San Diego — What do you want for Christmas?
Never mind the Amazon gift card, or the new pair of Air-Pods. You can survive without the latest video game, or the newest gadget.
If you’re like most Americans, what you really need this year is a strong dose of humility, and maybe a reminder of the reason we celebrate the season.
Some will always believe that the greatest threat to Christianity is secularism. They’ll go to court to defend Nativity scenes in the local park, or the right to hang a copy of the Ten Commandments in a public building.
But perhaps they’re not seeing the more real danger, even though it’s in front of them. They’re not paying attention. Maybe they’re out shopping.
This year, during the 26 days from Thanksgiving to Christmas, when we’re all defined by our credit cards, it’s obvious that the real threat to Christianity is another “ism”: materialism.
You can blame it on all the hype surrounding Black Friday, which started off as the day after Thanksgiving, when you could get great deals on stuff. Now it has discreetly and gradually expanded, from Thursday at midnight to Sunday at midnight. Of course, that spills into Cyber Monday, where digital retailers offer even more deals on more stuff.
Or you can blame it on parents who don’t know how to say “no.” It’s as if every 40-year-old with a gold Am-Ex card, and a childhood memory of not getting the toy they wanted for Christmas, has resolved to not let their own children relive that trauma.
Or you can blame it on the fact that, while a generation or two ago, a department store Santa would ask children if they had been solid citizens, and make a toy conditional on good behavior, nowadays, Santa has dropped the conditions and promises to bring whatever the kid asks for, no strings attached.
Or you can blame it on the fact that, while some surveys find that as many as 40% to 50% of Americans consider themselves very religious, church attendance keeps falling across the country.
In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that 37% of all Americans attended church on a weekly basis. That same year, Gallup surveys put the figure at 39%. In 2018, a survey reported that for the first time, the number of Americans who never attend church or synagogue (28%) was larger than the number who attended weekly (22%).
Given all that, we should not be terribly surprised that many Americans are all twisted up and turned around to the point where they think that what Christmas is really about is presents under the tree and not a baby in a manger.
There’s your no-frills Nativity scene. It’s simplicity itself. It doesn’t get any humbler than a virgin in Bethlehem giving birth to a baby on a bed of straw surrounded by farm animals. You have this tiny, seemingly insignificant, infant who isn’t born into affluence or influence.
Of course, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would go on to save humanity and change the world. And, in our love and admiration for him, and our appreciation for his sacrifice, it is us who wind up feeling tiny and insignificant.
This is as it should be. It makes us human. That is when we are most alive, when we reflect on our family, our country, and our God, and we weep because we feel small and inconsequential in their company.
Humility is an underrated virtue. It gives you strength and wisdom, because it provides you with perspective. It keeps your feet planted on the ground, and it reminds you to be grateful for what you have and empathetic toward those who suffer.
We’re taught growing up that we have to be confident in our abilities if we want to get things done and accomplish our goals. Anything short of that is seen as weakness. But left unchecked, confidence can turn to arrogance, which is the greatest weakness of all because it can lead to blindness and ignorance.
Just look at the New Age emphasis on increasing children’s self-esteem as if that were a silver bullet that will solve everything. A lot of teachers don’t even use red ink pens anymore because they’re afraid that the color is too dramatic, and that it might devastate a child’s self-esteem.
You know what we should be teaching our children? It’s the same thing we should all hope to get for Christmas this year, and every year: humility.
How will you know when you have it? Well, for one thing, you won't need a reminder that what retailers like us to call “the season of giving” is really a massive birthday party to which the whole world is invited.
Happy Birthday to our Lord and Savior. Feliz cumpleaños. And many more.