The Real Spirit of Christmas
“Christmas is not in tinsel and lights and outward show; the secret lies in an inner glow. ” (Wilfred A. Petersen)
Another Christmas is upon us, bringing with it the inevitable poignant mixtures of emotions. It is a sacred and special time of the year – even for non-believers. Families will make plans to get together on Christmas Day. Others will make contact with those they have not seen for a while.
For some, Christmas 2019 will be a time of sadness and despair. It will be a reminder of their own poverty, both materially and spiritually, their loneliness and alienation from relatives or the loss of a loved one. Yes, Christmas is a time when we think primarily of family celebrations and gift giving but we need to remember that Christmas belongs also to the homeless, the poor, the broken, the destitute, the outcasts, the drug addicts, and the oppressed.
The stores have been bombarding us for weeks with their unrelenting advertising campaigns. Christmas is not called the ‘silly season’ without reason. For too many of us, it is a very busy time. We have to shop till we drop for the presents, extra food and drink, attend social break-ups, and attend end of year school activities – the list is endless. Money exchanges hands as if going out of fashion.
In many ways, the Christmas season has become a period when we, the public, play Santa Claus to the shopkeepers. The real enemy of Christmas must surely be consumerism. Possibly from a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not already exist, it would have been invented!
Yet Christmas is not just about satisfying the retailers or ensuring our children behave themselves if they want to receive lots of presents.
No, for Christians, the real meaning of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of the incarnate infant Jesus, born in an occupied third world country – a country of relentless poverty and oppression. His bed was a hay-filled crib in a smelly stable.
The heroes of that first Christmas were a travel-weary, homeless couple expecting their first child. After his birth, the family was forced to flee as refugees to Egypt. Sounds an almost familiar story to what many refugee families are still experiencing in the twenty-first century.
And gloriously, a star shone over the stable and angels heralded Jesus’ birth to the bewildered shepherds by proclaiming to them: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to all peoples on earth… If we are to believe the angels, then Christmas calls us to offer our own gift of peace to all peoples on earth.
It means we have to look beyond our own comfort-zones and become people like Christ – people who are prepared to reach out and do what we can for all those who lack even the basic necessities of life.
This simple story embodies the true spirit of Christmas. It teaches us that God is on the side of the poor, becomes one with the poor and walks among them. He does not side just with the rich and the powerful, but with the homeless, the hungry and the refugees.
Christmas puts poverty square in front of us and demands that we too must strive to eradicate poverty itself so that each human being has food, clothing, and every necessity important to their wellbeing.
Writer and Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton, noted that although Jesus was born in a stable far removed from the hub of power and influence, he is still more easily recognised by the culturally marginalised and the poor. Merton said: “His peace is with those others for whom there is no room.”
I guess the moral of the Christmas story is that unless we can experience the real spirit of Christmas – remembering all those who not do enjoy what we are able to enjoy, there is no Christmas. There will only be tinsel and lights and so much outward show