It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Today, Americans throughout the fruited plain come together and pause from the bustle of their everyday lives to celebrate Christmas with the ones they love. To Christians, Christmas is the day to honor the birth of Jesus. It also means Grandma’s apple pie, Christmas carols, wreaths, cookies, Santa, presents, ornate Christmas trees and other rich traditions that symbolize December 25th.
Throughout the holiday season, the Christmas spirit of good will and generosity is alive and well in America. Random acts of kindness are seen throughout the nation. The spirit is felt whether it is through a charitable donation to a stranger to ensure that families get to eat a Christmas dinner or a toy drive for children who may not otherwise get to experience the joy of giving and receiving. In Southeast Texas, children and businesses in the community come together each year to collect Christmas cards for America’s heroes. Because of this small gesture, those who are away from their families protecting the rest of us in faraway lands are touched by the spirit of Christmas. This year, the Second Congressional District in Texas collected over 35,000 Christmas Cards from school children for troops serving all over the world. Christmas really does bring out the best in America.
Today is also a holy day for many Americans. Every year on Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. The word “Christmas” actually comes from the words “Cristes Maesse,” which literally translates to Christ’s Mass. The word “holiday” derives its meaning from the words “Holy Day”. Christianity is engrained in every aspect of Christmas.
But, in our great nation, the freedom to exercise religion has come under attack by the anti-religious groups that want to censor all forms of religion. They have created an annual tradition of their own: anti-Christmas. They want to take Christ out of Christmas. The argument from anti Christians is that displays of Christianity discriminate against other religions. In reality, the beautiful part of this nation is that freedom of religion is actually protected in the Constitution. This is true for Jews, Muslims, Hindus and yes, even Christians. In fact, the Jewish community just celebrated their Holy Day of Hanukah. The National Menorah was lit right in front of the White House alongside the National Christmas Tree. Because that is what we do in America—we embrace our differences, we don’t discriminate.
The latest front in the war on Christmas is found in the piney woods of east Texas. Recently, a group of local volunteers in Athens, Texas placed a donated nativity scene on the far corner of the courthouse square. They have done this every year for the past 10 years with no complaints from the residents.
This year, a group of out-of-towners, not from Athens, not even from Texas, but from a thousand miles away in Wisconsin, have self-righteously objected to the nativity scene in Athens. This antireligious, hate group has demanded that baby Jesus be evicted from the courthouse lawn immediately. Thankfully, the county officials didn’t succumb to the intimidation tactics of the bigoted group that wants to censor religion. The county judge politely said that no local citizen has complained about the scene, and he really doesn’t care what somebody from Wisconsin thinks. After all, we don’t mess with their cheese –so don’t mess with our Courthouse square. It is important to note the judge even invited other religious groups to use the courthouse lawn to display symbols of their own. But no one has asked to do so. County commissioner Joe Hall made it clear: “We will remove the nativity scene when hell freezes over. It’s not going anywhere.” The people of Athens, Texas agree. Last weekend 5000 citizens rallied on the court house square in Athens- a town of about 13,000 supporting the nativity scene.
As Americans, we enjoy constitutionally protected rights to enjoy the season how we so choose. Our Founding Fathers vigorously guarded the right to free exercise of religious conscience. The truth is that our Constitution affirms that we are guaranteed freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The wonderful thing about America is that you have the freedom to believe and one has the freedom not to believe. It’s all up to the individual.
So pause today. Eat Grandma’s cookies, sing Christmas carols, open presents and enjoy your loved ones. Think of those who have an empty seat at the table this year because their husband, wife, son, daughter, mother or father is serving our country in lands far far away. But most importantly Christians remember the reason for the season, the birth of Jesus that occurred over 2,000 years ago.
Wish your neighbor a Merry Christmas, and be thankful that you live in a nation where you can.
And that’s just the way it is.