OK, ‘quietly’ might not be the appropriate adverb describing the writing of this post, but in terms of its practical application then I think that’s probably the best way of doing it. Essentially, this is a critique of the way in which we, as Christians, celebrate Christmas, and have embraced unthinkingly (and often unknowingly) the consumerist, Santa-driven culture around us.
Take Christmas cards for instance: countless cards crisscross the country to people we see every day, or people we never see, and while we seem to attach great significance to the ‘Christmas card list,’ in actual fact the greetings often carry little depth of meaning. They cost us lots of money that could be better spent in a troubled world, while we could use other means (emails, Facebook) to tell our friends and family that we love them and are thinking of them at this special time of year.
But it’s mainly the kind of cards we send I have a grudge against. Ask yourself, ‘What’s Christmas about?’ For Christians, it’s about the birth of Jesus. Around us the world uses winter themes, Santa and elves, reindeer and presents to denude the festival of its core events. The tragedy is that we conspire with the world to help it succeed. I confess that, in times past, I have played my full role in that by sending cards of robins (please do not send me a card with a robin!) to convey my Christmas greetings. Now I send shepherds, wise men, the Holy Family – anything on the Nativity theme that will quietly say to those who receive it that this festival is about the incarnation of the Son of God in the person of the Christ-child.
And what about Christmas trees? Why do we have them in our homes? Are we following blindly a tradition of Prince Albert that we have adapted so that the glitter and tinsel we use simply fit in with the adverts in shops and on TV, detracting from the central message? Mea culpa! While we do buy a charity tree, we have decorated it too often with Santas and Snowmen rather than Stars, Sheep and gifts of the Wise men. I was told in early life about the fairy at the top of the tree, when I should have been told about an Angel. We need to turn our decorative trees (and why shouldn’t we have bright, cheerful trees to celebrate Christ’s birth?) into tools of story-telling. In fact, they are tools of story-telling whether we like it or not. We need to be careful which story they are telling.
Possibly the biggest twist in the Christmas story of our culture is where the coming of a beneficent Christian saint (Nicholas – Santa Claus) on Christmas Eve supplants the hope of the coming of his Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Yes, we still have ‘Santa sacks’ for fun, and, no, not many people over the age of 8 believe that Santa really comes to leave them presents. But with sleight of hand we have taken away the real hope of our world and exchanged it for a fairy story that will fall by the wayside in childhood.
I think that what I’m saying could be summed up in the difference I have noted between the two amazing buildings, St Peter’s in Rome and La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family) in Barcelona. Look at St Peter’s and you will see the story of the Church and the Popes. Look at La Sagrada Familia and you will read the Story of Jesus.
At Priestfield, in modest ways we are seeking to subvert the controlling Christmas story of our culture through events such as our Nativity Trail. In the shops of the Cameron Toll Centre, characters and animals of the Nativity can be found in a dozen or so stores, and children have a sheet to note where each one is – a sheet that tells them the Story of the birth of Jesus. We are also seeking to bless with (modest) Christmas gifts many of those who serve in our community. There are many simple ways in which we can subvert our culture by telling the real Story of Christmas which has a power all of its own.
So, this blog is both a kind of confession (I bear my full share of culpability) and the story of a conversion (I believe I now see things more clearly and want to change my behaviour). I am sharing my ‘testimony’ in the hope of persuading those who walk the Christian path with me that we need to subvert the world’s Christmas narrative by telling, re-telling and telling again the Story of the Nativity in everything we say and do to celebrate the coming of Christ.