There has been considerable furore in local Christian circles about the intentional secularising of the public face of Christmas. When quizzed about the absence of nativity scenes or even the word ‘Christmas’, shopping centres admit to actively de-Christianising the ‘Holiday Season’, much to the chagrin of Christians. I, for one, fail to see what the fuss is about.
Firstly, South Africa is not a Christian nation. It was officially Christian under Apartheid, and what a fine job they did of proclaiming the name and nature of Christ back then. [Dear blog reader, that is what we call sarcasm. Please do not take me to task on the morality of Apartheid]. Mercifully, our government no longer claims to be acting for God. Even with a nominal Christian majority in our country, there can be no expectation upon a secular society to insist upon celebrating this season as exclusively Christian. If a secular nation wants to appropriate a Christian festival (as we originally did to the pagan one) as a shopping holiday, then all power to them. Let them celebrate gaudy emptiness as loudly as they want.
Secondly, how long have we been under the illusion that Christmas is Christian? Why are we complaining now about its de-Christianisation, only once the names have been removed? It concerns me that we fight for the superficialities when we have shown little concern over the years for the substance. And why exactly are we so eager to have Jesus’ name attached to a festival that has long since been sold over to tacky commercialism? It is all about excess, drunkenness and greed, and it has been for quite some time. I’m frankly quite glad that I no longer have to excuse or defend a connection between ‘Xmas’ and Christ.
The biggest scandal in this saga is not that the world at large is uninterested in Christ. That’s no news headline. The scandal for me is that this indicates the degree to which we Christians remain in a naive cloud in our thinking about our place in society. The Western world has rapidly secularised and politically liberalised. The philosophical mood has shifted, by and large, towards relativism, and has certainly swiftly fled from childlike trust in the Powers That Be and the Great Truths. All of this has not happened in a corner. And yet, we Christians still expect the world to attend carefully to Christian opinions. We still labour at evangelism as though everyone reads our book and knows our history and respects our ideals. We still expect the Church to be the place that the world turns for answers. And when it doesn’t, we throw our toys from the cot. This kind of laziness in Christian thought and speech, which bawls at the march of secularisation, is ironically probably the major reason for secularisation. But whatever its place in the past, our laziness and naivete is a serious threat to the gospel in the present. The Christian world needs to rapidly mature through grown-up study of the Word and our world, or we should bunker down and wait for the next Dark Ages.
So, what about Christmas? Well, the one thing a pluralist society doesn’t do (yet) is to insist that we banish Christ from our festivities. As the last vestiges of meaning drain away from Xmas, and as our friends awake on the 26th with headaches, broken toys and bad debt, what could be better than to bear testimony to having celebrated something as awesome as God’s gracious incarnation into this cold, barren humanity? What could be more compelling than not to have bought into the excess and emptiness of Xmas, but rather to carry an incisive and wise witness to the Christ of Christmas?