I'm a fan of Stephen Colbert. I've watched The Colbert Reportsince its launch in October of 2005. I find it both smart and funny (and a little crass at times--a word to the wise), but one of the real draws to the show for a person like me is that Stephen Colbert is a man of faith. He was reared Catholic, and up until he had his own show he taught Sunday School at his parish. When he was a correspondent on The Daily Show he had a regular feature called "This Week in God," where he would review recent religious news with a humorous and impious slant. (It needs to be noted that Stephen Colbert the man is different from "Stephen Colbert" the character he plays on the show, but his faith comes in from time to time, including this episode where he recites the Nicene Creed.)
Colbert teamed up with some others to produce a funny Christmas special for 2008. Guests included Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, John Legend, Elvis Costello, and Feist, along with Jon Stewart, Colbert's former boss at The Daily Show. The Christmas special was--true to form--smart and funny and, yes, impious at times. But what Colbert and his staff do better than anyone is offer a weighty message along with the playfulness. Seeing Nelson, Keith, Legend, Costello and Feist all team up for a rather somber presentation of "What's the Matter (with Peace, Love and Understanding)" was the first move toward sobriety. But the show ended with Colbert and Costello at the piano singing a song titled, "There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In."The song is a gentle challenge to all who scoff at Christmas--both the reality of Jesus' birth and the hoopla that surrounds it. Here are a few lines:
Elvis: There are cynics, there are skeptics There are legions of dispassionate dyspeptics Who regard this time of year as a maudlin insincere Cheesy crass commercial travesty of all that we hold dear
Stephen: When they think that Well, I can hear it But I pity them their lack of Christmas spirit For in a world like ours, take it from Stephen There are much worse things to believe in.
Elvis: A redeemer and a savior, an obese man giving toys for good behavior
Stephen: The faith in what might be and the hope that we might see The answer to all sorrow in a box beneath the tree Find them foolish
Stephen: Well you're clearly none too bright
Both: so we'll be gentle
Stephen: Don't even try to start vaguely conceiving
Both: Of all much worse things to believe in
Wednesday morning the news was full of accounts of the battles raging in the Gaza strip, the latest exploits of Rod Blagojevich, and continuing fallout from the global financial crisis. That was December 31, not only New Year's Eve but also Day 7 of the Twelve Days of Christmas. That's right, friends, Christmastide extends the 12 days from December 25 until Epiphany on January 6.
So you may want to keep playing those Christmas carols for a few more days, keep the tree up a while, and re-read Luke 2. Because it seems pretty obvious that this world needs a Savior. And that fact that he came once and will come again may seem a strange thing to believe. But there are much worse things to believe in.
Merry Christmas. And a blessed 2009.