Today is Christmas, and thus an opportunity for many who think of themselves as adherents of the Christian faith to lecture everyone else sternly about the need to "put Christ back into Christmas."
This is, after all, His birthday, they remind us -- although, actually, it's almost certainly not, but that doesn't really matter as Dec. 25 stands in for it at a conveniently miserable time of year when European pagans would otherwise quite sensibly have gone on celebrating the imminent return of shorter and warmer days to their deeply chilled continent instead of the somewhat less imminent, as it turned out, return of their saviour.
Notwithstanding all that, the point of this particular little Christmas homily is that if Christians want to put Christ back into Christmas, an excellent place to start would be by paying attention to what Christ taught them -- which seemingly nowadays has very little to do with the things that most concern a very large percentage of practicing Christians.
This is especially true of Evangelical Protestants -- like the good people who raised me -- who nowadays seem to be mostly focused on the Three Gs, with a side helping of Israel and the End Times. The Three Gs are, of course, Guns (they like 'em), Gays (they don't) and Gifts (well, who doesn't, eh?). By the way, unless you're a black-helicopter conspiracist, Geometers and Geometry don't come anywhere near this particular string of Gs.
However, as St. Paul (the saint, that is, not the city) most certainly didn't say, the greatest of these is Gifts.
Indeed, so great is the last of the Three Gs, that some observers have theorized North America, and this would most certainly include its stubbornly secularist northern half, "is now firmly in the grip of a different religion: shopping."
This fact, naturally, is the very thing that prompts annoyingly self-righteous Christians to decry consumerism and demand the immediate restoration of Christ to Christmas -- especially if the Christian doing the decrying is the family patriarch (or, in possibly a majority households nowadays, the matriarch) contemplating the coming struggle to pay off the Visa bill.
But what, as we are constantly being asked by these same people in other circumstances, would Jesus say?
Depending, of course, on your view of the inerrancy of Scripture, we actually have a pretty good idea, since it was all taken down and (on at least one occasion) used against him in a court of law.
And so, speaking of courts, here’s an interesting commentary by Jesus himself (who most certainly was opposed to needless violence and never uttered a single word on the topic of homosexuality) on what the future holds -- a commentary, it is said here, that should be attended to by followers of the Christian religion, in particular those who mix what they think of as their religious fundamentalism with economic market fundamentalism.
On the theory that what the adult Christ had to say is likely more relevant to how Christians ought to live than the story of the infant Jesus -- which is bound to be reprinted anyway on the editorial page of the Calgary Herald, that old friend of values most associated nowadays with much of Christianity, such as narcissism, personal greed, intolerance and the absence of mercy -- our text today comes instead from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, starting at Verse 32.
"…And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
"For I was an hungered and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger and ye took me in; Naked and ye clothed me; I was sick and ye visited me; I was in prison and ye came unto me."
And the righteous, on his right hand, sounding more than a little perplexed, respond with questions:
"Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. …"
If the righteous sound mildly surprised by all this, as if their reward were quite unexpected to them, perhaps this was because so many Christians have been taught by the actions and the words of their leaders that charity -- and, it is said here, the extension of charity into earthly government -- was of no consequence at all, or even a bad thing.
As for those on his left hand, the ones who failed to do their charitable work, I won't trouble readers about what happened to them, save to say that Pastor Alan Hunsperger late of Alberta's Wildrose Party would have understood their fate even if he were surprised by the sin that provoked it.
No, Jesus didn't have anything good at all to say about the "virtue of selfishness," which to hear a lot of Christians nowadays you’d think was part of the Gospel of Jesus, not the gospel of Ayn Rand. Rather, he taught us about the need to provide food and drink for the hungry, clothing to the poor, offer mercy to those in prison, and proper care to the sick. You know, like those social workers the late Ms. Rand, the atheistic market-fundamentalist avatar, held in such deep contempt.
Not incidentally, by the way, Jesus also instructed us to pay our taxes. (Matthew 22:21)
Jesus most certainly did not teach us that the accumulation of wealth was virtuous on its own merits or any signifier of favour in the eyes of God. Indeed, he said the opposite: "…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24)
So if it's rampant consumerism that bothers modern North American Christians, they ought to speak up about the corporations that encourage this behaviour and the right-wing governments that slavishly enable them, indeed, the whole capitalist system that depends on it.
Above all, if Christians want us to put Christ back into Christmas -- where, arguably, he belongs -- they need to start the process themselves by letting his teachings govern their actions.
If they won't, who but Christians themselves can be blamed for the "war on Christmas"?
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.