Everyone says that what is wrong with Christmas is that it is "too commercial" - but that is not the trouble. What is wrong with Christmas is that it is "too spiritual" - in the wrong way.
The commercial aspect of Christmas can easily be ignored or rejected by anyone who wants to take this holiday seriously. But the false "spiritual" aspect is harder to separate from the true and original message.
The three magi, and the star of Bethlehem, and the babe in the manger, and the mystery and the miracle - all these attractive legends make it tempting for us to forget what the real story is all about.
And the real story - the whole message of the whole messiahship - may be summed up in two sentences from Jesus' own lips:
"If anyone say, 'I love God' and hates his neighbor, he is a liar.'" (I John 4:20)
"Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it unto me." (Matthew 25:40)
this is what Christmas - the mass of Christ - must mean, if it is to mean anything. If it does not mean this to us, then what we worships mere superstition and rank idolatry.
You cannot love God without loving every fellow creature He made; and an act of contempt or rejection or injustice or neglect toward the least - the lowest, the weakest, the dumbest, the poorest - is an act against Him.
If Christianity does not mean this, it means nothing. If this central fact is ignored or slurred or rationalized away, the whole structure of Christianity falls apart, and we are left with nothing but another primitive "magic" religion.
And it is not the impious, the pagans and unbelievers, who most need this message. It is the believers, the "spiritual" people, who mistake form for substance, prayers for performance, worship for practice. Christianity is not a "spiritual" religion, like some religions of the East. It is an intensely "practical" religion, having its moral roots in the practicality of Judaism. "By their fruits ye shall know them," He said.
It is easy to think Christmas; but is is hard - sometimes intolerably hard - to act christmas. Our false commercialism doesn't prevent it as much as our false spirituality. Not the clang of the cash register, but the jingle of bells, calling us to a shallow sentimentality, and seducing us from the patient task of human fellowship all those other long 364 days of the year.
Editor's note: This column was wrtten as a letter to the editor in 1972.