Christmastime stories all have a touch of magic in them. From spirits of Christmas past, present, and future to a real Santa Claus the light of the season becomes real through some divine spark that illuminates a life. But all of these fairy stories dim in comparison to one with a much lighter touch of providence acting only through the hearts and arms of men. And this story is also true.
The time is a century ago, near St Yves, France. The Great War has stalled into the mud as Germans and English have dug in yards apart. The men of both sides shiver as December settles deep into the trenches. Hired on as murderers, the stench of death around them, they chose instead for a few days to be something much more. For a brief moment, they even become friends.
Christmas is a time for remembering everything that has come before us. It’s not a kind of memorial day when we remember what we lost, but instead a day to remember the great gifts that have come to us over the many years. The circle of gratitude is widened every year as the holiday expands with new love and new memories.
This is a special Christmas because it is the 50th one for which we have one of the great gifts of television, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. In many ways this defines the tension of Christmas itself, even though very little in popular culture has been willing to decry the commercialism that is the true “War on Christmas”. And in the process it gave us a new definition of holiday cheer, bringing Vince Guaraldi’s cool jazz into the warm holiday like a sprig of winter itself.
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
John 20:29 (NRSV)
We live in a time of great turmoil and change. Economically, socially, spiritually, and even biologically our nation is different every day. Our growing diversity should be a strength, not a weakness, if we can find ways to hold ourselves together by emphasizing the principles forged into traditions that made this nation great. But somehow, even simple decency and respect for each other often eludes us.
Why is this? I have come to believe that we have made our great principles far too intellectual, that the beliefs that should hold us together are exercises for the brain when they should be felt with every beat of our hearts. To change this we need more solid physical reminders in our every day life of who we are, as one people – because in the end we are all made as much in the image of the doubting Thomas as much as anyone.
This is a time to be thankful for what we have. We gather with family or friends and celebrate the bounty of a great and prosperous Promised Land. The material wealth of North America has always been obvious, as it was demonstrated to the first Europeans by the natives.
But this is not a Promised Land for many people who live here. The systems that we have set up, often credited with our wealth, do not always work. When we are thankful on these days, it is rightly for the great gifts of our Democratic Republic – Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Hapiness. But as we have seen in the last few days, none of these are guaranteed to all by our system.
It is impossible to be truly thankful for our great gifts when we know that they are jealously kept from others.
I am horrifically bizzy, and Friday should be fun. Enjoy this classic piece.
You find yourself in a dark room, dazzled by charts and graphs and pictures that go by just fast enough to lose you. The speaker at the front is well intentioned and trying desperately to make you as enthusiastic as they are, but it’s no use. Your mind wanders, desperately trying to find something to daydream about that will keep you from nodding off, drooling on yourself, or both.
Here’s something to think about before you drift off into an embarrassing situation: Franz von Uchatius, General in the Austrian Artillery – and Grandfather of PowerPoint.
It naturally comes up in my family just before Thanksgiving every year. The Puritans’ deliverance to America is billed as a search for religious freedom, something which is a core value of our nation. It’s good that we celebrate such a thing, but do the Puritans really deserve credit for it? The short answer is no, they do not, because they were seeking to establish their own theocracy – and across the ocean where no one would bother them seemed like the perfect place.
Religious tolerance as a founding principle of America came from a different source – William Penn, the “absolute proprietor” of Pennsylvania. The reason that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves is murky at best, but may have its origins in a prejudice that most of us wouldn’t even understand today. I think it’s time to correct that.
The plotters are angry that their faith is persecuted and decide to strike back. Their plan is an outrageous act of terrorism, the destruction of the entire government in one big explosion. Fortunately, it is foiled in time but as news of the conspiracy leaks out the population is enraged. Soon, every member of this minority religious faith is viewed as a potential terrorist and things only go downhill from there.
If this sounds like today’s news, it isn’t. This is the story of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes led a Catholic group to plan the violent and public destruction of Protestant King James I and the entire Parliament. It reverberated through years of increased persecution of Catholics in England and all her colonies – including what became the United States.
And every year it is still celebrated on its anniversary, the Fifth of November, when Guy Fawkes is still burned in effigy in bonfires across the UK.