Dr. Fraser- Point of View
December 20, 2013
The Christmas season

For the past few weeks we have been caught up with Mandela’s death, reflecting on his life and about the legacy he has left. There was much talk about peace and reconciliation and about his humility. We wonder what those who sought to pay tribute to him in whatever way will take away from an examination of his life and work. We then move right into reflecting on the meaning of the birth of Christ and of peace and goodwill, as we get into the Christmas season. {{more}} The historian Paul Johnson, writing about Jesus Christ, notes that “The world into which Jesus was born was harsh, cruel, violent and unstable. It was also materialistic and increasingly wealthy…” If we take away the bit about “increasingly wealthy,” this fits SVG fully; a society that is harsh, cruel, violent, materialistic and unstable. We can add more, ill-disciplined, individualistic, corrupt and selfish. Johnson goes on to say “Jesus’ life and the faith it created, are the central events in the history of humanity around which all revolves not only today but… in the future.”

We live in a society bubbling with a lot of hypocrisy, where some of us proclaim our love for Christ and claim to understand the meaning of his birth. But we do not demonstrate this with the life we live and in how we relate to our fellow human beings. Christ is, for some of us, a convenience and we use his name to mask a lot of evil thoughts, intentions and actions. We have, in fact, been celebrating Christmas without Christ. Some years ago a survey was done among schoolchildren and one of the questions asked was from where does milk come? The answer was the supermarket. It is highly possible that in the not too distant future, some of us will celebrate Christmas without remembering its origin and meaning. Christmas is still a joyous occasion, but for the wrong reasons. The gifts, merriment, drinking, stealing, the throwing out of old items and bringing in new ones, take centre place.

But then we live in a different world today, one that shapes and distorts things to suit its demands and the agendas of those who control. What the anniversary of the birth of Christ should do is force us to seriously examine how we are moving away and discarding the alternative path that Jesus had paved for us, a life of humility and love as Paul Johnson would say. The shopping and business side of Christmas is not new. Like today, in the past the season was assessed by how much business was generated. For Christmas 1912, The Times newspaper noted that Government had paid out more money under the cotton bonus buying scheme, “but there was not so much money in circulation and Traders complain that their takings this season was not as good” as the previous year. But then, there was the other side. The Times also noted “very large congregations attended to celebrate the Christian Religion most joyous festival. At most of these services the religious note was one of thankfulness for past services and prayer for a realisation of the true spirit of Christmas ‘peace on ea”th goodwill toward men.’

Today in some quarters the central figure is Santa Claus, not Jesus Christ. The enjoyment of Christmas is tied up with acquisition of the latest material object and technological piece. Robberies tend to increase at this time of year for this very reason. Obviously, what is happening is a product of the type of society we have become. The Church today is accused of being very silent and seemingly acquiescent in the ills of the society. On the other hand, there are those who think that the Church is about the hereafter and not about relating to the pressing concerns of the flock on the ground. The churches have declining numbers and this carries over into Christmas, where at least those who never bothered to attend throughout the year used to take their seats, if only to try to make up for it and get rid of whatever guilty feelings they had nursed. But even that is no longer so. The Churches have retreats at different times and one would hope that they have been developing strategies to tackle their declining numbers. If they are unable to deal with this, then how do we expect them to handle broader issues in the society? I am also fully aware that attending Church does not a Christian make, but the churches provide a platform to at least begin to dialogue about that path of peace and goodwill that is surely needed in a society that is going off the rocks.

Our society is a Christian one and this is the basis on which it is organised, its values, laws and teachings. The Church, to my mind, should be the conscience of the nation and should use its pulpit and other arenas to interface with a population that has lost all sense of what is morally right and wrong. Without getting into partisan politics it must realise that it has to relate to the total being and that one cannot separate the spiritual from the political because they play on each other. The Christmas season is a good time to begin to make this connection as we relate to the meaning of the birth of Christ. To do otherwise will be to make the Church irrelevant. Christ did not seek the easy way and the Church, once it is true to its purpose and meaning, should not be afraid of criticism, but must stand for what it believes.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.