Australian Christians are faced with the problem about how to celebrate the birth of Jesus appropriately in a context where consumerism happily drives the mongrelisation of the secular festival further and faster. Christmas has morphed into a celebration of family, accompanied by relief for those with a demanding job at the possibility of a holiday break.
What can be done to recover in the life of the church the radical character of Christmas?
A couple of suggestions that point to changing our practices as well as re-narrating the Christmas story.
Firstly we can begin to disengage from Christmas as commercial event. Substantially reduce the amount of money we spend on presents for one another and start giving sacrifically to assist community development amongst our brothers and sisters in the global south. (TEAR's Arguably the World's Most Useful Gift Catalogue is great place to start. www.usefulgifts.com
Secondly, we can bring Herod back into Christmas. Genocide and the politics of an Imperial puppet at the edge of the Roman empire that we meet in the Gospels have little to do with the sentimental blather that passes the Christmas story and its commercial images. The Gospel writers (Matthew and Luke) confront us with the political aspirations of the people of Palestine hoping for liberation. The poetry of the Magnificat is soaked in the language of politics, of justice, pulling down princes, lifting up the poor, freedom from fear and guiding our feet into the path of peace.
The intention of Matthew leaves us in no doubt that Herod should be afraid of Jesus. Jesus’ vision was of overturning everything Herod believed in – unaccountable power, privilege and violence in the cause of injustice.
Such a truthful, politically relevant account of Christmas if repeated often enough might even bring the advertising agencies mongrelising of Christmas to a halt - perhaps making it indigestible. It might make preaching on Christmas day a bit harder and more challenging. and uncomfortable for the clergy.