President Barack Obama and his family return early from Hawaii to Washington for fiscal-cliff talks; however, the constant wording that they were on "vacation" bewildered me. I mean, when families (such as mine) come from the warm Southwest to frigid, snowy Iowa for Christmas, the place they grew up, they don't tell their friends they are going "on vacation." So why, every year, are the Obamas "on vacation" when they return to the place of Barack's birth for Christmas?
And yes, almost every year, his "vacation" is "cut short" because of business. Not that the business of being president doesn't go with him wherever he goes, and not that most of us don't go back to work shortly after our particular religious holiday, but there's often a "crisis" that stops President Obama from having the rest he needs for the responsibilities he carries.
But he is portrayed as being "on vacation" rather than celebrating Christmas in a state where many consider he wasn't even born. And some of these same people declare there has been a war on Christmas for the past few years.
I wonder... Who won the war this year? Or was there a war at all? If so, perhaps it was not an assault from the outside, but apathy from the inside. Perhaps we could measure the outcome by how quickly many (most of whom were not called back thousands of miles to handle a work crisis) "cut short" or literally threw away Christmas. We need to be clear -- this is a pluralistic country. For many, many people, Christmas is not a religious holiday and should not be imposed as a "decoration" or "consumer" requirement. But for Christians, I noticed a few houses where trash was piled up at the curb the next day when it wasn't even yet trash pick-up day.
December 25 is the first of 12 days of Christmas, coming to a conclusion with Epiphany on January 6. Time to celebrate, remember, worship, as well as live our daily lives. There were, of course, those whose main belief was conspicuous gift-giving consumption, or rather purchase-on-sale-competition, and on the 26th, the Ritual of Return.
But at a deeper level, churches were full. Families did re-unite. I heard small children listen to the Christmas story and sing more verses of carols than they thought they knew, because they had been hearing them all their lives. And I saw these same children knowledgeably select chickens, ducks, fruit tree seedlings and health care kits from Unicef and church gift catalogs to give to children around the world because this, too, they had been doing each year since they were old enough to choose by pointing to a picture and saying, "duck."
Christmas, I believe, was more than a vacation for the Obama family, and more than a vacation for many families. And while work calls many of us back, Christmas need not be over. I want to go back to when President Obama lit the National Christmas tree December 6.
He said, "For 91 years, the National Christmas Tree has stood as a beacon of light and a promise during the holiday season. During times of peace and prosperity, challenge and change, Americans have gathered around our national tree to kick off the holiday season and give thanks for everything that makes this time of year so magical: spending time with friends and family, and spreading tidings of peace and goodwill here at home and around the world...
Each Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a child who came into the world with only a stable's roof to shelter Him. But through a life of humility and the ultimate sacrifice, a life guided by faith and kindness towards others, Christ assumed a mighty voice, teaching us lessons of compassion and charity that have lasted more than two millennia. He ministered to the poor. He embraced the outcast. He healed the sick. And in Him we see a living example of scripture that we ought to love others not only through our words, but also through our deeds.
It's a message both timeless and universal -- no matter what God you pray to, or if you pray to none at all -- we all have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to make a difference that is real and lasting. We are our brother's keeper. We are our sister's keeper.
And so in this season of generosity, let's reach out to those who need help the most. . ."
And so it is back to work. That's clear. And President Obama is very clear. He clearly states that he is a Christian. And just as clearly says that this is a nation where many diverse people hold many beliefs and sets of values. Each of us, as we carry out our work in daily life, have responsibilities to our brothers and sisters here and around the world, and especially to those who need help the most.
It is too soon to throw out those words. There is work to be done.