Taking the Christ out of Christmas

| by Neville Jayaweera

(December 18, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is a horrible thing to say but the onset of Christmas, far from evoking in me feelings of joy and peace, provokes a profound inner disquiet. The relentless barrage of messages spewed out by the media, most of them encouraging greed, accumulation, over-consumption and materiality, values that are the polar opposite of the values Jesus lived out on earth, I find most disconcerting.
As material prosperity rolls across the globe like a tsunami, Christendom ( at least in the West ) has taken the Christ out of Christmas and has installed the Golden Calf in His place. The values that the Christ came to inculcate in human beings are cynically ignored while material wealth and manic egoism have become the ultimate good. Greed, to be rich, to be a celebrity, the unquenchable thirst for visibility and the incessant pursuit of worldly success are now the highest end of life. Truth, humility, modesty, righteousness, love, peace, etc, etc, values which more than any others should define what it means to be Christian have been swept away.
To be truthful however, except perhaps during the first hundred years after the Resurrection,far from manifesting the virtues and values that the Christ embodied in his life, more than any other religious system, Christendom has been a vehicle for manic individualism, acquisitiveness, violence and war! Any serious book on world history will confirm this.
Lest any “Christians” feel offended by these pronouncements, let me say at the very outset that my allegiance to Jesus Christ transcends every other loyalty, whether to tradition, to church, to state, to culture or society, and even to my family, and that I write this piece primarily out of a desire to protect and exalt His name rather than to denigrate it. I am writing this also in the hope that I will be able to persuade Christians, even in an infinitesimal degree, while claiming to celebrate Christ’s birth, to cease from caricaturing Him.
Two reasons prompt me to say that, for me, the 25th of December and the days leading up to it, are times of sadness and extreme disquiet. The first reason is that, there is not a shred of evidence, either in the Bible or in any Hebrew, Greek or Roman historical records that the man named Jesus was born on the 25th of December of any year. Biblical scholars of all theological schools claim that it was only as late as 350 AD that the 25th of December came to be officially proclaimed by the church to be the date of Jesus Christ’s birth, but without any evidence to support it.
Furthermore they also agree that the fixing of December the 25th as the day of the Nativity was a concession to pagan cults which were dominant in Rome around the 3rd century AD. They claim that the 25th of December was chosen around 350 AD as the date for the Nativity by Pope Julius 1st, so as to coincide with the pagan cult of Saturnalia which fell on the 21st of December thereby hoping to wean its followers away from the worship of Saturn to the worship of Jesus Christ.
There is total unanimity amongst scholars that there is neither Biblical nor secular historical evidence to warrant the choice of December 25th as the date of the Nativity. Hence my claim that Christmas, as it has been perpetuated by churches and observed for centuries within Christendom on the 25th of December, has been a lie.
The natural question to ask is how and why it could have been perpetuated for over 1700 years
The simple answer is “tradition”. I fully accept the value of tradition for transmitting truth, but unbeknown to us, over time, blatant lies, superstitions and compromises can get embedded in sacred traditions and pass for truth. Therefore, however long established they may be, traditions must continuously be subjected to the acid test of truth. Should any tradition be found wanting, when subjected to that test, especially if it is blatantly in denial of it, it must be abandoned!
The second reason for my disquiet over the Christmas season, is that under the guise of celebrating the birth of Christ, Christians are lapsing into paganism. They stuff themselves with food and drink, spend money which can be shared with the poor on giving gifts to each other, which none of them really need and which merely add to domestic clutter and environmental pollution, they cut swathes through forests for producing billions of Christmas cards, for wrapping unwanted gifts and for putting up trees, and wallow in the mush of materialism which is the polar opposite of the culture that Jesus Christ lived out on earth.
Many Christians look forward to Christmas for the good-cheer and jollity it always brings. It draws families and friends together in happy re-unions and generally spreads goodwill around, even for a few short hours. It gives everyone a sense of release from the drudgery of the work place and provides them with an opportunity to relax, which is not a bad thing at all.
My problem is that none of this really has anything to do with the Christ! The good-cheer, the merrymaking and glitter of Christmas traditions,can be just that, only tinsel and glitter, having no more substance than the baubles that adorn our Christmas trees.
At the close of the “season” how many Christians can truly claim that they have been transformed by Christ’s advent into their hearts during Christmas? What I have written above pertains to the “culture” of Christmas rather than to individual Christians or individual homes. I am profoundly aware that, wedged in the interstices of Christendom, there are millions of homes where the coming of Jesus Christ is celebrated in quietness and in peace, in prayer and in meditation. I call them Abrahamic cells and it is out of these cells that the message must go forth again, that the Word has been made flesh and has made His dwelling place in our midst.
The only way that we can celebrate Christ’s coming is by opening our hearts and minds and letting Him in. No amount of churchgoing will avail. Neither ritual nor ceremony, neither carols by candle light nor busyness in church activities, neither piety nor conformity to rules, can ever substitute for a personal experience of the Christ.
In fact, all of the aforesaid pursuits can be only distractions from the central truth, which is that the Christ must first be born “in” us and that we must progressively be transformed into His image and likeness.
That is the true Advent and the only true Christmas – the only Christmas I would want to celebrate and that celebration does not have to be on any particular day in the calendar, nor would it require turkey, gammon or wine!! For me, in proportion as I abide in Him and let Him abide in me, every day in the year is Christmas, and the unspeakable joy, the peace and the power He imparts is unhindered by time or circumstance.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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