Reclaiming Christ for Christmas?
I’ve started to notice some posts on social media about ‘reclaiming’ Christmas and I must confess, I’m a little troubled by it. Those who know me know that I struggle to get excited about Christmas . At the recent Christmas Unwrapped event in the diocese I led a workshop entitled ‘Don’t mention the C word’ exploring with others the reasons why some of us find the season difficult. The discussion focused not only on what might appear to be the more obvious answers - bereavement , commercialism, busy diaries to name some, but explored further some of the difficulties focussingon three aspects: the practical, emotional and spiritual reasons why we might find the season difficult.
One of the most striking things for me from the conversation was the concern over the commercialisation of the Christmas season and the loss of the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas. Reflecting on it further I confess that I am changing my tune on this one. It strikes me that this constant refrain repeated each season has more to say about the church’s fear that it is losing its place in our society than it does about celebrating the birth of the Christ child. As Christian disciples our vocation is to preach afresh the gospel in every generation. This generation is one that likes to spend; a generation that has materialism at the heart of it and one of which we are a part whether we like it or not. In our constant desire to hold back the tide of commercialism we are, dare I say it, fighting a losing battle. How then, instead of longing for the good old days (if ever such a time existed) might we recognise the situation as it is, and concentrate on ways in which we might engage more positively with what is going on around us. In what ways might we share the joy and hope that is at the heart of the Christmas story?
In our constant bemoaning of the fact that, in our opinion, people aren’t celebrating for the right reason are we denying the deep desire within people to be gift-givers. This is not without precedent; the Wise Men turned up with gifts and nobody berated them for spending too much. On occasions this excess of gift-giving can be problematic and many are lured into debt at this time of year but denouncing their intentions as in some way lacking is surely not the place to start to tackle the issue. Likewise, for those who may be able to comfortably afford what they like at any time of the year, criticising others for spending what they can’t afford is a cheap shot (Luke 21:1-4). To many, both within and outside the church it simply reinforces the notion that we are a miserable lot.
We all want to find just the right gift, to avoid imposing on the recipient the long wait in the line to return unwanted gifts on Boxing Day and for some there is also the growing desire to source ethically and responsibly (often with it associated higher price); gift-givers put enough pressure on themselves without any additional help in this area from those of us within the church. Perhaps it is not the relentless pressure of commercialism that has removed Christ from the stable but our own persistent need to love and to be loved. This for many is expressed in their gift-giving often, but not always, at costly expense. It is this deep need within all of us that feeds the gift-giving frenzy, not the other way round.
If we want to ‘reclaim’ Christ for Christmas (as if Christ has left the building?) then we need to attend to this need to love and be loved. If we want to ‘reclaim’ Christ for Christmas then we need to be attentive to the poor, imprisoned and marginalised for the rest of the year (Matt 25:35-40). The Christ that we fear is missing from the crib grew into the man that chose to align himself with the outcasts of his day and to challenging the systems that were destructive. So this year I’m choosing to keep the feast in a wholly new way, rejoicing in the life-giving, joy-bringing madness of it all, and committing myself to exploring the ways in which we might encourage ourselves and others in knowing that we are truly loveable. After all isn’t that what the gift was all about?