A Christmas without Christ. I browsed through the internet looking for Christmas images. There are all sorts of images surrounding Christmas, but I was shocked by the conspicuous absence of Christ-image in most of them. Walk into the big malls and peek into the stands to pick up a Christmas card. There are cards aplenty but a card with the images of Christ, Joseph and Mary has become a rarity.
There are cards with sledge dogs and snow, reindeers, camels and sheep, goats and cows and donkeys. The dominant figure of the Santa Claus is all pervading. Mounts of freshly shopped and beautifully wrapped gifts, well-laid tables with delicious food, mouth-watering pastries and cakes, beautifully decked Christmas trees bathed in colorful lights. Full throated music that drowns the sound of the ‘Silent night, holy night’.
Where is the child wrapped in swaddling clothes? Where is his mother Mary and his father Joseph? Where are the shepherds who hear the ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’?
A study of 1,000 children between the age of 5 to twelve by Brent Cross shopping center in United Kingdom, a few years ago, revealed the shocking ignorance among kids about Christ and Christmas. Thirty five percent of those surveyed believed that Jesus was born at the South Pole. Fifty percent thought that Dec. 25 was Santa’s birthday. Asked about Jesus, one in five thought that he was a footballer for Chelsea FC, while some others said he was an astronaut or X-Factor contestant. While this survey shows that many children are confused about the identity of Jesus, other research, such as Talking Jesus by the HOPE Revolution Partnership reveals that almost half of young people doubt that Jesus even lived.
We have managed to remove Christ from this important event in human history, converting Christmas into a fun-filled, merry making, godless holiday. ‘Season’s greetings’, ‘Happy Holiday wishes’, and so many other forms of salutations have emerged, eliminating Christ. Is it an oversight or a conspiracy? Did Christ quietly slip out of the celebration? Or has he been deliberately removed? Does it not look bizarre? A birthday bash without the birthday baby, a wedding without a bride!
There is a growing reluctance to associate Christ’s name with Christmas. There are huge benefits in converting it into a shopping festival, a marketing event, a time of mirth and fun and frolic for all. No doubt, for many the commercial benefits far outweigh the moral, religious, spiritual richness of the event. A Christmas without Christ — a free for all Christmas, a Christmas wrapped in consumer goodies. What else explains the fact that even in lands where Christianity is persecuted, or people are not allowed to practice or proclaim Christian faith, the season is a bash involving millions of dollars. There is a palpable absence of the Christmas of the poor, those who live in the margins of society. Those who are still without a place in the inn.
Maybe we do not need a Savior who brings us peace. We want the wars to go on, the arms race and manufacturing of weapons to continue. We do not want to make swords into ploughshares! We do not want the lion and the lamb to live together in peace. We love the ‘dog eat dog’ world. Peace is only for pious talk. Crumbs for the crying babies, to mollify those who may be troubled by wars and conflicts — the ‘peaceniks’ as they are called!?
We live in the midst of self-proclaimed Messiahs. “To be like God?” that was very much the first temptation and sin. We are not keen to share the divinity offered by God who assumed humanity for us. Christmas goes on with mirth, but Christ stands out of place, abandoned, rejected. “He came unto his own, but his own received him not (John 1:11).”
Christ is absent. He is missing in our midst. Who stole him, who made him disappear? Christians must be at the forefront of any efforts to put Christ back into Christmas and restore the true meaning of this festival. This also means resisting the temptation to treat the season as a shopping festival and a carnival of consumerism. Let us put Christ back into the center of this feast. Let’s celebrate God’s gift of his only begotten son — a Savior. Let us acknowledge God the ultimate giver, the Father who gives his Son, and sends the Spirit, to save and transform us. Let’s not be afraid or ashamed to proclaim that, “a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Come back to us Lord Jesus, God Incarnate, gift of the Father.
Come back to our Christmases, take center stage of our celebrations.
Come back with your gentleness and peace
And your unfathomable love beyond all telling.
Bring us life, bring us healing, give us the gift of salvation.
Forgive our trespasses. End our embarrassment to embrace you,
End our craving to celebrate our humanity without sharing your divinity.
Teach us wisdom to know that there is nothing more valuable than knowing you and having life in you, life in all its fulness.
The day is far spent Lord. The night is drawing on. Lead kindly Light. The gloom is enveloping us all around. Banish our fear. Let darkness flee. May we see the effluence of your light, and long for the day when we can come to that Light where we do not need lamp light or sun light, where you Lord, God, will shine (Rev.21:1).
Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus.
Father George Plathottam SDB, PhD, is the executive secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences Office of Social Communication (FABC OSC) and is based in Manila, Philippines.