Putting Christ back in Christmas: maybe Christians themselves need to ‘press reset’

Jesus, centre, separates the sheep from the goats. Don’t ask what happens to the goats. Below: St. Paul and modern Evangelical favourite Ayn Rand.

Today is Christmas, and thus an opportunity for many who think of themselves as adherents of the Christian faith to lecture everyone else sternly about the need to “put Christ back into Christmas.”

This is, after all, His birthday, they remind us – although, actually, it’s almost certainly not, but that doesn’t really matter as Dec. 25 stands in for it at a conveniently miserable time of year when European pagans would otherwise quite sensibly have gone on celebrating the imminent return of shorter and warmer days to their deeply chilled continent instead of the somewhat less imminent, as it turned out, return of their saviour.

Notwithstanding all that, the point of this particular little Christmas homily is that if Christians want to put Christ back into Christmas, an excellent place to start would be by paying attention to what Christ taught them – which seemingly nowadays has very little to do with the things that most concern a very large percentage of practicing Christians.

This is especially true of Evangelical Protestants – like the good people who raised me – who nowadays seem to be mostly focused on the Three Gs, with a side helping of Israel and the End Times. The Three Gs are, of course, Guns (they like ’em), Gays (they don’t) and Gifts (well, who doesn’t, eh?). By the way, unless you’re a black-helicopter conspiracist, Geometers and Geometry don’t come anywhere near this particular string of Gs.

However, as St. Paul (the saint, that is, not the city) most certainly didn’t say, the greatest of these is Gifts.

Indeed, so great is the last of the Three Gs, that some observers have theorized North America, and this would most certainly include its stubbornly secularist northern half, “is now firmly in the grip of a different religion: shopping.”

This fact, naturally, is the very thing that prompts annoyingly self-righteous Christians to decry consumerism and demand the immediate restoration of Christ to Christmas – especially if the Christian doing the decrying is the family patriarch (or, in possibly a majority households nowadays, the matriarch) contemplating the coming struggle to pay off the Visa bill.

But what, as we are constantly being asked by these same people in other circumstances, would Jesus say?

Depending, of course, on your view of the inerrancy of Scripture, we actually have a pretty good idea, since it was all taken down and (on at least one occasion) used against him in a court of law.

And so, speaking of courts, here’s an interesting commentary by Jesus himself (who most certainly was opposed to needless violence and never uttered a single word on the topic of homosexuality) on what the future holds – a commentary, it is said here, that should be attended to by followers of the Christian religion, in particular those who mix what they think of as their religious fundamentalism with economic market fundamentalism.

On the theory that what the adult Christ had to say is likely more relevant to how Christians ought to live than the story of the infant Jesus – which is bound to be reprinted anyway on the editorial page of the Calgary Herald, that old friend of values most associated nowadays with much of Christianity, such as narcissism, personal greed, intolerance and the absence of mercy – our text today comes instead from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, starting at Verse 32.

“…And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

“For I was an hungered and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger and ye took me in; Naked and ye clothed me; I was sick and ye visited me; I was in prison and ye came unto me.”

And the righteous, on his right hand, sounding more than a little perplexed, respond with questions:

“Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. …”

If the righteous sound mildly surprised by all this, as if their reward were quite unexpected to them, perhaps this was because so many Christians have been taught by the actions and the words of their leaders that charity – and, it is said here, the extension of charity into earthly government – was of no consequence at all, or even a bad thing.

As for those on his left hand, the ones who failed to do their charitable work, I won’t trouble readers about what happened to them, save to say that Pastor Alan Hunsperger late of Alberta’s Wildrose Party would have understood their fate even if he were surprised by the sin that provoked it.

No, Jesus didn’t have anything good at all to say about the “virtue of selfishness,” which to hear a lot of Christians nowadays you’d think was part of the Gospel of Jesus, not the gospel of Ayn Rand. Rather, he taught us about the need to provide food and drink for the hungry, clothing to the poor, offer mercy to those in prison, and proper care to the sick. You know, like those social workers the late Ms. Rand, the atheistic market-fundamentalist avatar, held in such deep contempt.

Not incidentally, by the way, Jesus also instructed us to pay our taxes. (Matthew 22:21)

Jesus most certainly did not teach us that the accumulation of wealth was virtuous on its own merits or any signifier of favour in the eyes of God. Indeed, he said the opposite: “…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

So if it’s rampant consumerism that bothers modern North American Christians, they ought to speak up about the corporations that encourage this behaviour and the right-wing governments that slavishly enable them, indeed, the whole capitalist system that depends on it.

Above all, if Christians want us to put Christ back into Christmas – where, arguably, he belongs – they need to start the process themselves by letting his teachings govern their actions.

If they won’t, who but Christians themselves can be blamed for the “war on Christmas”?

Happy Holidays!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

10 Comments on "Putting Christ back in Christmas: maybe Christians themselves need to ‘press reset’"

  1. JJ Gibbons says:

    I find it interesting that the fundamentalist and evangelical Christians often quote (selectively) from the “Old Testament”. The so-called “Old” Testament should just be background information for Christians (since it is the Hebrew/Jewish scriptures – the Tanakh). It’s the message(s) of Jesus – so aptly brought to the fore-front by you – that they should be focussed on.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Bruce A says:

    Amen. But can the Pre-Boxing Day Blow Out Mattress Madness Sale be far behind?
    Merry Christmas one and all.

  3. synonymous says:

    Happy solstice and loving kindness to us all, each and every one.

  4. ronmac says:

    I often wondered if Jesus fast-forwarded his arrival by 2000 years he would have been born in a motel room in Two Hills, Alberta.

    Don’t laugh. There’s lots of similarities. Back then the world was dominated by the Roman Empire. Today all roads lead to Washington, seat of American Empire.

    Israel was a vibrant cosmopolitan place back in the day, located at the crossroads of one of ancient Rome’s busiest trading routes.

    Today Alberta is a busy, cosmopolitan place, very active in the trading of a particular spice called bitinum, a highly desirable commodity in all four corners of the globe.

    Back in the day the coming of th messiah meant different things to different people. Many believed he was a “warrior prince” sent to unite the tribes and drive out the Romans. They were sorely disappointed.

    In modern day Alberta, many would claim the messiah was sent to drive out the federalist forces in Ottawa and bring an end to their pesky regulations.

    To others he -or she- would be a “dealmaker”, uniting various factions in rival kingdoms to allow the passage of pipelines.

    Still others the messiah was sent to teach us a more humane way of practicing politics where words like “socialized medicine” are embraced not condemned.

  5. j from wpg says:

    A couple years ago I worked on New Years Day and had to listen as politely as possible to some Bible-thumper spew bile about getting a “Happy Holidays” card instead of one saying “Merry Christmas”. Since it was a slow day, after that call I spent some time checking the origins od December 25 as Christmas.

    My findings from the always truthy Wikipedia:
    1. Early Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas; they celebrated Epiphany – when Jesus was revealed to be the Son of God. The revelation of Jesus’s divinity was considered much more important than his birth; people are born and die every day but how many are revealed to be God? The earliest known Epiphany festival was in the spring. Later, the date was set on January 06 to avoid conflicting with Easter.
    2. The date of the Nativity was determined by counting back from January 06. Also, January 01 was set as “the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ”. That is, New Years Day used to celebrate the Jewish of Jesus, since he had to be Jewish to be a Messiah.
    3. Pagan Saturnalia was no more than a five day festival and was over on December 23. Apparently, it was VERY popular and regular Roman citizens did continue its traditions when Christianity was imposed on them; the Church was not amused. It’s a pity the Feast of Fools/ Lord of Misrule aspect of Saturnalia died out.
    4. Yule was celebrated on December 25 long before Germany became Christian. I get a kick out of how the scared fertility hymns sung in orchards morphed into Christmas hymns.

    The War on Christmas is nothing new. Bible-thumpers always used to denounce Hallow’een and Christmas as pagan festivals rebranded by the evil Catholic Church. Now they’ve expanded their targets to include non-Christians.

  6. fubar says:

    Merry Christmas David! And to all. Have a very merry pagan, atheist, jewish, christian, muslim or other holiday. Don’t care what mystical omnipotent being you believe in, just treat your fellow beings as you would wish to be treated.

  7. Alex P says:

    Happy what ever you celebrate, how ever you spell it!

  8. Filostrato says:

    It’s funny how all the stuff requiring a little work- empathy, charity, compassion, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc. – is conveniently forgotten by vociferous “Christians”, while the real ones are just out there doing stuff without trumpeting to the rest of the world how wonderful they are. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them”… and all that stuff. Most of the vengeful, self-righteous, self-proclaimed saints are more productive of hot air and destruction than anything that can possibly be considered as something desirable.

    So, here’s to the peacemakers, the meek, the merciful – you know, all the good people of the world.

  9. Chelsea says:

    Jesus was Jewish after all. Many people forget this.

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