At this time of year, nearly every Christian writer and his dog is talking about rediscovering the “true meaning of Christmas”, as if Christmas is primarily a cultural artifact that needs to be rescued – even chiseled away – from the commercial, material and fictional elements in contemporary Western culture. Meanwhile, among Christians there are frequent debates as to whether Christmas is really a pagan festival and whether it should be observed by Christians at all. Some of these exchanges can descend into acrimony, with mutual excommunications of other people for being either Pharisees or fundamentalists.
In an age of politics – where even the personal has become political – there is a widespread belief that it is within policies themselves that man may find the keys to the kingdom and the road to heaven. But whether or not the cashier says “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas”; whether or not Muslims oppose the raising of communal Christmas trees; and whether churches sing carols or host special services is to a great extent immaterial to what the Faith has always been about. These are appendages to the trunk, or expressions and symbols of the Faith, but not the Faith itself. Yet the encrustations – the shell – seems to dominate everything, while the substructure withers.
Christmas was meant to honour the incarnation of God. Originally a far more simple ceremony, it has now been dialed up into a mere simulacrum of abundant Christian joy – the lavish giving of gifts, singing of songs, and charitable donations – an external carapace without the wellspring that gives rise to true joy itself. The external expression of joy has been magnified due to a loss of genuine faith in the teachings of scripture, for where there is no inward life, worship must always be exported to greater and greater external expression.
The incarnation of God has lost its majesty and inner joy in our world because people have come to believe that the most elementary and consistent teaching of the scriptures no longer applies to them. It is a democratic age, so surely God’s kingdom must operate on principles of equality and egalitarianism as well? All that talk by the Prophets and the Apostles of the ark and the few, the chosen people, the Promised Land, the faithful remnant, the pilgrimage through a hostile and barren land, and the solitary narrow gate through which many shall want to enter and not be able – all of this has faded. In a prosperous age, it has become easy to forget that man does not live by bread alone. In a comfortable age, it has become easy to forget that at the heart of Christianity is no plush easy chair, but a cruel death and the intersection of righteousness and evil, the clash between God and Satan.
The incarnation becomes an occasion for true inner worship, only when seeing our need and the true condition of the world around us. But who are the true believers whose eyes have been anointed to see such a thing?