I used to rail against consumerism each year as Christmas approached. I made all sorts of token efforts to make personal changes- some years we only shopped in charity shops, or only from locally made produce, or with a limited budget. Always there was the obvious back story of ‘the true meaning of Christmas’, whatever that might be.
There is a version of this (which we consume through a thousand screens) that seems to be about being nice, being generous, and enjoying friendship and family. These are good things. Presents are good things I- I like getting presents and I like giving them too.
But this story of Christmas is not going to save the planet. It seems to be a story that has failed us, like an old scientific theory, superceded by experience and hard won knowledge.
Neither am I sure that this is in fact the ‘true meaning of Christmas’, even in our commercially oriented times. But what is then?
I suppose first and foremost, the true meaning of Christmas is that it was the start of a new story…
…a story about an ancient prophet who claimed to be God, which upset people so much that they killed him…
…or a story about the start of a new kingdom and a new way of living that was simpler, more connected and subjugated to something called love…
…or a story of how people took the example of the life and death of a man and formed it in to a religion, albeit one that often seemed to miss the point entirely…
…or a story in which we find ourselves. A story that challenges us and draws us towards an active hope that things could and should be better…
But there are many many other versions of this story. It became maleable and has been adapted and adopted by all sorts of divergent causes. It was worn by those in power like a badge to justify their power and has been employed by slaves to remind them that they were more than just slaves. So the story might become diluted and distorted from over use and under examination. It is a story that might then lose its power entirely because there is nothing more disposable than a meaningless story.
But how we need a new story at the moment; a better story than the one we have been living with. Here is Monbiot on politics for example;
The interesting question though is whether this story will be a new one after all, or rather a rediscovery/re telling of one that we had mostly forgotten.
The story that began at Christmas is celebrated in a burst of consumerism. But what if we remembered that Jesus told his followers that they did not need two shirts on their backs and modelled a way of sharing everything? The same Jesus who told us that the rich would struggle to enter the Kingdom of God that he was proclaiming, which would bring blessing to the weak, the poor and the broken? How might this story affect the way we live? How might it shape our politics, our economics, our theological understandings of the world?
What light will fall on our darkness?
Open the sky
Open the sky and let some light in
Let this night be night no longer
Let stars shine down in shafts of love
Illuminating ordinary things
All down with dirt and common use
Let donkeys laugh out loud
For now the basest things
Are silvered up with grace
Lubricated in kindness
He is coming
Not to penthouses, to plump up cushions of comfort
Not to stroke the fragile ego of celebrity
Not to strengthen the hands of the powerful
Or expand their empty empires
Not to shape new cathedrals from seductive certainty
Or even to doctor our old doctrines
He comes not to the exclusive few
But to you;
The mess of you
All your brokenness
All your failures
He comes in the certain knowledge that
You will fail again
So, open the sky and
let some light in