This morning while making my way into the office I had a lot on my mind: meetings and deadlines for this last week of work before going on Christmas vacation, things that need to be completed at home before my departure, and some last events and appointments I need to attend to as well. At this time of year many of us are completely overwhelmed with all sorts of matters that require our attention, wondering where we are going to find the time and resources to address all of them. One of the things which helps us – or me, at least – to keep things in perspective is the fact that there are decorations all around, to remind us that this is meant to be a joyous time of year, whatever else it brings.
As you make your way through the area of Lawyer Gulch, otherwise known as the K Street Corridor of downtown Washington, there are many of these reminders on display. The exteriors and lobby areas of the offices, hotels, shops, and other businesses are festooned with Christmas trees, wreaths, lights, and so on, that are a joy to the eyes. Even as you think about how you are going to squeeze in so many things which need to happen in a very limited time, you have a mental reminder that there is something to look forward to beyond simply having a few days off.
And then I passed by a brand-new office building containing a branch of a major American bank. Like many “green” buildings, the lobby of the building was white, cold, and sterile, a soulless place looking something like a Stanley Kubrick film set. While the lobby of the adjoining building was festooned with garlands, paper snowflakes, and the like, this building not only looked as though it was the reception area for the lair of a Bond villain, it had no indication whatsoever that it is Christmastime.
Similarly, the bank which occupies part of this building had no decorations whatsoever. I actually stopped to look closely for several minutes, since in keeping with the space-age theme the space is open-concept, and allows you to see through from one end to the other. There was not one sign of anything joyous or festive, not even a potted poinsettia or a Christmas card on a desk.
No doubt those who own and run these businesses have their reasons for behaving in this fashion, and perhaps there are those among my readers who will say that this is more appropriate than decorating with artificial snowmen and mistletoe. To me, however, what this lack of adornment signifies is cowardice. For the vast majority of Americans do celebrate Christmas, whether they do so because they are Christians, or because they simply enjoy the traditions as a part of our cultural heritage. The absence of such decorations smacks not of tolerance, but rather of a vociferous minority which becomes offended if you so much as whistle “Joy to the World” on a city bus.
Truth be told we do not need, strictly speaking, the presence of Christmas trees in order to celebrate Christmas, any more than we need a turkey to give thanks at Thanksgiving or fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July. They are traditions, and insofar as they are secondary to the primary message while still supporting it, they are good things. However when their absence is intentional, it makes us question not only that intent, but also whether we have been so focused on our own materialism that we have forgotten to stand up for our faith.
Before you get completely worn down then, gentle reader, with bills, social obligations, and physical exhaustion, I would ask those of you who are Christians to appreciate such decorations as you come across them, and to thank those who have put them on display. They are a visual reminder for us that all of this “stuff” which we argue about – fiscal cliff diving, the latest epistolae pomum, who will be America’s next top tart – is simply that: stuff. It ultimately means nothing.
What *does* mean something is the Incarnation: God humbling Himself to come in the form of one of us, to be born in a place where there was no room for Him. It is rather ironic then, to see that there is still no room for Him in certain places, including places where once He was previously welcomed, or at least acknowledged. All the more important then, to take the time to thank those who are still celebrating His coming.