Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Real Christmas

Many people and, indeed, many far more worthy and experienced people than me, will write something ‘significant’ over the coming few days. That will, however, not stop me saying a few things.

This year, the Queen’s talking about old age, the Archbishop of Canterbury about the Middle-East and Christian values whilst Channel 4’s ‘Alternative Message’ will be examining social integration.

From this it becomes clear that social values are being discussed under the authority of ‘state’, ‘church’ and that third arm of nationhood: ‘media.’ Christmas provides the impetus for a general discussion and examination of the period of change that our society finds itself in. What makes this discussion interesting is that it is conducted by people working ‘outside’ politics: the monarch, the head of the church and the powerful media. They seem to have better answers than our ruling elite or at least think that they do.

For some, Christmas provides the occasion to discuss generally, without theology, rather than a moment to include the spiritual life in the discussions. This rather confirms the separation of the Christian festival from its religious roots. That said, for many others, at Christmas, our eyes turn to faith to solve the big questions. This is not turning to ‘church’ but to a broader set of values, set around perceived goods and evils.

We look to an event 2000 years ago at this time of year and, at first, see it as being irrelevant to today’s problems. Then, on reflection, that event holds so much resonance with today: a single mother, a war-torn country and religious conflict.

Christianity, then as now, was not a widely-followed faith but, instead, one with a dedicated band of adherents. Yet, its values permeate our society: our laws, morals and political systems are all based on biblical thinking. Therefore, trying to separate the ‘church’ from the other aspects of our life is impossible and so we should not try to make Christmas a faithless festival. This false separation of church from state or a wider life causes tension in France (where they’ve even given it a name as laicite). Indeed, the attempts at separation serve to highlight and stress any differences rather than illuminating and relishing the very differences which make us unique.

Due to our institutions of statehood taking Christmas for political needs and our shops taking it for commercial ones, Christmas can often seem devoid of faith. In other words, Christmas no longer seems Christian. It’s not even the most important festival of the Christian year. Easter is the key moment where death was overcome by resurrection. That said, this point of view risks belittling the moment where God came to join us on earth. Therefore, Christian retains its magic.

Instead of seeing Christmas as having lost something, as becoming a time for politicking, for consumerism, perhaps we should see ‘God’ in the small things:

In the Quiet flood of eager people going to church

In the joy of families re-united.

In the pleasure of sharing and giving.

In the comfort of caring and loving.

Christmas is as alive, well and spiritual for its 2006th celebration as it was for its first if you look in the right places.

May your Christmas be blessed, joyous and peaceful,


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