We have arrived at that special period just before Christmas when all the platitudes emerge. How frantic everyone is, buying last minute gifts, etc. But what I really look forward to are the pre-Christmas editorials in newspapers. I thought I’d share a sample of a bit of the wisdom from the Sydney Morning Herald on the weekend before Christmas — and then draw a few conclusions.
- Julia Baird gives three reasons why even atheists ought to go the church on Christmas: “Boredom is often good for you.” “Church is one of the rare times — along with movies or music concerts — that we are able to sit, think, let our minds meander and reflect on who and where we are.” “[Christmas] is religion as we understand it turned on its head.”
- Richard Glover writes a set of rules from God for celebrating His birthday — “And verily should the wine not be opened until 11am, and even then a tiny sip.” At the end of laying out all the rules about shopping and parking and cooking, “God became a little maudlin and thought about how all he’d wanted was a simple celebration.”
In the spirit of the season, I should now answer the Sydney Morning Herald with some profound words about the true meaning of Christmas. Christians are usually on the back foot when it comes to Christmas — we love the seasonal hoohah as much as everyone else so our hearts aren’t really in the debate. We love Christmas trees, Santa Claus and getting presents as much as the next guy. So why fight it? And we don’t. My neighbourhood church has a Christmas tree on the altar, in the spirit of “If you can’t beat them, join them.” So let’s just admit that right after the Winter Solstice we have a pagan festival that we all love — and not confuse celebrating Christmas with remembering the Incarnation.
But alas, at Christmas-time we attempt to celebrate the Incarnation. I say alas because we humans can only usually celebrate one thing at a time. So we shouldn’t try to celebrate the Incarnation. We should fall silent, reflect and worship anew. And then, awestruck, realise that the real presence of God-is-with-us isn’t a seasonal thing at all. The cycle of Christian feasts rolls on inexorably, down through the centuries. Incarnation — Crucifixion — Easter, over and over, so each generation can fall silent before this incredible reality. Silent night, holy night — and holy world because God-is-with-us is real. I think God smiles as he watches us struggle to celebrate Christmas, and infects the season and the world with paradoxes to remind us, when we fall silent, what the word holy means.