Keeping Christ in Christmas makes it special
Regular Network Norwich and Norfolk columnist James Knight asks what is the central truth in the human journey on this earth.
As a Christian contemplating Christmas around this time of year, I believe that the central truth in the human journey is that having and wanting are both part of a deeper incentive for a glory that can only be found in Christ.
I have learnt from my experiences that misery pops up in all sorts of places where from the outside it is easy to infer prosperity, and prosperity pops up in all sorts of places where from the outside it is easy to infer misery. If a man is hungry and his friend has food then the first man is in a better position than the second. But having food does not remove the need for food - all humans have the same needs for food regardless of the resources they are in possession of at any given time – the man who has it will keep needing it.
But it is a mistake to contend that conflict between those that have and those that have not occurs because of a divergence in aspiration – it is the same aspiration. A man who wants to save money at the grocery store and the grocery store owner who wants to increase his profits are driven by the same goal – to acquire money (although their motives in obtaining money might be different). The conflict of interest is driven by the shared need for resources – their conflict is centred on the same need. In most cases, once one looks through the walls that people have built around themselves – walls that appear in various forms – we see a shared humanity, aspiring towards the same things, but often unable to maintain a lucid path to success.
We are a world gone bad – and each of us continues to do things that hurts others, and we hurt ourselves in the process. Yet I truly believe that at the heart of each of us is a longing for goodness, justice, peace, kindness and love and grace. I remember meeting a Christian man from the Congo Republic who had been the victim of a genocide and mass rape that had taken his family and his home from him – and hearing him talk about how the churches sought to forgive by pouring out grace, and how some of the perpetrators of those crimes went on to be pastors in churches, and set up relief and charity missions to bring citizens of the Congo Republic out of poverty. I remember him telling me that the people of England think they have it so good and how their perception of Africa is often one of dismay that they haven’t caught up with the Western industrialised world – but that my country has had the spiritual heart ripped out of it.
I know exactly what he means, and I have been fortunate enough to meet many others like him. They have challenged me greatly, and I have found ways to view the world through a lens that recognises God’s love and grace in places that seemed to be bereft of it. I look at my country and the material prosperity but I don’t really see an overwhelming happiness – I see stress and pressure and stultification and in many places myopia and cultural ignorance – but most of all I see a country that in many places seems to have lost sight of what being human really is – a nation of individuals that have put up so many walls they hardly know what underserved grace really feels like. What’s most scary is I don’t think any of us are exempt from the criticism – we have all done worse than we should have.
Just recently in the build-up to Christmas I walked through the very busy city centre where I live, and saw thousands of people crammed into shops, rushing around the streets, all looking to obtain the right present, the necessary food and drink, and other things required for Christmas. The vast majority weren’t smiling and didn’t look as though they were happy or enjoying themselves. Not only that, but furthermore, for many what will be a long and hectic and busy and tiring and financially draining build-up will reach a crescendo on Christmas weekend and then before they know it, the new year will arrive and it will all be over again for another season. Maybe even by Boxing Day or the day after families will lament the lack of a gift from X, or the lack of a phone call from Y, and frown at all the leftover food, and feel a mild sense of embarrassment that they wore themselves out for it.
The Christmas culture in Britain is that we give people what materialism says they want, not what they actually need. Imagine if, instead of all the presents and cards, everyone donated the same money to worthwhile causes, there would be hundreds of millions of pounds going to good use, and I believe that such beneficence would create a lot more happiness too.
I remember about three years ago attending the carol service at a local church and the vicar asking the congregation to think of their best ever Christmas gift. Many hands went up from all ages – a bicycle, a diamond ring, a watch, a dress, a set of garden tools, and several other favourite gifts were called out. To which the vicar responded ‘How many of you thought of a gift you’d given rather than one you’d received?’ – and I don’t think anyone in the service had thought of a gift they had given.
We shouldn’t judge too harshly – we are a nation of consumers who have gotten into some very bad habits. But while for many Christmas will be about what they can receive, it is those for whom Christmas is about what they can give that will be in the spirit of Christmas, because it is a celebration of God’s gift – the giving of His Son to pay a ransom for our salvation. Keeping Christ in Christmas is what makes it truly special. And for those who celebrate the biggest gift of all – the giving of God’s Son to pay a ransom for our salvation – it is Christmas the whole year through.
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James is a Norwich local government officer, author and Proclaimers church member in Norwich. You can access his current collections of columns here
Meanwhile, if you want to find out more about Christianity, visit: www.rejesus.co.uk