The tinsel has been adorning shopping centres for weeks now, while houses glow with festive spirit and the rainbow of thousands of tiny bulbs. And yet it’s only now, with Christmas less than a week away, that I’ve had enough of a chance to slow down and contemplate the place of Christmas in the world of 2015.
It’s certainly a different world now than it used to be. I remember only a few years ago, the meaning of Christmas seemed to be drowning in a rampant flood of commercialism. This year, the meaning of Christmas seems like it’s being assaulted by rampant secularism on one hand, and a terrorism-related pervading sense of apprehension on the other.
Jason Wilson recently wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian Australia. The tone was a bit hubristic, but the conclusion was fair:
“It has long since stopped being a primarily religious event in Western culture, so the secular left does not need to be too concerned about reclaiming Christmas for themselves. And the way to do that is to insist on the enactment of its deepest meaning for Christians and secularists alike, which is a radical generosity – to refugees, to those who do not share our faith (or lack thereof), and even to our political enemies.”
Wilson is right on both counts; Christmas is, and always has been about radical generosity, and Christmas has lost its traditional Christian roots.
What I’ve been pondering is whether it’s possible to have radical generosity without “Christ” as the first part of “Christmas”?
After all, Christmas is Christmas because of the ultimate example of radical generosity, the son of God giving himself as the ultimate sacrifice to a world who despised, tortured and killed him. Whether you’re a Christian or an atheist, the moral of the Christmas story is a universal principle that we can all aspire to.
There’s also a lot more about Christmas that can inspire us, especially to those of us who do celebrate the deeper spiritual meanings of our Saviour’s birth.
Jesus taught that he was “the way, the truth and the life”. It seems that the average western Christian has forgotten this fundamental. Jesus gives life a direction, a unity of purpose that should fuse us together into a unified body, inspired by and continually pursuing the truth of the gospel. Instead, it seems that we’re scattered, running in different directions like spooked horses, ignoring the common truth of the gospel and blindly accepting every alluring pseudo-profound notion, so long as it has a bit of out-of-context scripture mixed in.
Jesus also taught that he was the light of the world. Paris, Kenya, Nigeria, the Lindt Café, or San Bernardino … it seems that we’re being overwhelmed by darkness. Evil seems to be touching all corners of the globe at the hands of ISIS, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, or just lone wolves with tar-pitch souls and itchy trigger fingers. It seems that any one could be a victim of the new terrorism, that no one is ever truly safe.
The thing about darkness is it’s not a force of its own. Darkness is only present because of an absence of light. It’s human to fight darkness with more darkness – radical Muslims have waged war on the West, and it’s natural to retaliate against other Muslims. But adding darkness to darkness doesn’t enlighten. We need to add light. As Christians, we need to be the light that Jesus shines into the darkest places.
It isn’t easy. I’m certainly not going to pretend that I have it all worked out, or put myself up as a shining example of love and tolerance.
Not that anyone can do it all on their own either. It takes thousands of little bulbs to light up a prize-winning Christmas-lights display. And it takes all of us working as the body of Christ to overcome the darkness. Whether your bulb is dull and flickering, or powering brightly, if we all give God our best, he will put us together to become the perfect display of his light.
This year, put your little light on display by putting Christ at the beginning of Christmas.
And have a very Merry Christmas (and a safe holiday season)!