God’s message of love is for everyone, and there is no more appropriate a time to celebrate that fact than on the day we Christians have set aside to remember that Jesus Christ was born from a woman as a mortal man in order to give us that message and to be the full, perfect and complete sacrifice to atone for our sins. The Word became flesh and He gave us a new commandment – “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (KJV, John 13:34).
This Advent season, when I see all around me non-Christians making a mockery of my faith and its practices, I strive to remember that Jesus’ teachings are universal, intended for everyone. It’s difficult when one sees vacuous so-called celebrities, like demented magpies, stuffing packages containing items of conspicuous consumption wrapped in shiny paper into a wall of boxes and then calling said wall an Advent Calendar. It’s almost impossible when one becomes aware that well-known department stores are encouraging such repellent and vulgar behaviour amongst the empty headed thespians, chateratti and non-Christians generally, most of whom, I’m willing to bet, don’t even know what Advent is, by selling equally enormous walls ready stuffed with expensive gew-gaws masquerading as ‘Advent presents’ – whatever they might be!
What’s more, I find it difficult, if not downright impossible, to believe that Christ’s birth, never mind the meaning of that nativity (or the meaning of his, or the Church’s, teachings), plays any part at all in the festivities when I observe people who buy their children so many gifts that their Christmas trees are so obscured by a mountain of wrapped tat that it can only encourage youngsters to view the whole thing as the ‘season of getting’ rather than the ‘season of giving’. Equally, when I drive along roads where every house is decorated overall with a tasteless display of garish figures lit up in such a fashion so as to resemble nothing quite so much as an illuminated advertisement for a dubious palace of perverted delights I find it impossible to believe that the celebration of Christ’s birth has had anything whatsoever to do with such garish and tawdry displays. Personally, I’m sure that the vulgarians who flaunt such trashy exhibitions of debased and deviant taste have little, or no, knowledge of the Christian beliefs about Christ’s birth, or about what we Christians are actually celebrating at any of our festivals, although I would like to be proved wrong.
It’s difficult to remain calm and collected in the face of the crass commercialism that has overtaken our sublimely simple Christian Advent fast and Christmas festivity. It’s difficult to remain calm and collected when the spendthrift mob hijack even the holiest of our seasons – Easter – and turn even the crucifixion and the resurrection into a time for mindless expenditure on tacky cards and insipid comestible representations of our most sacred objects and symbols. Not one of our festivals or fasts has escaped the dead hand of the pathetically ignorant in search of an excuse, as if they ever need one, for a drunken party, or some mindlessly arrogant display of wealth.
I promise you I try, I do try, to hold onto Christ’s message of love for everyone. I try desperately to see all the crass displays, all the drunken revels, all the conspicuous consumption as adding to my own celebrations rather than seeing them for what they really are: massive sink-holes in which the non-believers have buried whatever little spark of spiritual decency they may once have had. It’s difficult, but I try and mostly I succeed. I convince myself that maybe a soul or two will wake up on Christmas morn and move closer to God, will manage to remember what it’s really all about. That buoys me up and carries me through this season of awfulness and turns it into a season of love, as do the moving services at my church, and each of the verses from the Book lodged in my Advent calendar that we read every day of Advent (today was Isaiah 11:1-5), as well as the Advent candle burning brightly in my living room.
However, I was reminded forcefully of the cultural appropriation of all our Christian festivals by the pagan and atheist hordes when I encountered, by chance, an old acquaintance. Earlier today I emerged from my lawyers offices and there on the pavement, in a small booth, was my friend. He caught my eye and beckoned me over. Nothing loathe I sauntered across and bade him a cheery ‘good morning’, curious to find out what he was doing.
As it turned out he was collecting signatures on a petition. Apparently many other people all across the country were doing likewise. I asked what the petition was about and he thrust the text of it into my hands. I found my reading glasses and perused it. Simply put, it was a petition to ask the government to make it illegal for non-Christians to celebrate, mark or commemorate in any way any Christian festival or fast. I was, I must admit, slightly taken aback, but as I talked to him I realised that my friend felt as I often felt about this issue, and as I told you about in the preceding paragraphs.
He was taking a stand against the daylight robbery, as he saw it, of our Christian practices by the forces of laziness, ignorance and evil. I was tempted to sign. I still am tempted so to do. I may give in to that temptation and return to his little booth tomorrow, but something inchoate, some feeling I can’t yet put into words even to myself, stopped me from signing today. He was sympathetic. He said that it had taken him some years to get to the point of frustration and annoyance he was now at, but he felt he had to act, had to do something, anything, to try to stop the rot.
He told me that he doesn’t wish his non-Christian friends and acquaintances a ‘Merry Christmas’, nor does he send them Christmas cards or presents. What’s more, he doesn’t take part in any Christian festivities with non-Christians. He is polite about these acts of rebellion, but he is firm about them. He does the same for all the other festivities and fasts of our faith. His work colleagues were, at first, hostile and insulted, so he told me, but he calmly explained to them why he was doing, or not doing perhaps, these things and, surprisingly he thought, most of them understood and sympathised. One even came back to the faith, he said.
He begged me to take some small stand against the theft of our celebrations. I’d like to – I’d very much like to – I told him, but I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t make me feel churlish and mean spirited. I left him and headed to my car. On the way to the car-park in something of a reverie I almost walked into a couple of people whom I vaguely know. We chatted for a few moments and as we parted they wished me a Merry Christmas. I stopped and turned back to them.
“Are you Christians?” I asked them.
They stopped and looked at me.
“No,” they replied, almost in unison.
“Then why did you wish me a Merry Christmas?” I asked.
“It’s the done thing at this time of year,” the younger one replied. “It’s all about goodwill and peace on earth, isn’t it? I didn’t offend you, did I? It doesn’t mean anything, you know.”
“Actually,” I said to him, with a smile, “it means everything. It’s arguably the most important valediction ever used. You didn’t offend me when you wished me a Merry Christmas, but you offended me when you said it doesn’t mean anything. It means the world, quite literally.
“Oh!” he said, obviously not quite understanding.
“Perhaps you’d better go and find out what Christmas is actually about,” I said, grinning at him in the friendliest way I could.
I turned away, giving them a cheery wave as I did so, and continued towards my car.
It was a tiny act of rebellion, just a little challenge to the prevailing faithlessness. They may even have thought I was a little rude, but it felt good. I may build on that. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t, sign that petition, but I’ll tell you one thing: I’m now thinking very hard about where I’m going to draw the line.
Christianity isn’t for sale wrapped up in shiny paper. It shouldn’t be used by non-believers as an excuse for an inebriated revel or a blow-out feast. Somehow we should make our disapproval plain, but can we do that and still hold on to the love for our fellows that Christ commanded us to exercise. I don’t know, but if I work out a way to do it I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I think I may commit another tiny act of rebellion or two – just a smiling challenge whenever I feel I can without causing insult.
If we all did it maybe we could make ‘Merry Christmas’ mean something again.
Want to give it a try?