BY TERESA PIROLA
It's almost Christmas time, and the religious writers are at it again. “Put Christ back into Christmas!” It’s a predictable message from the churches. And it's an essential one. The commercial onslaught at this time of year is intense.
Yet lately I find myself recoiling from singing that familiar anthem. Or, at least, resisting its usual key.
Is it fatigue? ("I've heard it all before.") Is it despair? ("Really, can anything change?")
Or is it something else?
I find myself reflecting upon my own sense of powerlessness amidst the consumerist swarm. My Christian value system that calls for a simplified lifestyle is clearly a minority view, even among Christians!
And there is a stinging insult to it all: that secular society would have the gall to promote Christ-mas of all things. What does it care for a religious feast? It has free reign in nearly every other part of the social order; does it have to engulf our sacred Christian festival as well? Such insidious power...to undermine our precious religious celebration, by taking it over!
And that’s when the penny drops. My thoughts move to other stories of power and powerlessness told through history where Christianity was the dominant culture, the all-consuming message-maker, powerfully dictating how other peoples should live their lives.
I think first of the Christian attempt to abrogate the Jewish covenant. Not content to share in God's revelation to the Jews, the Church had to monopolise their God, treating Jews as divinely rejected and Judaism as obsolete. It took the best part of two millennia and the Second Vatican Council to re-chart that course in Jewish-Christian relations.
I think too of the destruction of indigenous populations throughout the world. Suddenly their land was not even their own any more. I think of the suppression of the rituals of local cultures which did not conform to European ways. Suddenly people couldn't worship in their own way; it had to be somebody else’s way.
I think of these kinds of historical dynamics, and the irony they now pose to western Christians. Now it is we who are struggling for our voices, values and practices to be respected amidst a ruling secular culture that worships the god of mammon in cathedral-like shopping malls.
And amidst the discomfort of all this, I find a precious and humbling lesson. Ah, so this is an inkling of what it has felt like for the Jew, the indigenous person, the struggling immigrant... This is what it is like to be marginalised, ignored, trampled by the stampede of the masses in a powerful, overconfident, self-congratulatory culture.
Looked at this way, paradoxically the jungle of materialism within which we stake out our little gospel campsite becomes a place of spiritual growth. It can draw us into solidarity with all who have ever felt marginalised or robbed of what is most precious and life-giving to them. At the end of the day, it is an experience of the cross... and therefore an invitation to trust in its redeeming energy.
So yes, by all means let's call for Christ to be "restored" to Christmas. So long as we are not trying to restore a previous Christian culture where our religion was "top dog." May it lead to something altogether new, humble, inclusive, respectful of all peoples. More Christ-like.
Teresa Pirola is a Sydney-based freelance faith-educator and founder/coordinator of the Light of Torah ministry.
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