National Review Online asked assorted friends and contributors for their thoughts on what is most important about Christmas. Here’s what they came up with.
As a fairly typical American child, I think I valued the guy in the red suit much more than I did the babe in the manger. In fact, I couldn’t put the two together! But since becoming a Christian at Florida State University about a quarter of a century ago, I have come to see the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ as the most important events in the history of the world.
Despite the significance of Christmas, those of us who have the easy freedom to observe the holiday are often too jaded to fully appreciate it. You may go along with someone to a service this year because you care about him or because it just seems that now is the time to do it.
If you go, do so with a new view about what is happening. Don’t go looking to be entertained by the music or stirred by the message. Those things may happen, but that is not the point. Go to worship God and to encourage others who want to worship him. Stand and kneel in solidarity with those who seek God’s blessing, his mercy, and his salvation. The church is about the children relating to the father, but it is also about the brothers and the sisters loving each other.
— Hunter Baker is a professor at Union University and the author of The System Has a Soul.
The most important thing about Christmas is that it invites us to reflect on the most important things in our life — our faith, our family, and our freedom. Our faith gives us hope, our family gives us love, and our freedom gives us the opportunity to practice our faith and to love each other — and of course the Holy Family.
— Lee Edwards is Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the Heritage Foundation.
Likely echoing many other Christians, I think I can say that Christmas has become less about Jesus and more about materialism, which is saddening. But as a wife and mother, I have the opportunity to present to my children the most important part of Christmas, which is the birth of our Savior. As the leader of Students for Life, I find that it also has significant meaning for me as I teach my kids that Jesus started out as a little baby in the womb and that his life was recognized from the moment of conception. It’s a beautiful occasion to acknowledge the great love God has shown for all of us by giving us his own son in the unassuming form of a tiny little baby.
— Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America.
Kelly Monroe Kullberg
At Christmas, the Author entered the play. Imagine the benefit to Prince Hamlet and Ophelia if the omniscient author had written himself into their sad story, as their adviser and best friend. He might say something life-giving such as, “I’d avoid the sword fight if I were you, Prince. And, Ophelia, hang on, we’ll get through this together.” His presence would have healed minds and hearts, and moved the story forward from tragedy to hope.
God humbled himself and became a baby. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1). The creation itself gives us every reason to believe in an intelligent life force, but since nature sheds no tears for human beings, we could not, until the birth of Jesus Christ, know that the brilliance of the Creator — is love. At Christmas we remember that God joins us on this curious blue planet full of angst and wonder. In Jesus Christ he shows his face. He reveals his heart of love. And he is forever for us in Christ, who is called “Immanuel” — God with us.
— Kelly Monroe Kullberg is founder of the Veritas Forum and the America Conservancy. She is a co-author of Finding God at Harvard.
Chesterton called it the “beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.” It’s the paradox that “a deity born like an outcast or even an outlaw” changed our “whole conception of law and its duties to the poor and outcast.” God broke through time and space to be one of us as a child in the womb, born as “the God in the cave,” as Chesterton observed with astonishment over the Incarnation that is Christmas, Christ with us, showing us the height of dignity in our humanity.
The whole of the Social Gospel, the Golden Rule, all that is true, good, and beautiful was manifest in the Christ Child and spread in His life, teaching, and witness — spread “to all the world” through His followers — to change the world forever. He taught and showed that love is stronger than death, that evil can be vanquished, that humility, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, service to others, and unshakeable faith in God constitute a force more powerful than any other, and leads to the greatest freedom and ultimate peace and happiness.
That radical “priest, prophet, and king” came, on Christmas Day.
— Sheila Liaugminas is author of Non-Negotiable: Essential Principles of a Just Society and Humane Culture.
Whether one feels Advent in a religious sense or experiences Christmas as more of a cultural phenomenon, there is a tipping point in the season where one has to willingly surrender oneself to the joy of the season. It’s easy to bah-humbug for a while, and even rewarding to a point to take that attitude. For some, the surrender may come as a surprise, while to others it comes easily and naturally. This is critical to the true point of Advent, which is the surrender to the joy of salvation through Jesus Christ. We resist it because surrender to it means active participation; we resent it because it calls on all of our resources and strength. In the end, once we allow ourselves to embrace it, we discover that those efforts are joyful in themselves and that the love and hope it brings is so wonderful that it makes our earlier resistance look not just silly but downright ignorant.
— Ed Morrissey is senior editor at Hot Air.
The most important thing about Christmas is not joy or poverty or goodwill. Newman has an essay, “Omnipotence in Bonds,” in which he meditates on how Christ from the moment of his conception was confined and constrained: in the womb, although he had rational consciousness; placed immediately in swaddling clothes upon birth (have you ever seen a baby getting tightly wrapped?); subject to his parents as a boy; constrained to follow his father in the carpenter’s trade. The one time he is “free” and spends an afternoon discoursing with rabbis in the temple, he is called back. He lives in a small village until his is 30.
Beginning his public ministry long after becoming a grown man, he is drawn into the desert, and the Devil drags him to a high pinnacle to tempt him. Later, crowds try to compel him, to make him king, or to throw him off a cliff. He ends up in chains, in the hands of violent men, nailed to a cross. Even in death he is sealed in a tomb. That is not good enough: A big rock must be placed at its entrance. What is the meaning of this evident embrace of boundedness by the One who in faith is Omnipotent? To provide the medicine for pride, the essence of which is willfulness and lawlessness. The most important thing about Christmas, then, is its saving image of surrender and joyful conformity to the wisdom and plan of God.
— Michael Pakaluk is professor and chairman of the department of philosophy at Ave Maria University.
Jay W. Richards
My family associates Christmas with the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien. It started in 2001, when The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theaters. That led me to reread Tolkien and plunge into the vast secondary literature on his work. The Two Towers and The Return of the King were released in December 2002 and 2003, respectively, and my family acquired the habit of watching the entire Lords of the Rings extended editions as part of our Christmas festivities.
My mom gave us Letters from Father Christmas in 2004. This contains the illustrated Santa correspondence that Tolkien created for his young family from 1920 to 1942. Between that and the release of all three Hobbit movies near Christmas, we now permanently connect Tolkien with the holiday. Invariably my two daughters pick up The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings over their Christmas break. And it’s a safe bet that in Christmas 2015 we’ll watch all six films in chronological order.
Perhaps we connect Tolkien with Christmas because of a Hollywood production schedule, but the association is apt nonetheless. Just think of the hobbits. Unlike the great Norse, Greek, and Roman mythologies, Tolkien’s fiction is populated with humble barefoot creatures that he created to play the decisive heroic roles. (Our word “humble” derives from the Latin humilis, which means literally “on the ground.”) Such a story of victory through humility could probably have occurred only to an author whose imagination was steeped in the great mystery and central truth of Christmas — the Incarnation — in which the transcendent Creator of the universe came to earth and was born to a peasant girl in a stable in a lowly backwater village of the vast Roman empire, to save us and to renew all of creation.
— Jay W. Richards is an assistant research professor in the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America, and co-author with Jonathan Witt of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got and the West Forgot. Follow him on twitter @freemarketjay.
For the second holiday season in a row, my father had to deal with some health issues that could have gone very wrong. Thankfully, he is recovering once again, but the stress of the situation took away some of the usual joy leading up to Christmas. In another way, however, it made it more real. Sometimes we need reminders of how precious our loved ones really are, reminders that the people whose presence we take for granted should be looked at through the eyes of gratitude for having made Christmas special for our entire lives. It might be cliché to say that the most important thing about Christmas is our connection with family and other loved ones. Then again, this is the feast when God’s love entered the world in a unique way. So who cares if it’s a cliché? Truth is truth. Appreciate those around you.
— Tony Rossi is the director of communications of the Christophers.
The most important thing about Christmas is the message Pope Benedict expressed in his inauguration homily: “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”
Christmas shows us this, that everyone’s life has great value in and of itself, totally apart from what the world thinks of him. God loves us in our littleness. Jesus set aside the glory of heaven and took on human weakness. And He deliberately chose to be born in a stable to a poor family in a backwater province of the Roman empire. He made shepherds, at the very bottom of his day’s socioeconomic hierarchy, the first witnesses of His coming. Each year Christmas reminds me that my weaknesses are unimportant in God’s eyes. I do not have to earn His love, only return it.
— James Sherk is senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.
The best answer I’ve every heard to this question comes from C. S. Lewis in Miracles. He wrote, “The central miracle asserted by the Christian is the incarnation. They say that God became man. If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the earth, the very thing the whole story has been about.” That “the Word became flesh” is not only the most important thing about Christmas; it’s the most important thing about the entire history of the cosmos.
What are the most important things about Christmas? The trust and faith of a woman, a virgin, vulnerable. A man of integrity, standing by her side. A young family in need of help, receiving it. A bright star in the dark night’s sky. Gifts from kings and from the wise, from afar. A different king, fearful and jealous, merciless and cruel.
A humble beginning to the beginning of redemption. An event that defies easy acceptance: The creator of the universe is a helpless infant. An omniscient being doesn’t know his arms and legs are under his control. An omnipotent being can’t hold his head up. God is a man.
Hope. Faith. The most amazing act of love. A myth that is real.
A world, completely changed. An invitation to eternal life. Nothing will ever be the same.
What is the most important thing about Christmas? The fact that is the birth of Jesus. And the death and resurrection that are soon to come.
— Michael Strain is resident scholar and deputy director of economic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
With every passing year, I appreciate more fully the connection between the Christmas cradle and the Cross. To those for whom Christ is simply a distraction during this season, this association may seem oppressive and even repugnant. But for those who desire to follow Him, it holds the key to the mystery of our faith. Edith Stein, my favorite saint, wrote: “For the Christian mysteries are an indivisible whole. If we become immersed in one, we are led to all the others. Thus, the way from Bethlehem leads inevitably to Golgotha, from the crib to the cross.” This is why — this is how — we can join together in prayerful solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East, for some of whom the light and promise of this Christmas season will coexist with the very sufferings Our Lord experienced — even death on a cross.
— Hilary Towers is a developmental psychologist and a mother of five whose work focuses on marriage and parenting.