One Christmas in my home town a Catholic priest said he wanted Jesus back for Christmas. Some of his congregation thought at first that he’d lost his faith. It turned out that the baby Jesus had been stolen from the church’s nativity scene. The large figures were outside the church and the baby was stolen by Christmas shoppers. The baby was last seen being auctioned on eBay. That story is for me a parable of our age. With the relentless rise of consumerism we can easily allow Jesus to be stolen from Christmas.
One national newspaper has recently accused the big four supermarkets of airbrushing Christ out of Christmas. This followed a survey which showed that less than one percent of Christmas cards they stock have traditional Christmas themes. In response a spokesperson said: ‘The ranges of cards that appear in our stores reflect what our customers want to buy’.
On July 16th (2010), I took my mother out for lunch at her favourite restaurant. As we entered we found ourselves facing a fully decorated Christmas tree. A sign on the tree had just two words: ‘Coming Soon’. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. How is it possible to make Christmas special when it begins so early and when many retailers have already begun what used to be called the January sales by Christmas Eve and some are even selling Easter eggs?
Each year the Church Ads organisation runs an advertising campaign called ‘Christmas Starts with Christ’. One year the poster showed a baby Scan of Jesus at around twelve weeks gestation with a halo above his head. That picture brought back special memories of my wife and I proudly showing the scans from our three boys off to family and friends. It makes a fundamental point about the message of Christmas. Christianity leaves no room for a God disconnected from the world and our lives. The baby Jesus was God and also human. His coming at Christmas means that God knows our world of tears and joys from the inside with a sensitivity that we cannot begin to imagine.
I’ve sought to capture some of that meaning this year in two ways. Firstly, throughout the year I’ve kept a Christmas card up at home showing Mary and the baby Jesus with a cross-shaped light shinning behind them. It provoked some interesting comments from visitors and has been a constant reminder of the significance of Christmas and how it should impact my everyday life, rather than be packed away each January with the decorations.
Secondly I have asked my family rather than getting me presents, to give me money which I will send to an orphanage in Kathmandu which I visited a few years ago. The one hundred or so abandoned children who live there would be dead were it not for the loving and dedicated staff of the home. They all live on so much less than us in the west but seem so much more joyful. I hope my gift will be a small reminder of all that God has done for us through Jesus, the real gift of Christmas.
It is easy to allow the baby Jesus to be stolen from our lives and auctioned away on eBay – eBayby Jesus. We can recapture him by remembering Christmas isn’t so much about opening presents, as opening our lives to God’s saving love, expressed in Jesus Christ the greatest gift. As one 7 year old said: ‘Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen’.