A Reagan Christmas

The words of one of our greatest presidents would be shockingly out of place today.

Today in America, we proudly celebrate the birthdays of leaders of social change like Martin Luther King, Jr. every January.  We honor the birthdays of leaders of political change like Presidents Washington and Lincoln every February.  We even celebrate each October someone only thinly associated with America on Columbus Day.  But in recent years we have become unwilling to not only publicly celebrate, but to even acknowledge, the December birth of the world's greatest spiritual leader, and the One in which 90% of Americans report to believe. 

Ronald Reagan, however, refused to allow the secularization of America deter him from declaring the true meaning of Christmas.

Presidents Bush, Clinton, and others have used their seldom heard weekly radio addresses to speak of their personal feelings of Christmas and their own Christian beliefs, but it's difficult to find any of our presidents speaking to a legitimately national audience or a crowd of public citizens with such fearless religious conviction as President Reagan.

On December 23, 1981, Reagan spoke on national television from the Oval Office about how "Christmas means so much because of one special child" and that many "of us believe in the divinity of the child born in Bethlehem, that he was and is the promised Prince of Peace."  He told specifically of a "love Jesus taught us," and with unflinching Biblical references, explained that "Americans have always tried to follow a higher light, a star, if you will."  And that the success of our nation lies in "trusting in God's help."

Reagan declared that even though we have been divinely blessed, we have a reciprocal "obligation to the God who guides us, an obligation to the heritage of liberty and dignity handed down to us by our forefathers."  Our 40th president knew and explicitly displayed through his words and actions that America is gift from God, and if we stray from His guidance the very purpose with we have been ordained will gradually erode.

At the national tree lighting ceremony on December 12, 1985, he proudly announced how the holiday season "is rich in the meaning of our Judeo-Christian tradition."  He proceeded to tell an eloquent version of the Biblical Christmas story, complete with the travels of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the guidance of a heavenly star, and "the beginning of one solitary life that would shake the world as never before or since." He proclaimed that the birth of Christ brought forth a divine touch of "Godly love, love that can lift our hearts and soothe our sorrows and heal our wounds and drive away our fears."  Regan explained how this special birth "expresses the true meaning of Christmas," and that with a plea for "no boundaries separating the members of God's family... may all the youthful hope and joy of America light up the heavens and make the angels sing."

Reagan even went beyond the common celebratory attitude of Christ's arrival to publicly state that His birth has eternal implications.  In his Christmas radio address of December 24, 1983, Reagan quoted the line of Scripture that defines the very basis of Christianity:

"He is divine, living assurance that God so loved the world He gave us His only begotten Son so that by believing in Him and learning to love each other we could one day be together in paradise."

Here we are only 25 years later, but can you imagine any public figure, much less the President of the United States, so overtly proclaiming Christianity?  Can you imagine the reactions from the press, political correctness groups, and other secularists?  Reagan's steady hand of personal conviction carried him through the tumult of religious reactionaries, and he always came out smiling peacefully on the other side.

And in sharp contrast to the recent refusal of the Governor of Washington to stand up for the religious history of Christmas and defend the truth of the nativity, Reagan's values could not have been clearer.  At the national tree lighting ceremony of December 13, 1984, Reagan reinstituted the Pageant of Peace nativity scene that had been previously outlawed by a 1973 Supreme Court decision.

Our nation is torn.  It is torn between the tradition of conservative values and the progression of liberal agendas.  It is in conflict with nations abroad and with citizens at home.  It is in search of an ephemeral guiding principle while ignoring an eternal governing truth.  Many of us, though, still believe in President Reagan's vision of America-one of equality and generosity for all under the love and protection of One.

But whether you are religious or not, perhaps there is one gift we can all hope for during this Christmas season. It is one for which Reagan fought diligently and commented gracefully during an official December 20, 1983, White House Press Conference:

Q: What do you want for Christmas?

The President: What do I want for Christmas? You know what I'm going to say.

Q: What?

The President: Peace.

Q: Well, what do you want in a box?  

The President: If you could get it in a box, I'll take it in a box.

I think that's something we can all agree on this season.  As President Reagan would proudly say -- Merry Christmas.