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Christmas Contradiction

 There has always been some sense of contradiction in our
 celebration of Christmas. So much so that in days of old the
 church attempted to have Christmas banned. It was in
 England during the tenure of Oliver Cromwell. His Puritan
 Party passed legislation outlawing Christmas. In England
 there would be no more lavish and raucous celebration, no
 more commercial exploitation, there would be no more
 Christmas, period. 

 But the people were outraged. There was rioting in the
 streets. Secret Christmas celebrations broke out all over
 England. But Cromwell retaliated. Parliament decreed
 penalties of imprisonment for anyone caught celebrating the
 holiday. Each year, by order of Parliament, town criers went
 through the streets a few days before Christmas, reminding
 people that "Christmas and all other superstitious festivals"
 should not be observed, businesses should remain open.
 There were to be no displays of Christmas decorations. 

 During the year 1647 popular riots broke out in various
 places demanding the legalization of Christmas. But the
 puritan government stood firm and proceeded to break up
 Christmas celebrations by force of arms. People were
 arrested and in many instances jailed. The Puritans seemed
 surprised by the strength of popular resistance to their
 anti-Christmas policies, but they would not alter their policies
 or compromise their principles. They simply went down to
 defeat in the next elections. The Puritans were thrown out of
 power -- and Christmas was back on the march. 

 In cold New England, the zeal of the Puritans persisted long
 after it had faded away in England. The holiday remained
 outlawed in Massachusetts until the second half of the
 nineteenth century. While we think of Christmas as
 something we've been doing since time immemorial, our
 present practices are virtual novelties. It was not until
 immigrants from Ireland and from the continent began
 arriving in great numbers that Christmas in America began to
 flourish. The Germans brought their Christmas tree. The
 Irish placed lights in their windows. Catholic immigrants from
 Eastern Europe brought their native carols as well as the
 radical idea of staying home from work on Christmas Day!
 Very soon their neighbors, charmed by these unfamiliar, but
 appealing innovations, followed the pattern set by the new
 immigrant groups and invented new customs of their own.
 Eventually a powerful surge of enthusiasm from people of all
 faiths swept resistance away. In the end, neither the moral
 authority of the church, nor the power of the state, could
 prevent the spirit of Christmas with all its excess from
 erupting throughout the nation. The spirit of Christmas has a
 life of its own, undisciplined, unorganized, chaotic,
 overly-commercial, ever-present, Invincible! All efforts to
 reform it or change it or amend it have failed, despite
 countless efforts to do so. So my feeling is, if you can't beat
 it, join it. 

 If we cannot restore this season to its pristine beauty, what
 we can do is recapture something of its deeper meaning even
 in the midst of its most exuberant excess. We know in the
 plainest possible terms what the spirit of Christmas is all
 about. We know what happened, when and where and why.
 Shepherds came to the stable. And three magi. The ox and
 the ass looked on in wonder. No living creature was exempt
 from astonishment. Even the stars looked down with a
 peculiar gleam. Tradition holds that at the moment of our
 Savior's birth, all nature was hushed as if time itself had
 missed a beat. And in the shock of that stillness, all creatures
 knew what had happened. In a language too deep for words
 there was a universal revelation of God's eternal love. 

 According to legend, it was revealed to every class of
 creature. From the very stones which were believed to be at
 the bottom of the scale of creation to the angels at its summit.
 The miracle was made known to the stone for there were
 earthquakes throughout the Mediterranean world at the hour
 of his birth. The miracle was made known to the plants, for
 in certain regions the vines suddenly flowered, bore grapes,
 and produced wine. It was made known to the animals, to
 the ox and the ass present at the manger, who were gifted
 with human speech to praise our savior's birth. It was made
 known to the angels, for the whole host of heaven had come
 down to earth and shone around that cave with a brilliance
 that turned night into day. 

 According to legend the meaning of this most holy time was
 made clear in the last instance to the human beings, for we
 were the ones with minds clouded with preconceptions and
 hearts torn by conflicting desires. The angles and the stones
 of the field, the birds and the beasts knew instantly what was
 happening, but we human creatures could not understand lest
 we abandon our callused and habitual ways of perceiving the
 world. Even though king Herod was making preparations for
 war at that very moment, on Christmas Eve all nature sang
 together in harmony; the stars and the shepherds, the ox and
 the ass, Mary and Joseph. The robin's breast is red, one
 legend tells, because it fluttered its little wings to quicken the
 dying fire which has been lit to warm the Christ child as he
 lay in the manger. As the fire grew brighter and brighter, the
 feathers of the robin's breast caught the glow from the flames
 and have remained red ever since. 

 What all these myths and legends of our ancestors have in
 common is the sense of unity and serenity in God's whole
 creation. The peace which we celebrate this season is nothing
 less than the peace of God. It is not a blessing to be enjoyed
 by humans alone; it is a peace which belongs to this whole
 creation. The purpose of Christ's coming was not to save
 something as vague and immaterial as the human soul, the
 real purpose was and is to restore God's peace to the whole
 creation. Things animate and inanimate, plant and animal,
 resources natural and supernatural must be restored to their
 original harmony if we are to be saved. 

 As oxen and ass, cattle and sheep, stones and stars,
 shepherds and kings came to the stable in that moment of
 wonder, so let us be still for a moment this Christmas and in
 that moment of silence rededicate ourselves to be the peace
 makers God has called each and everyone of us to be. In the
 midst of all the hustle and bustle, carve out for your self a
 moment of peace and serenity, to get in touch with the spirit
 of Christmas. Perhaps it can be that quiet time before
 everyone else in your household has begun to stir, or after
 they have retired, if you are a night owl. A time for quiet
 reflection in which you can let the spirit of Christmas speak,
 and let God's peace stir within you, touching your deepest
 being. 

 Admittedly this simple suggestion is not always easy to carry
 off, especially during a busy holiday season like this. And it's
 not only the busyness of the season, it's the strain and
 pressure at work, or the news of the world which seems to
 drown out the deeper stirrings of the still small voice from
 within. Yes, this world is threatened by violence and by war
 at this very hour. Violence in our streets, war in distant places
 like Bosnia. How hard it must be for the families of those
 soldiers who are this very moment camped out on some
 mountainside in the Balkans. Not a place anyone would
 choose to spend Christmas. Anymore than Mary and Joseph
 chose Bethlehem. For they too were acting upon orders
 issued by a higher authority. In nearly two millenium since
 that first Christmas morning we have not found a way to
 weave the miracle of Christmas into the affairs of nations and
 empires, let alone make it a permanent part of our daily lives,
 such that we would no longer need these external props to
 remind us of what we have forgotten, neglected, or ignored. 

 So we need to be self conscious, deliberate and intent upon
 the task. Carving out that island of peace and serenity in
 which the spirit of Christmas can come shining through. And
 the strange thing is, the spirit of Christmas does manages to
 find a way of expressing itself despite all the things we do to
 keep it at bay; God's peace has a way of reaching out to
 touch and transform us, intent though we may be in upon
 lesser things. 

 Long ago Howard Thurman put it this way. "The spirit of
 Christmas--what is it? It is the rainbow arched over the roof
 of the sky when the clouds are heavy with foreboding. It is
 the cry of life in the newborn babe when, forced from its
 mother's nest, it claims its right to live. It is the brooding
 Presence of the Eternal Spirit making crooked paths straight,
 rough places smooth, tired hearts refreshed, dead hopes
 stirred with the newness of life. It is the promise of tomorrow
 at the close of every day, the movement of life in defiance of
 death, and the assurance that love is sturdier than hate, that
 right is more confident that wrong, that good is more
 permanent than evil." 

 At its best the spirit of Christmas is a mirror in which we see
 reflected the very best that life can be; at Christmas we see
 ourselves, moved by generosity, inspired by hope, uplifted by
 love, encouraged by hope, not only for ourselves but for this
 whole creation, even, and perhaps most especially for those
 things we usually find unlovable. The homeless family is
 transformed in our sight into the very image of Mary and
 Joseph; the abused little baby, abandoned in a garbage
 compactor in some squalid tenement house, has become the
 Christ child, upon which the hopes of the world are seen to
 rest. And we too, are drawn into the drama, becoming agents
 of God's plan for the reconciliation of the world. 

 Let this be our common prayer: that the spirit of Christmas
 more and more becomes that life giving presence in which we
 live and move and have our being. Such that one day, the
 holiday, with all its excess, shall fade away. Not because it is
 forbidden, banned our outlawed, but because it simple truth
 finds complete expression in the pattern of our daily life.
 Amen. 



Christmas Angel Cookies
1/2 c  Shortening 
1/2 ts Baking soda
1/2 c  Cream cheese, softened 
1/2 ts Salt
1 c  Light brown sugar,*
1 tb Vanilla
 1/2 c  Granulated sugar
2 c  Candied fruit, mixed
2    Eggs
2 c  Broken pecans or almonds
3 cups  Flour
* firmly packed

     The cream cheese gives these cookies a smooth texture, while the fruits sparkle and sweeten
     the flavor. Nice for using the candied fruits that didn't make it into the fruit cake.

     Preheat oven to 350x.
     In a large bowl, cream shortening and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy. Add sugars and
     eggs, mixing well. In a seperate bowl, sift flour, baking soda and salt together.
     Add flour mixture to egg and sugar mixture; add vanilla. Mix well. Add candied fruit and nuts.

     Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto lightly oiled cookie sheet and bake at 350x for about 10-12
     minutes. The cookies will be just browned at the edges.

     Hint: You may have to mix candied fruit and nuts in with your hands; a little shortening on
     your fingers will keep the mixture from sticking.

     Yield: 3 dozen.

Merry Christmas To All; And To All A Goodnight !