My Christmas favourite is Christmas itself, its lit streets and decorated homes; its food, songs and music. For me it holds no religious import, but only the most hardened cynics could turn their back on this annual celebration of happiness. Christmas is the world's one moment of licensed pleasure, when custom requires us to behave, however briefly, as sociable human beings. A shot of uncomplicated joy is surely a social boon.Jenkins continues:
Christmas carries little of the theological (or pagan) baggage of Easter. The myth of supernatural birth, common to many religions, focuses attention on children as gifted with unsullied virtue. It honours the sovereignty of childhood, yet of childhood in general, free of the pressures and strains that can come with the intimate rituals of family life, such as births, marriages and deaths.What Christmas story has Jenkins been reading? The Gospel according to Charles Dickens as he explains:
Most Christmas ritual relies, to an extraordinary extent, on Charles Dickens. To him the event mattered not for its biblical significance but for how society treated it, indeed, seemed to crave it. His novella A Christmas Carol depicted a Manichean triumph of good over evil, warmth over coldness, generosity of spirit over meanness.Now don’t get me wrong, I like A Christmas Carol. My son played Scrooge in his school’s production last week and great fun it was. However, Jenkins has completely missed the point and this is summed up by his conclusion:
Christmas breaks the harsh rhythm of life, offering an interlude when contact is re-established with neighbours, home and hearth. Hence the curious iconography of a "white Christmas", when reality is blotted out with snow and people are driven indoors to find warmth and reassurance round the fireside. I wouldn't be without it.‘Reality is blotted out’ says Jenkins. If we go back not to Dickens but to the Gospels this claim couldn’t be further from the truth about Christmas. God is not offering an escape route from reality, he is demanding full engagement with reality. The Word became Flesh is the great acclamation of the Church at this time of year. God in the person of his Son entered our world as a flesh and blood human being. He engaged with a world of teenage pregnancy, occupation, oppression, persecution, homelessness, asylum seeking and mass murder. We might want to skip over these bits of Christmas because they don’t fit with the sanitised version of the story which features in so many of our school and church nativity plays. Christmas IS about ‘the harsh rhythm of life’ not an ‘interlude’ from it.
I know which I prefer. We don’t need a few days to anaesthetise ourselves to the realities of everyday life, usually at the price of getting further into debt and a stinking hangover. And for how many is Christmas an ‘annual celebration of happiness’ anyway?
We need to hear and receive the Good News that God invites us to share with him in transforming this world; experiencing abundant life in the midst of the dung and straw of this beautiful yet deeply scarred creation. This is the message that enables me to echo Jenkins’ final words about Christmas:
‘I wouldn’t be without it.’
Update: Check out this report from Theos on The politics of Christmas. h/t Sam Tomlin