Christmas is one of the most important times for the Christian church. After the time of waiting in Advent, we celebrate the incarnation—God with us.
People generally, whether they come to church or not, enjoy celebrating Christ’s birth—they get to sing their favourite Christmas carols, spend time with family and friends, exchanging gifts and eating yummy food, usually to excess.
Have you noticed too, that there is also a bit of a change in the way people treat each other at Christmas time? It’s one of those times when people feel able to greet strangers, and be generous in their dealings with each other. It’s almost like we become less individualistic at Christmas time.
But in our society, Christmas is also the time when our prosperity seems most obvious. Christmas time in western societies, including Australia, is marked by excessive rates of consumption. Even in the current climate of economic downturn, shops are full of frantic people searching out the right gift for each person on their list.
Is that what Jesus intended? Born into poverty, and with a life and ministry that focussed on the poorest in his world I can’t imagine Jesus being comfortable with Christmas in most Australian households, most of which are wealthy by world standards.
In fact, Jesus said it was impossible to serve God and wealth. The one time in the gospels that we see Jesus angry is when he turns on the money changers in the temple.
Research by Dr Miriam Pepper, a member of Maroubra UC found that while churchgoers have distinctive values when compared to non-churchgoers (eg they are less materialistic and less concerned with social status) there is little actual difference in their consumer behaviour. “We still buy pretty much the same things and the same amount of it!”
I wonder too if Jesus might be a bit uncomfortable with messages in church on Christmas Day that emphasise the gift of Jesus to our world without stressing that Jesus came not for the well, but for the sick, not for the rich but for the poor, not for the greatest but for the least.
Can we extend our Christmas messages so that the generosity we experience at Christmas time might be extended to the least in our communities every day, not just around Christmas time. If we truly celebrate Jesus, and the gospel he brings, we mustn’t we also embrace his radical way of living. The gospel is risky, not comfortable. The gospel is about creating a place where all people, not just the ones who are easy to love and care for, can experience the gospel of Jesus – a little bit of heaven on earth.
Karyl Davison is Rural Ministry Coordinator, Mary Burnett & Central Queensland Presbyteries