Christmas Eve is the night of anticipation. It is the night when children sleep anxiously, awaiting the wonders of the new day. It celebrates the night when Joseph sat with Mary in a dirty barn in a strange city, in anguish that this was the best he could offer his young wife as she suffered labor pains with the hopes and the worries that comfort and plague every new mother. It is the night when the wise travel from afar to worship new life, when the very skies seem to sparkle in wonderment at the first breath a baby draws into his lungs.
Even those who aren't Christian can appreciate the nativity story as a celebration of birth. Never mind that Christmas does not celebrate the actual birth date of Jesus, that "the Christians stole Christmas" from the pagans, as Leonard Peikoff points out in his classic essay, "Why Christmas Should Be More Commercial."
The tradition has always looked to new life. Peikoff reviews, "Historically, people have always celebrated the winter solstice as the time when the days begin to lengthen, indicating the earth's return to life. ... By the fourth century, the pagans were worshipping the god of the sun on December 25 ... "
Atheists need not believe in the virgin birth to celebrate the holiday; we doubt that, on that special night, Joseph gave a single thought to the night of conception. In birth the father too is born.
Decent people from pagan, Christian, atheist and other traditions can agree that life is precious, that each individual person is irreplaceable.
On Dec. 9, it was two Christians who fought for life. While attending church, Larry Bourbonnais yelled at a killer to distract him. Later he said, "After Columbine, I promised my daughters that if I'm ever in that kind of situation, that I would do something."
Jeanne Assam likewise rose to the challenge and stopped the killer. Tragically, the killer had already struck. And so New Life Church will also mourn the deaths of loved ones over Christmas.
The murderer targeted Christians; he wrote that some Christians "are to blame for most of the problems in the world." This prompted one Christian to reply that "the living God and his followers offend the world, the flesh, and the devil merely by reflecting light in the darkness."
But whatever the problems of Christianity (real or imagined), whatever offense others may find in it, such things are irrelevant to the heinous crime. In a civilized world, people work out their disagreements through rational debate in the public square. In a civilized world, Christians, atheists, Muslims and others live side by side as neighbors under a political system that protects each individual's rights.
It does seem that the killer may have had some legitimate complaints (but who doesn't). According to the Denver Post, his "home-school curriculum ... forbids dating, rock music and 'wrong clothes.' It advises young men and women to live at home until their parents release them and counsels parents to choose marriage partners for their offspring."
Even assuming that the guy grew up oppressed, any real man would simply have left home and started a life of his own. Clearly, the whiny brat blamed others for his own shortcomings. A psychologist quoted by the Rocky Mountain News, John Nicoletti, talks sense when he explains: "He engages first in behaviors that cause him to be rejected. Then he uses this rejection to reinforce his perceived injustice." In the end, the murders had nothing to do with Christianity or its critics, but with the murderer's own refusal to succeed at life. All the hateful rantings were merely dishonest pretexts.
Pastor Gino Geraci correctly identified one of the killer's flaws when he told the Rocky: "We're taking a journey away from moral responsibility. We live in a culture and society that want to share the blame rather than holding people accountable and responsible for their actions."
This Christmas Eve, we share our sorrow for those lost in the murders and we remember the lives of loved ones who have passed.
Because in remembering those no longer with us, we celebrate their lives. Everyone is born, and everyone dies. And between those moments is the precious and unrepeatable gift of life. What happens in that span is mostly up to the individual, for good or for ill. Christmas Eve is about rejoicing in the good.
A birth is an opportunity. It is an offer. Christmas Eve, or, if you wish, the winter solstice, is about taking glory in that offer and making good on it. It is a time for those who love their lives to count their blessings, enjoy their family and savor their time in this world.