It’s not every day I get on with a Thought for the Day by Giles Fraser! But this morning on Radio 4, he railed against the glittery unreality of a commercialised Christmas. People buy presents that they don’t need, for people they don’t like, with money they don’t have – and everyone puts on the mask and pretends to be having a great time. All the while, around us, people are suffering, the brokenness of the world won’t go away, and in the cold light of day a commercialised Christmas just seems empty and delusional. But hardly anyone can bring themselves to say it.
As Christians, we need to be a bit more cynical about our culture's commercialised, kitsch Christmas, and a bit more discerning about how we do Christmas ourselves.
A couple of Sundays ago, I preached on Isaiah 11 (we’ve been going through the traditional nine lessons during Advent). This passage speaks of the promised Messiah. He’s not coming to increase sales. Christmas is about the coming of a prophet, not the coming of profit. Christmas is the Festival of the Coming of Messiah. His agenda is not the agenda of secular liberalism, or Western Capitalism, or materialist consumerism. The agenda of Jesus the Messiah is the agenda of the Kingdom of God. He has come to change the world. If Christmas is going to be a time of joy, then the joyful agenda of the Kingdom of God is where we need to be looking for direction.
In Isaiah 11, we learn that the Messiah is anointed with the Holy Spirit of God (Messiah = Anointed One). This anointing equips him to overturn the injustice of the world order, to judge on behalf of the poor and downtrodden. And he is equipped to bring peace into a fractured world. This is the mission of Messiah. And Christmas is the Festival of the Coming of Messiah. So, at Christmas, let us:
- Seek Fulfilment in the Spirit. The Messiah is anointed with the Holy Spirit, and he in turn anoints his disciples with the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 5, Paul urges Christians to seek fulfilment in the Spirit, not to be drunk with wine (or any other intoxicating drug, like money, or possessions, for example). Yes, let’s enjoy family, good food and drink, the giving and receiving of gifts, the parties and get-togethers – these are all good gifts from God. But let us do so all the while seeking a holy fulfilment in the Spirit: taking time over Christmas to worship together; doing everything with an attitude of thankfulness; and having an attitude of service to others. These are the Three Keys to fulfilment in the Spirit from Ephesians 5.
- Remember the Poor. If we cannot remember the poor during the Festival of the Messiah, when can we? It is an affront to the Messiah that we spend so much on ourselves at Christmas, and so little on the poor of the world. I challenged myself and others on this during my sermon – and so as a family we’ve used Christian Aid to give practical gifts to poor communities in various parts of the world. It’s not difficult to do if we have disposable income. Moneywise, maybe a little less on us, and a little more on the poor is a choice that reflects the priorities of the Messiah. Remembering the poor is remembering the spiritually poor too. Seeking good for our neighbours – so many of them doing fine financially, but in the depths of despair spiritually. The Festival of the Messiah is a time to bring Hope, the Hope of the Good News of Jesus.
- Seek Peace. Jesus the Messiah has come to bring peace. So how is it that Christmas so often brings up the old rivalries and frictions? The Festival of the Messiah is a time to seek peace in our families, amongst our friends, and with our neighbours. As the year closes, let us heal wounds and seek reconciliation. Let us be kind, and forgive.
Jesus, of course, is more than a prophet; he is God become human. As both God and as a human being, he lies in a manger at the beginning of his life – and hangs on a cross at the end of it. He purchases our forgiveness and justifies us before God. He humbled himself, became a servant, gave so much for so many. At Christmas, we need the attitude of Messiah.
So, the challenges of Christmas are not just getting the turkey, or finding a Christmas jumper as a present for Old Uncle Alec. We can be so busy with these kinds of things that we forget what it means to be truly Christians, people of the Messiah, at Christmas. If we hear the Call of Christmas, the Call of the Festival of the Messiah, and respond to it, we’ll be more blessed, be more at peace, make more of a difference, and be more fulfilled this Christmas. And the glory will go to God.