A Christmas Essay by Harry Reasoner

“Then the angel told her: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”  — Luke 1:30-33 (HCSB)

Harry Reasoner

Harry Reasoner

There are a few journalists/broadcasters — most of them “old school” — who are known not just for presenting the news but for sharing thoughtful commentary and personal insights about current events and holidays. While perhaps not as prolific in this area as, say, Paul Harvey or Andy Rooney, the respected news correspondent Harry Reasoner was indeed known for his articulate commentary.

This particular piece is attributed to different years and places, depending on who you read, and there are slightly different versions of it. According to biographer Douglass K. Daniel (Harry Reasoner: A Life in the News), Reasoner originally penned it back in 1962, when working for “Calendar”. He shared it with the larger “60 Minutes” audience in 1969 and again on the “ABC Evening News” two years later. Reasoner said that he received more viewer mail about this piece than about anything else he ever did.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Harry Reasoner…

“What Christ Looked Like”

The basis for this tremendous annual burst of gift buying and parties and near hysteria is a quiet event that Christians believe actually happened a long time ago. You can say that in all societies there has always been a midwinter festival and that many of the trappings of our Christmas are almost violently pagan. But you come back to the central fact of the day and quietness of Christmas morning — the birth of God on earth. It leaves you only three ways of accepting Christmas.

One is cynically, as a time to make money or endorse the making of it.

One is graciously, the appropriate attitude for non-Christians, who wish their fellow citizens all the joys to which their beliefs entitle them.

And the third, of course, is reverently. If this is the anniversary of the appearance of the Lord of the universe in the form of a helpless babe, then it is a very important day.

It’s a startling idea, of course. My guess is that the whole story — that a virgin was selected by God to bear His Son as a way of showing His love and concern for man — is not an idea that has been popular with theologians. It’s a somewhat illogical idea, and theologians like logic almost as much as they like God. It’s so revolutionary a thought that it probably could only come from a God that is beyond logic, and beyond theology.

It has a magnificent appeal. Almost nobody has seen God, and almost nobody has any real idea of what He is like. And the truth is that among men the idea of seeing God suddenly and standing in a very bright light is not necessarily a completely comforting and appealing idea.

octive-of-the-nativity-mangerBut everyone has seen babies, and most people like them. If God wanted to be loved as well as feared, He moved correctly here. If He wanted to know His people as well as rule them, He moved correctly here, for a baby growing up learns all about people. If God wanted to be intimately a part of man, He moved correctly, for the experiences of birth and familyhood are our most intimate and precious experiences.

So it goes beyond logic. It is what Bishop Karl Morgan Block used to call a kind of divine insanity. It is either all falsehood or it is the truest thing in the world. It either rises above the tawdriness of what we make of Christmas or it is part of it and completely irrelevant. It’s the story of the great innocence of God the baby — God in the form of man.

And it is such a dramatic shot for the heart, that if it is not true for Christians, nothing else is, because this story reaches Christians universally and with profound emotion. So, if a Christian is touched only once a year, the touching is still worth it, and maybe on some given Christmas, some final quiet morning, the touch will take.

Because the message of Christmas IS the Christmas Story. If it is false, we are doomed. If it is true, as it must be, it makes everything else in the world all right.”

Now, I don’t know what Reasoner’s religious beliefs were, and I would have some disagreement with the ideas of “beyond logic” and “divine insanity” and perhaps quibble on a couple other bits. The piece certainly touches on different aspects of the Incarnation that bear further examination. (Another time, perhaps.) But, overall, I found it to be honest, thoughtful, perhaps even challenging. Hope you enjoyed it, too.

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

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