On the news today, I saw the anchors chatting, between throws to reporters in various areas (Pitt St. Mall, Parramatta Westfield, the Fishmarkets), joking about the “real” meaning of Christmas. They were talking about how food wasn’t it, and that we should remember the reality – presents! Now obviously they were joking – to an extent, at any rate – but the vibe behind it was very much that Christmas was about the self. Food and presents (as well as family, which strangely enough wasn’t mentioned outside of the context of gift-giving) were the things that made Christmas Christmas.
I found it pretty shocking – this was possibly the first time it really hit me how blatantly Christmas is twisted from a celebration of a joyous, humble, and in some ways tragic event. I say tragic not to put a fetter upon it’s joyousness – this is a celebration of the moment that Christ became human, a new phase in redemptive history. But we cannot forget that it is also tragic in that the incarnation presupposes that humanity is depraved, disgusting and powerless to extricate itself. Secondly, it is tragic because it is the start of an earthly existence that would run up to the cross – Christmas is the celebration of the arrival of a man whom we would reject, and then, realising our problem, repent and lay our sin as an extra burden upon his shoulders. Easter is the fulfilment of Christmas – both are bittersweet days.
Does the world have any conception of this? Not beyond the bitterness of costly presents, pains of overeating or indigestion. Or maybe the pain of bad Christmas-themed movies on TV and unbearable renditions of Carols by musical ex-superstars. Perhaps the absence of family members form the gathering, or tough circumstances, can make Christmas not the jolly occasion that we like to believe it is.
But watching the news, I was shocked by how it is no longer merely a materialistic and hedonistic season masked by groundings in Christian culture (yes, I know it was originally a pagan festival and that Jesus wasn’t actually born in December – the point is that it’s Christ-mas, and is meant to be about Christ). If the news anchors are anything to go by, this facade has been dropped in favour of unabashed and blatant violation of the Christian values it is meant to spring from. An occasion of Joy in Christ and thankfulness amid a very real understanding of the sadness of the situation, has been turned into a chance for people to forget self-sacrifice, to seek pleasure, to spend a lot, to expect a lot, to eat a lot, and generally to forget God in the very time we ought to remember what he has done.
I noticed this also in the Carols in the Domain. I actually couldn’t bear to watch it, because the few times I came out to look there were bright, annoying tunes being sung by people dancing around in crazy costumes, singing about nonsense. On top of that, the nonsense they sing is so obviously against the very purpose of Christmas that it frustrated me. I didn’t want to hear people dressed as dolls sing about how great it was to be a Christmas present.
My rant’s almost over – just one more thing. The use of carols is something I don’t understand. Sure, the songs about Santa etc. are all about the secular meaning of Christmas. But why, in shopping centres full of every store going all out to make you forget God and focus on yourself (that sounds extreme, but I think it;s true that Satan probably gets a kick out of Christmas, in a lot of situations), do they play songs about Christ? Why do they host a carols service to fill it half with materialistic trash and half with praises to God, sung by people who don’t believe he even exists, much less actually think of Him at Christmas.
Christmas is a time of great opportunity for the church, and a time that should be full of joy. But just make sure you understand where that joy is coming from.