Christmas is not the most pleasant time to go to church. Not only unbelievers suffering from the compulsions of a churchgoing childhood but even fervent believers often have to steel themselves when the pastor rises to deliver his Christmas sermon. There is always the grim possibility that the focus will be upon those wretched persons in the congregation who have not been seen since the previous Easter; such sermons agonize the unbeliever without helping him and fail to edify the faithful (since Law is confused with Gospel and good advice is substituted for the central Christian message of Good News). But even if the Christmas churchgoer is fortunate enough to miss a law preachment, he will seldom avoid the twin agonies of sermonic rationalism and homiletic iconoclasm.

At the liberal side of the ecclesiastical spectrum, the person who has the temerity to enter a Christmas service has every chance of hearing an urbane plea to make his religion “relevant to the twentieth century” by chucking the supernatural baggage of the Christmas story. Influenced both by the Bultmannian efforts at “demythologizing” the New Testament message (penetrating beneath the miraculous accretions to its “genuine” existential center—the quest for “self-authentication”) and by the current vogue of “secular Christianity” (redefining the faith in terms of modern humanistic values), the liberal clergyman derides or pities the childish parishioner who must still hitch his religious wagon to the burnt-out Christmas star. Such legends were meaningful to our pre-scientific forebears, one is told, but to hold on to them now is to remain hopelessly wedded to an irrecoverable past. Magi and shepherds, annunciations and virgin births—surely we must locate the ...

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