So this is Christmas …

So this is Christmas …

So this is Christmas …

“So this is Christmas …”, another song blasts out on a repeat of Christmas songs. I was in town with all the Christmas shoppers. Lucky me! In busy shops, little people don’t like big people. I found myself apologising for being in the way  a few times every minute, so I took myself to the side of the shop, out of the way, and watched …

London Christmas 2016 (32909695696)… and listened. “So this is Christmas” – what is? This scene in front of me? “and what have you done? Another year over …” Wow! Another year. I’m about to spend my 48th Christmas on planet earth. So this is Christmas! It may have been the shop Christmas playlist, but I became very despondent. Christmas does not fill me with the excitement it once did – just anxiety about presents, anxiety about cost, anxiety about preparing a Christmas meal, anxiety about juggling arrangements. 

So anxiety is Christmas and what have you done? Well I’m more anxious about all the Christmas things I haven’t done!

“Gingle Bells”

My melancholy drove me into a card shop. When contemplating the meaning of contemporary life, what better place to go? So this is Christmas. What would the card shop tell me?

The answer was clear – this word was on more Christmas cards than any other. So this is Christmas. What is? Gin is! I didn’t realise you could make so many puns with the word gin, although most of them make Christmas cracker jokes seem positively inspired. Consuming gin would probably help. “Let the season be-GIN”, “Glad tidings we bring to you and your gin”, “All I want for Christmas in gin”, “Wishing you are very merry ginmas!”, “Hark the herald angels sing, Richard has drunk all the gin”, “O come let us adore gin.”

So gin is Christmas, what have you done? Best not to ask!

It annoyed me – because I don’t like gin. I can accept that “I’m the happiest Christmas whisky, ho ho ho hee hee hee” doesn’t work on a Christmas card. Even so, it all seemed empty and hollow – not unlike the Christmas tree ornaments that were for sale – in the shape of bottles of gin! 

“Go make careful search …”

I looked for other words that were on multiple cards. So Santa is Christmas, what have you done? That was my choice, gin or Santa?

So I dug a bit further – looking for those ‘traditional’ cards. The ones that have something about the birth of Jesus – remember him? I found some. High up, out of the way of the little people, only seen by us big people keeping out the way. The only words written on any of these were “Peace” or “Peace on Earth”.

The High Street can do without most of the Christmas story, but there is still this longing for peace on earth. But what does even that look like? In a world of Trump and Putin, in a world of brutal weaponry, in a world of violence and war, ‘peace on earth’ seems as devoid of meaning as ‘gin on earth’. But peace pervades the story of Jesus’s birth, so much so that even Santa can’t bury it.

What kind of peace?

In our modern world, it’s hard to appreciate what a strong political motif ‘peace’ was in the first century. The message was carved on many a wall throughout the Roman Empire. The message was this: “Peace through victory”. The meaning was simple. You want peace, you do what we say! Our imperial conquest will bring peace. The only way to enjoy peace and prosperity is to be grateful that our fighting machine is the stronger than anyone else’s. Only we can guarantee peace. (Caesar Augustus would be a strong advocate for Trident!)

In this context, the Christmas story was treason. Herod got it. “Where is the child who is born King of the Jews?” Herod did not hang around, he understood and decreed slaughter. The wise men had gone to a palace. Any King worth the title would have to be connected with imperial power and strength. But not the one who was born ‘Prince of Peace’, born instead in a borrowed shed.Nicolaes Berchem - Annunciation to the Shepherds
On the hills above Bethlehem in one direction you could see Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. In the other direction, on top a hill, his even grander palace, the Herodium. The shepherds were so close to the imperial seat of power geographically, but couldn’t be any further away socially. But it was them who first heard the message of a different peace.

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.”
(Isaiah 9:6-7)

The Prince of Peace rules with justice and righteousness. This is not ‘peace through victory’ but a much more comprehensive and universal peace. This is ‘peace through justice’. So writes Dominic Crossan, in his excellent book ‘God and Empire’He goes on to define ‘peace through justice’ as distributive justice. We tend to think of justice as a legal, punitive word. But the opposite of justice is ‘it’s not fair’. A world of haves and have nots is not fair. ‘Peace through victory’ worked for the haves, but reinforced the injustice of the have nots.

Addition, not subtraction

Two thousand years later, not much has changed. The world is in desperate need of peace – not peace through victory, but peace through distributive justice. I didn’t find it in the card shop, but on the busy street outside was a Christmas elf, awkwardly dancing, as he collected money for a homeless charity. On the way back to the car, I passed at least three other Christmas appeals. People giving up their Saturday motivated by distributive justice. Peace is not subtraction – the absence of noise or war etc, but addition – acts that help bring ‘peace through justice’.

So peace is Christmas, and what have you done? I returned home with this far more searching question in my mind. What have I done?

(I heard ‘peace is addition, not subtraction’ in a Christmas talk recently – inspired!)

2 Replies to “So this is Christmas …”

  1. Great read, even though Christmas is over, as it really does make you think about what you did for others over the festive season.

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