything like it in the maelstrom that is today’s media.
Curiously, I don’t recall, either as a child first watching this, or as an adult, ever being aware of any rejection of this simple message. It was an interesting moment in a cartoon, easily passed over these days as a quaint, vintage footnote.
Ah, but there’s so much more for the seeker of truth. The heart of Christmas is not doing good deeds for strangers, no matter how heartwarming. Encouraging as these moments are they are byproducts several concepts removed from the bedrock reality that Christmas is, at heart, a rescue mission.
It is the historical account of the one, true God condescending to take on mortal flesh and leave eternity and enter time for the express purpose of testifying to the truth of sin and providing a path of redemption. Of course, grasping this transcendent fact does not lend itself to five minute video segments. Nor is it a mere heartwarming video vignette to get our day off to a nice start before we go about our usual business.
Getting to the heart of Christmas requires acknowledging and owning the uncomfortable truth of our imperfection and helplessness to help ourselves; and the devastating consequences that indubitably follow if that’s the end of our story.
The heart of Christmas is the incredible good news that we can have what we REALLY need and escape the judgment we deserve. Our destiny can be an eternal future with our Maker; and that is So Much More than a five minute feel-good story.