23 December 2006

The Message of Christmas

‘Peace on earth: good will to all men.’
‘And why not women?’ asked my 7-year-old daughter, in her last nativity play when she yet again missed out on being Mary because she didn't have the right colour hair.

Why do the teachers always choose the girl with fair hair for Mary? Don’t they know where Mary came from? Joseph is also sadly miscast, his tea-towel-and-bootlace headdress a childish imitation of the real thing. It’s curious, really, that we don’t do better when we see an authentic version on the TV news every day. Perhaps we can’t face the connection between Jesus and Yasser Arafat. Mary’s costume has appeared frequently in recent news bulletins too—the burkah is an added extra of course.

‘What’s Christmas in three words?’, asked the television advert of a few years ago. ‘Peace on Earth’ is mentioned only in a joking aside about noisy children, but then it can’t be bought at Marks and Spencer. Our preparations for Christmas focus as usual on consumption of presents and food, providing a contrast to the Muslims’ similarly timed festival of Ramadan, which involves a month of fasting. But the preparations this year are taking place against a backdrop dominated by the Middle East. The appropriateness of this goes unnoticed. But it’s not just the scenery and the costumes that produced the story. Christianity grew out of the same mess of violence that is going on today. Jewish victories over the Philistines are celebrated in the psalms; the battle-lines are unchanged thousands of years later.

So did Jesus fail with his message of peace?’ In a world where a born-again Christian in the most Christian country on earth parades his ruthless killing and boasts of his military might it appears that he did. It’s almost impossible to stomach the hypocrisy of celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace while the slaughter of children continues in the very town where he was born.

The message of Christmas was a message of peace to a world in conflict. Jesus turned his back on the vengeful God of the Old Testament; his life demonstrated his understanding that if you really believe in something you are willing not to kill for it but to die for it. Unable to rise to such high standards I can only wish that all those disunited in hatred as another year ends could follow his example.

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