I had the heart of Christmas shown to me today, and not from a place I thought I’d find it.
I went in search for Christmas ‘s heart following an editorial in our local “rag” which called for expelling Christians, indeed Christ, from Christmas which of course will never happen for reasons I hope I don’t need to go in to. Nonetheless the writer’s premise to Christmas is ‘thank you so much for what you have done, Christians, but we can take it from here’ making the suggestion that the essential elements of Christmas are already in place, we no longer need Christ. Ludicrous if you ask me. There is a no more christo-centric celebration. Taking Christ out of Christmas is like taking the linchpin from a wagon’s wheel and we know how that ends up. As analytical as I am though I genuinely couldn’t find what could be celebrated by secularists at Christmas that was not celebrated at other times of the year. What did Christmas mean for them?
Conversations with my sister and sister-in-law, who are not (atheistic) secularists per sé but associate with many, know their way of thinking well and who comfortably transition between secular and sacred without dismissing the qualities of each, started where I expected them to start: at family. Christmas is a time for families to gather and be nice to one another; to which I said why at Christmas? This could be done at a family reunion or the like. Surely? Well, it’s a time of peace and love – which of course it is. But why at Christmas? I asked. Surely the whole year should be a time of peace and love? Slowly the layers were peeled back until in desperation my sister says that it is a time of recognising the value of the person; a person who you might have been fighting with all year but who still holds some importance to you. Gift giving is a way of recognising the dignity of the person, of who they are. But couldn’t this be charity then? Conceding it is they add, but it’s more. It is in a special way. It’s charity within the family; putting aside differences that otherwise hold us back.
This, I sense, is the spirit of Christmas: the setting the side of differences so that unity can be found with others which recognises the dignity of each human person expressed in charity and service through which we find peace, love and joy. For those of us that know Jesus we see him at every step; for those that don’t, each step draws them closer to him. Strange how secularist thinking has brought me that much closer to Jesus (and the editor wants to rid Christmas of Christ!).
It’s easy to get caught up in the religiosity of Christmas. I love the carols, the liturgy, the wreath, lights and all the trimmings. But these are expressions of the greater truth: that he who is born this night unites all things to himself; he breaks down barriers and differences that divide us so that we may be one; he brings dignity to every person no matter status or faith; through his sacrificial service his is Charity; and ultimately in him lies our eternal peace, our purest love and our ultimate joy. Now go and enjoy your Christmas, secular or otherwise. Merry Christmas.