Why we need Christ at the beginning of Christmas

ChristmasLights

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)!

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Looking backward, moving forwards

I used to think that with each new year, I was getting wiser.

In reality, I’m probably just getting older … like sun-baked plastic, slowly growing more rigid, cracked and brittle with each passing day. Which is why I no longer blog about subjects like the eleven steps to self-attainment or the seven habits of highly effective nose pickers, or new years resolutions in three easy payments. Call me a grumpy old man, but I’ve been down that road. Hey, if it lights your candle, then I wish you all the best. But to everyone else, if you’re happy to humour a cantankerous old sceptic, I’d like to share my musings on a year that was more morbid than magical.

2014 was quite a year. After suffering from depression for most of the three previous years, I was hoping that 2014 was going to be a year of consolidation. It turned out quite the opposite. I celebrated a birthday milestone with a party that was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and is still remembered fondly by those who could. That, and I published my second book. In terms of highlights, that was it.

Otherwise, it was a year of adversity. Nearly every one of my family members was in hospital this year at some point. And death came for my wife’s mum, Robin Williams, the cricketer Phillip Hughes, and everyday heroes like Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson in Sydney’s Lindt Cafe siege. In late October, I nearly lost my wife. Many of my friends suffered untold tragedies too.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it, 2014 was a tough year. In the shower this morning, where I get all of my best thinking done, I was contemplating the year that was, and how I was going to move forward. 2014 had left me emotionally bruised and bleeding, and I will carry some of the scars forever. Though while I may be broken, in many ways, that’s not such a bad thing. Brokenness changes your perspective. I’m more grateful for my family. I can empathise on a deeper level with my patients in their distress. I’ve come to understand the wilderness experience of the soul.

I’ve come to realise that goals without deeper values undergirding them are vacuous and futile.

I have a deeper understanding of the grace of God, who despite my brokenness, misery and existential despair, was holding me up and bringing me through. He was my lifeguard, keeping my head above water, swimming me to shore.

Hmmm, perhaps I’m not as rigid or as brittle as I thought.

In 2015, I won’t be making any silly resolutions trying to better myself, because in being broken, I can finally see what’s truly valuable in my life. I may be limping, but at least I’m finally limping in the right direction.

If you’re broken and limping too, let’s limp together into a new year that is richer and more fulfilling than the last.