The Political Meaning of Christmas

By Jantz, Harold | Winnipeg Free Press, December 22, 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Political Meaning of Christmas


Jantz, Harold, Winnipeg Free Press


Amid all the sentimentality, noise and gift-giving that Christmas entails, what does it mean politically? Can it help us to bring genuine good into our world? Does it have meaning for our civic discourse?

No gospel writer gives as much space to the story of the birth of Jesus as the physician Luke. In a wonderful passage he has Mary exclaiming that the God who has given her this child "has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but sent the rich away empty."

It is Luke who also tells us that it was a registration for taxation purposes, during the reign of Caesar Augustus, that sent the parents Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem and, since the roadhouses were filled, they found shelter in a stable. It was there, in a manger, the child was born. The announcement of the birth to a band of shepherds uses striking language: "Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord... Glory to God in the highest and peace to men on whom his favour rests."

One of the most striking aspects of the Christian story is the claim Jesus never sought power in the sense that most great leaders -- even religious leaders -- have done. He was born in the humblest of circumstances and never aspired to power. At the very beginning of his ministry we are told that he went into the desert and faced the temptation to claim such power. But he resolutely rejected it. When he was about to be arrested before his crucifixion, some of his disciples wanted to respond by use of force -- again, he rejected it. He went to his crucifixion meekly, willingly. What is the meaning of this?

Christians have understood the Scriptures to be saying that this is God's way of dealing with the brokenness, the warp in human behaviour. It is not with laws or legislation, but with a transformation of the heart. When the Scriptures want to show us how Jesus' followers are to live, it does it not by creating a set of laws and regulations, but by naming attitudes. Jesus said, it is from the heart that good or evil flow. So, the Apostle Paul stated that the fruit of the Spirit of Christ in us is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

Christianity is entirely comfortable with a secular government, if that means all religions are treated fairly and equally, are allowed to witness for their truth claims and argue for those things that will contribute to the public good, just as anyone else can. Anyone who reads history knows, of course, that this is not how Christians have always behaved. But the separation between the role of the church and that of the government has been there from the beginning. Jesus told those who asked him about paying taxes, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.

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