Christmas is a battlefield.
Actually, it’s a rememberance of a battlefield. It’s a celebration of God Himself parachuting behind enemy lines and waging a war from the second of His conception to the crucifixion and beyond to the Glory of the Resurrection.
We lose sight of it so easily. We have a sanitised picture thanks to the renaissance artists of an unsoiled saviour in a clean hay bed gurgling contentedly and reassuringly to the nervous adults surrounding him.
Anyone who has read any of my writing will realise I’m deliberately not using capitals to refer to the infant Jesus in this description. I’m doing it for a reason. The Saviour I worship and have given my life to was a real human baby. I’ve been around cows and stables a few times in my life. Even the clean hay isn’t clean the way it is in the paintings. “The cattle are lowing”. Lowing is noisy, rude and deafening. Bellowing would be a good description. Lowing cows are not sanitised.
The stable was not cleansed and sanitised. In South Africa there are kraals for cattle in the villages. They are not clean or quiet. Stables are smelly. Even after they’ve been mucked out the smell of animals and manure lingers for a long time.
And Jesus landed there.
Then there’s the other things to consider. Kings, sages, wise men or whatever you want to refer to them as came to visit Jesus. They first go to Herod, expecting a King to be in a palace. They eventually find the young child possibly as much as 2 years after His birth. They worship Him and offer their gifts. If they were sorcerors from the day then maybe that sheds a little more light on their gifts. Gold, Frankinsense and Myrrh were traditional ingredients in spells. Maybe they were doing more than giving Jesus a gift. Maybe they recognised something here worth surrendering their lives to.
Worship was followed by genocide though. Jealousy tore into Herod and he had all male children under two years old slaughtered. Think of the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan” or the sight Oskar Schindler witnesses in “Schindler’s List” as he sees the bodies of hundreds of innocents dropped into mass graves or burned in the furnaces of Auschwitz. Pharoah’s assault actually had nothing on Herod’s. Pharoah was evil, yes. But he wasn’t trying to eliminate one specific child. To murder an entire generation to try to eliminate just one baby boy takes a special kind of evil.
The battlefield is an ugly place.
As a teenager I visited the battlefields of the Somme Valley in France from a century ago. In the museums there are photographs of men wounded in the battles. Limbs ripped off, bodies disfigured and mangled in death. But the most disturbing images that made the deepest impact on me were the ones of the men who survived the initial injury but who knew they would die of their wounds. Men with their lower jaw missing, unable to eat or drink, the wounds cauterised by the blast so blood-loss was minimal. They died of thirst or hunger, and they knew it would happen.
The difference between them and us is they knew they were dying. There was no doubt for them. The battlefield was littered with their friends and adversaries, and they knew they would not live much longer.
We have no idea how badly we are inured much of the time. And more than that, we don’t even acknowledge the fight. Like some spiritual incarnation of the black knight from Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” movie we blunder on, seemingly oblivious to the damage done to us by the enemy.
And so the Battle for Christmas rages on. The enemy has done immense damage to the concept in the last hundred years, and it was so insidious that most of us didn’t even notice. The rosy-cheeked image of “Father Christmas” and the excesses of food, wine and gluttony along with self-serving outbursts associated with the season are more in line with Bacchus than Jesus, and the intolerance we demonstrate in shopping malls is the antithesis of Christ’s message. Yet if a Christian dares to say something we are derided and called kill-joys or worse. If we point out that the point of the Manger is the Cross people look at us like we’re crazy.
But we need to return to the heart of Christmas. Since “Xmas” was initially using the Greek letter at the start of the Greek for Christ, and later an actual cross used for the sake of the illiterate masses I have no problem with shortening the word. Holiday is a condensed version of “Holy-Day”, and again I see nothing wrong with it’s use, but the commercialisation is ludicrous.
Two years ago I wrote to the largest supermarket chain in South Africa with a complaint. They had begun putting their Christmas decorations up and playing Christmas misuc in their stores in mid October. After some backwards and forwards emails I had to finally resort to pointing out they would never dare to do the same for Ramadan, Eid, Yom Kippur or any other religions holiday from another belief system, and why should this be any different. Only then was I given an apology and the music and decorations removed for another six weeks. A minor battle, perhaps, but one I feel was essential.
The onslaught continues against Christian messages. We have “Season’s Greetings” to avoid offense, but posters celebrating every other religion.
The Church needs to rise up and take back the ground. It’s not too late.
And it’s something we desperately need to do to remind ourselves through the mire of consumerism the Jesus came into a war, to fight for us, and to give us the power to fight back.