Has Father Christmas upstaged Jesus?
This question was asked by Jonathan Skinner in an article written for the Christian tabloid Evangelical Times in December 2002. For many, the question will always be answered in the affirmative. It seems that a white-bearded old man has thrown the baby out of the cradle – and his trinket-filled grotto has replaced a rustic stable. For the most part, the UK’s overtly-commercialised Christmas has lost any vestige of Christian significance and meaning. It has become a social festival – tinged with nostalgia and veneered with the hope that, for a few days at least, ‘good will’ might just prevail. Some local authorities have proposed that Christmas be renamed Winter Festival, or something similar, in an attempt to appease those who advocate political correctness. Thus, they have pressed the ‘delete’ button to remove ‘Christ’ altogether. Skinner observes that: “The spiritual has been swallowed by the secular, the sacred obliterated by sentiment. Christmas has been gutted of its meaning.”
But does this really matter? Do people in the UK really care? Perhaps it’s just as well that we have finally ‘grown up’ and, thus, stripped the Christ from Christmas? This would surely usher-in a more palatable Festive Season that reflects more accurately the convictions and preferences of the majority!
However, a recent stroll through the streets of Brecon, South Wales convinced me otherwise. It seems that people are reluctant to allow the Christ to slip-out of Christmas for, amid the hustle and bustle of busy Yuletide shopping, one could still hear the faint, but comforting sounds of Christmas carols and see the reassuringly familiar nativity images that speak of God breaking into the world and revealing himself in Jesus Christ.
Deep down, we seem to be aware of ‘another reality’ – one that cannot be explained by the laws of science. People have a thirst the material world simply cannot satisfy. Through Christ we may know this ‘other’ (greater) reality, for Jesus said: “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9). This is why we cannot afford to ignore the coming of Jesus Christ - celebrated at Christmas.
There’s an old rhyme my grandmother used to recite:
Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat;
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!
The lyrics of this rhyme associate the Christmas dinner with geese which are eaten in traditional English Christmas feasts. The meaning that is conveyed to a child here is that the festive period is where each should give to charity, according to their means; even if all they could give was their blessing. How wonderful it would be if we could bless someone this Christmas Season by drawing their attention away from the commercial misrepresentations and towards Jesus, the reason for the season!