The Joy and Sorrow of Christmas

This morning I read an article in the Wall Street Journal by Christopher Hitchens who died two weeks ago.  He was lamenting, as an atheist, the forced merriment of Christmas.  On the one hand I know exactly what he means, the general merriment of society seems forced and superficial — I mean those Lexus ads with the giant bow to the irritatingly enthusiastic Target lady — there is indeed a lot of forced merriment, and I am with Mr. Hitchens in finding it distasteful.

But how very sad and revealing that Mr. Hitchens appears to have had no counterpoint in his personal life.  Because in my experience, Christmas is widely recognized as a time of great sorrow for those who have experienced loss.  Celebrating Christmas exacerbates their pain.  In my own family and circle of friends, there are many who face this Christmas thankful for the hope of Jesus’ birth, but terribly heartbroken that someone they love is gone.  Just moments ago I received an email that an incredibly gorgeous and loving woman who I met through Bible study died early this morning.

But Hitchens’s failure to distinguish between commercial Christmas and the genuine private celebration is quite innocuous compared to his sweeping and wholly inaccurate statement concerning love.  He wrote, “One of the many reasons for not being a Christian is my objection to compulsory love.”  Where did he get such an absurd notion?  The God of the Bible never forces anyone to love Him.  That’s actually the whole point.  Compulsion would render it meaningless.  That’s why we have free will.  If we could not choose to not love Him — as Hitchens himself chose, then loving God would be void of meaning.  Hitchens was obviously a smart guy, so it’s puzzling that he would assert such a logical absurdity.  Or is it?  People who do not want to live according to God’s plan are willing to jump through lots of mental hoops to escape the truth.  Living in denial allows them to live life their own way.  Grace and compulsion are clearly opposite forces in this world, yet I can understand why someone like Hitchens would try to disarm this most powerful force by labeling it compulsory.  It’s fallacious and requires mental acrobatics, but it gets him to where he wants to go.

The truth is God sent His son to be born a humble birth in the manger, and die the humiliating death on the cross, not so that we would be forced to love Him, but so that we could be forgiven — so that we might CHOOSE TO LOVE HIM.

May we celebrate the birth of Our Lord and Savior with gratitude for the gifts we’ve been given and sympathy for those who are hurting because they chose to love so deeply.