A guest post by Stuart Molar, a youth minister from Crumlin who is also a great guy for having random conversations with at Christian festivals.
At this time of year, thoughts inevitably turn to Christmas and all that goes with it-presents, food, family, parties, time off! However, I have been feeling very challenged of late, due in no small part to the work I have been doing in the local High School. In the last few weeks, we have dealt with issues such as the plight of the refugee, genocide, natural disasters and conflict (of many kinds). In each area, one thing has held true-in every scenario, there are always people whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the events they have experienced. For many of these people, there is incredible loss and suffering on their part.
What has really troubled me is just how hard it is to really connect with these people in their suffering, not just on the part of the kids I teach, but also if I am truthful, for myself. Natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis don’t happen in our wee corner of the world. Organised and mass genocide has not touched our shores. Even if we think of the Troubles, that terrible span of 30 something years that afflicted our beautiful wee country of Northern Ireland, and the cost in both human and material terms, they pale in comparison to the troubles suffered in places like Rwanda in the mid 90s, and Sudan now (although that is not to belittle the suffering of the many thousands whose lives were directly affected by the Troubles). Needless to say, apart from the aforementioned Troubles, our wee country has got it pretty easy. It is such comfort that I feel numbs us to the plight of others!
At this time of year, thoughts inevitably turn to Christmas, buying presents, attending parties, eating food, enjoying the company of friends and family, crap television, and a whole host of other associated things. And yet as a Christian, I am deeply disturbed that for many of us, Jesus is no where near the top of our list (if he is even on it in the first place). I have come to ask the question ‘what is the point of Christmas if Jesus isn’t even in it?’ Don’t get me wrong, my understanding of God allows me to imagine the great delight he takes in when we encounter real and genuine community that happens especially at Christmas. This is a good thing and should be encouraged more often. However, in the same sense, I imagine his heart breaks when he sees us becoming so focused on trivial things.
The incarnation was such a dramatic and radical act within the span of human history. Here we have God himself, in the form of Jesus, coming to earth to exist as one of us, to live for us and show us how to live in turn, and then finally to die and resurrect for humanity. Such a profound and powerful act has been boiled down to what is essentially an orgy of selfishness.
As a Christian, I sometimes feel ashamed; not only at society at large, but also at myself. How can I have let myself, and those around me, focus on such selfish things. Is Christmas really about presents, or overeating food, or complaining about how bad television is? Is that what it has become? What happened to the radical and life changing act that was the original incarnation?
I am often full of questions I don’t always have answers too. By no stretch of the imagination am I trying to exist in an ivory tower passing judgement on others. I know I am just as complicit in the creation of a festival that is often as anti-christ as a coven of Satanists (or should that be Santa-ists?!). Am I suggesting we do away with Christmas, and have just a normal day (sounds nice!). Joking aside, of course I am not. However, what I am suggesting we do to do (Christian or not) is to set aside the self and consider the real reason of Christmas-that God would come to the world for mankind, to bring hope and redemption. There are an awful lot of people in this world who right now need a little hope and redemption. Perhaps we as a society and as individuals have an opportunity-strike that-a responsibility to ensure that such people find some hope. I hope that we can shake ourselves and hear the challenge to not become desensitised and numb to the plight of others whose Christmas will be more about surviving famine, or disease or death squads than it will be about buying presents, or complaining of what is on the TV.