The Archbishop of Canterbury has criticized attempts to ban public nativity scenes and carol singing "out of sensitivity to the supposed tender consciences of other religions." It is too bad that Williams' seemingly cheap shot at those who try to preserve space for other faiths and non-believers gets more headlines than the Williams' message of how Christmas and the story of the birth of Jesus reaches out to those who are in the midst of wondering if there is any hope in this life.
Dr Williams wrote in the Radio Times: "Christmas is one of the great European exports. You'll meet Santa Claus and his reindeer in Shanghai and Dar es Salaam - a long way from the North Pole.
"More seriously, the story of the Nativity is loved even in non-Christian contexts."
He said: "The weary annual attempts by right-thinking people in Britain to ban or discourage Nativity plays or public carol-singing out of sensitivity to the supposed tender consciences of other religions fail to notice that most people of other religions and cultures both love the story and respect the message."
Dr Williams said that the "story of defenceless love - even when wrapped up in all the bizarre fancy dress of Christmas as it's developed over the centuries - touches something universal".
He said that "one of the best and most sensitive recent film re-tellings" of the Nativity story had been made by an Iranian Muslim company.
Read the Archbishop's article here.
The Christmas story outrageously suggests that putting our hand into the clutch of a baby may be the most important thing we can ever do as human beings – a real letting-go of aggression and fear and wanting to make an impression and whatever else is going on in us that keeps us tied up in our struggle and violence.
Even more outrageously, the story suggests that this particular baby, the one born in the outhouse, the one who is rescued at the last moment from a village massacre like the ones that happen so regularly in forgotten civil wars today in Congo or Sudan – this baby is the place where the power of the creator of the universe is completely present. And what on earth might it mean to say that the ultimate power in the universe is more like a baby clutching at us in blind trust than it's like the President's bullet-proof motorcade?
Well, all that is to go a bit beyond the story itself, of course. Christians believe it and not everyone else does. But it still ought to make us think. The fact that this story of defenceless love - even when it's wrapped up in all the bizarre fancy-dress of Christmas as it's developed over the centuries - touches something universal is at the very least a fact that should make us think twice about giving up on the human heart's capacity for goodness and faith, however deeply buried. One-horse open sleighs in South India may be surreal all right; but surreal things can connect us with some surprising realities.