One of the most memorable moments on CBS’s 60 Minutes had nothing to do with war or political scandals. It was an essay on the meaning of Christmas by the late Harry Reasoner.
Reasoner called Christmas “such a unique idea that most non-Christians accept it and . . . sometimes envy it.” What makes it unique is not the gift-giving, but what Reasoner called “the truest thing in the world”: It is the “anniversary of the appearance of the Lord of the Universe in the form of a helpless baby . . . ”
For Reasoner, God chose exactly the correct form needed to intimately identify with us and our condition. And in becoming a helpless child, He made it possible to be loved, as well as feared, since “everyone has seen babies, and most people like them.”
Fourteen years after his death, Reasoner is still right about the meaning of Christmas, but I’m not sure about most people liking babies, at least the inconvenient ones. The most obvious example of this diminished regard for babies is abortion-on-demand, which has cost an estimated 40 million babies their lives.
An especially tragic group of these victims are children who have been diagnosed in utero as having Down syndrome. Compared to our slaughter of these innocents, Herod’s efforts to kill the infant Jesus were amateurish: Expectant women are now pressured into prenatal testing, including amniocentesis; then, if Down syndrome is detected, they are expected to get an abortion, which 90 percent of them do.
And now, according to a $15 million, eight-year study just published last month in the November 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, science is endeavoring to make these practices easier, at least for women and their doctors. Through a newly developed prenatal test, Down syndrome can now be detected in the first trimester of pregnancy. When one researcher called the outcome of this research “huge,” she was right in ways that probably did not occur to her: The potential to eliminate a class of people shortly after conception now lies within our grasp.
Of course, we don’t call them “people,” much less “babies.” Instead, we call them “embryos” and, if we absolutely must, “fetuses.” That way, we don’t have to confront the fact that not only are we taking human life, but also that we have singled out the most vulnerable members of our community.
That singling out makes our Christmas celebrations this year especially ironic because Reasoner was right: The truest thing in the world is that the Lord of the Universe specifically identified with the poor and vulnerable in His Incarnation. When the Word became flesh, He did not don royal robes, but the swaddling clothes of peasants and laborers.
In case we missed the point, shortly before Jesus went to the Cross, He told His disciples that we will be judged according to how we treated “the least of these, my brethren.” Can anyone doubt what grade our society would receive today?
If this sounds a bit somber, recall that the weeks leading up to Christmas, known as Advent, are a time for reflection and repentance. As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s first coming, we look forward to His second: an appearance that will forever settle the status of what Jesus called “the least of these.” Are you ready for Christmas?