Well in previous Christmases I have loudly and proudly affirmed that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”. I have worn badges and stuck stickers with the best of them and I have been more than happy to fly the flag for the faith during the festive season.
However this particular Christmas 2014, I’ve had a bit of a crisis of conscience. While watching various Christian Christmas productions I have been asking myself for the very first time ever: Is Jesus truly the Reason for the Season? To be honest, I have grown increasingly disillusioned with “Christian TV” as I am generally disillusioned with most things labelled “Christian”. Christian Christmas productions this year have felt particularly schmaltzy and syrupy sweet. This year I have been watching with a somewhat cynical eye as I have come to see most supposed Christians as being insincere in their profession of faith, and their adherence to the Bible. To me, much of Christian TV and indeed Christian anything is not really about God and His nature as revealed in the Bible, but rather about making a profit. So this assertion that Jesus is the Reason for the Season to me has seemed to be arguably yet another aspect of faith that is not actually true.
Please do not get me wrong. I am not walking away from the faith. By the grace of God I am more committed to Christ and to my faith and to the Bible than ever before. When I say that Jesus might not be the reason for the season, it is simply for this reason: The Christian festival of Christmas was superimposed on an existing pagan festival of light, Saturnalia. In many parts of the world, people historically celebrate festivals of light at the darkest point of winter/the year, such as the Hindu festival of Diwali. (Christmas itself almost coincides with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, still celebrated in Wicca and other pagan religion). So much of the Western Christmas celebration has nothing to do with Christ in its origins, but various traditions have been twisted to fit into the Christian narrative. I’m thinking of Christmas trees for instance which were pagan in origin but have now been adopted wholescale into traditional Christmas celebrations. I was watching a Christian TV movie just today (Christmas Eve) which tried to claim Christmas Trees as being symbolic of Everlasting life and rebirth. Because they are trees, they happily lend themselves to all sorts of symbolism of life and growth etc. However, apparently the tradition ultimately derives from the pagan tradition of tree worship. And then you get aspects such as Father Christmas or Santa Claus which apparently derived from the Christian tradition of St Nicholas, but which have now assumed a life of their own which threatens to overshadow the Biblical story of Christmas, about Jesus being born in Bethlehem.
I am not saying that as Christians we should get rid of Christmas Trees and Father Christmas/Santa. I’ve got a family member who refuses to celebrate Christmas because of these reasons. However, I hope that there is a certain pragmatism to my own faith which can accommodate these things and happily adopt them into my own celebration of Christmas. What I am saying is that for the first time ever, it seemed a little false for us as Christians to claim that all of this is about Jesus. Even if Christmas did not exist, then I’m certain that there would still be a celebration of light at this time of the world in the West. Not so much in parts of the World with no discernible winter, admittedly.
But then I was thinking more about it. While yes, there might still be a festival of light of some sorts in the Western world, there is a wonder and a mystery to Christmas which to me is all about Jesus. If “Saturnalia” was the festival being celebrated, then it would merely be one long drunken orgy – to be perfectly candid. (At this point I always like to remind people that I happen to be a strict non-drinker!) And then this same Christian movie that I saw today made the point that Christmas is all about love. It is all about God’s love for the world, and especially the poorest and least of people, and the love that we as human beings are supposed to show towards one another. I thought “Well yes, of course!” I realised that as a Christian I take this aspect of faith for granted. However, were it not for Christ, and His teachings, there simply would not be such a profound understanding of human dignity and worth and goodwill towards other people. I realised today that the beauty of Christmas, the joy, the peace among families, the hope for the New Year – all of that is about Jesus. Without Jesus and without the Christian understanding of Christmas, I daresay any celebration held at this time of year would be nice, but ultimately it would be as inconsequential as any other celebration. It is because of Jesus that Christmas is the most special time of the year – arguably even more special than Easter, which spiritually should be more significant and is also all about Jesus, (and also coincides with pre-existing pagan festivals…) Even as an adult, even now there is still such an excitement about December 25th as the days approach; and then the whole day is so special that it feels as if it is sprinkled with stardust.
So if you are feeling disillusioned at Christmas, if you are wondering what the point is, or you’ve lost the feeling of awe and mystery, I challenge you to put the “Christ” back into your Christmas. Trying to have the fun without acknowledging God and the story of the birth of Christ…well…ultimately how excited can you be year on year about Santa flying through the sky with his magical reindeer? This is all the more true when as an adult you know that Santa does not really fly through the sky, but actually elbows his/her way through hordes of other shoppers to find that perfect gift! But God coming down to the world, love being born into the world at Christmas, ongoing hope for our interaction among ourselves as human beings – now that is something to get excited about all year around!
God bless you all this Christmas; I wish you the gifts of love, of peace, of grace, and most of all of Jesus!
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Photo of Angel from Pixabay