Salvation the forgotten key to true magic of Christmas

Michael Hewat: Salvation the forgotten key to true magic of Christmas

By Michael Hewat

5:30 AM Friday Dec 23, 2011


Biblical insight adds meaning to the festive period of gift-giving, writes Michael Hewat

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Michael Hewat: Salvation the forgotten key to true magic of Christmas




The reason Christians celebrate Christmas is that God took on human form and entered the world to redeem it. Photo / Thinkstock

Eric Weiner, author of Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine, wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times recently that Americans are terrible when it comes to talking about God.

But at least Americans talk. Articles on religion are extremely rare in New Zealand’s leading daily, and without Garth George and Glynn Cardy they would be nigh non-existent. What is completely missing, though, is any kind of serious engagement and debate about significant issues of faith.

Is this because religion does not matter to New Zealanders? Census figures indicate otherwise. Perhaps it’s because we fear the polarisation which Weiner bemoans as a blight on religious debate in the United States.

Yet we seem quite able to cope with the polarised opinion which invariably dominates in every other field of intellectual engagement. Witness the way climate change and fiscal policy, for example, are debated with an almost religious fervour.

As we approach the most widely celebrated Christian festival of the year, it is surely reasonable to debate its significance – or is Glynn Cardy’s four reasons to celebrate the last word on Christmas for this year?

As interesting as his historical background on the Winter Solstice celebration is, this tradition has nothing to do with what or why we celebrate at Christmas in New Zealand. At best it may have a residual influence on how we do so, though when did anyone here last light a Yule-log? This tradition is lost and irrelevant to a 21st-century Kiwi Christmas.

The Santa Claus tradition, on the other hand, has without question grown to become the dominant one, and I agree with Cardy’s summary of its best and worst features. The point that needs to be made, though, is that Santa Claus is not himself the reason or cause we celebrate, but an inspiration and symbol of how we celebrate: by giving gifts and feasting.

How and why Cardy separates what he calls the Pageant tradition from the biblical story of Jesus’ birth will be the greatest mystery any of us face this Christmas.

Does he really think these are separate traditions, that there would be a nativity tradition without the infancy narratives in Luke’s Gospel?

When Cardy finally gets to the Bible‘s Christmas tradition, he asserts that it is not about a baby but about a man Jesus, of lowly origins standing with people of lowly origins against the power and wealth of the mighty.

Cardy concludes that the Bible tradition, merged with the other three traditions but with no suggestion that it is primus inter pares, offers us insights into how we might better live.

This is simply incorrect. True, Jesus’ birth was lowly and he was a man of humility. True, Jesus stood up against oppressive human wealth and power, and the Church is called to proclaim and live out that message all through the year.

But the reason Christians celebrate at Christmas is that God took on human form in Jesus of Nazareth and entered the world, as a baby, to redeem it.

John’s Gospel speaks in terms of the Word (which is God) becoming flesh and dwelling among us so that we might truly know who God is and be reconciled to him. In Matthew’s Gospel the angel who appears to Joseph says: “Joseph, Son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

There it is, the simple message of Christmas. God entered the world in the person of his son, Jesus, to redeem the world and every person in it from sin. Given that, according to the Bible, sin is the root cause of all suffering, sickness and death – indeed the whole fallen state of the world – it is no wonder that this is supposed to be good news, a cause for great celebration.

Hence the response of the lowly shepherds and the Magi from the East. They recognised the uniqueness of the birth of the baby Jesus and responded with worship and gifts. In doing so they submitted their lives to his lordship. Saint Nicholas’ legendary gift-giving was a similar response.

Of course there were negative responses to Jesus’ birth, too, notably that of King Herod. Instead of celebrating, he allowed his own sinful nature to take full flight and sought to kill Jesus, killing many other babies in the process.

Few of us like to think of ourselves as sinners. Such a notion offends our pride and reeks of judgment. Perhaps that is the primary reason why the Christian tradition has fallen out of favour or been reworked to make Jesus less than our saviour.

Offer small children the choice between a candy cane and a $100 note and they will be sure to choose the candy cane. Likewise, children will choose Santa over Jesus.

Celebrating Christmas the Santa way may bring immediate benefits, making us more generous and big-hearted and festive for a day. But celebrating the Christ way is to acknowledge that we have a saviour and Lord who can redeem our fallen nature, transforming us and the world permanently into a far better place.

That is cause for lasting joy and peace, and a meaningful way open to us all.

Michael Hewat is vicar of the West Hamilton Anglican Parish

By Michael Hewat


Author: craig lock

About the Author Craig has a 'passion' for writing books that tell stories about people doing positive things in this often so hard, sometimes unkind world, occasionally cruel, yet always amazing world - true stories that leave the reader feeling uplifted, empowered and hopefully even inspired. Craig Lock loves to encourage and empower people to be the best they can possibly be, and to create what they want in life. Craig has learnt plenty from the "school of life" (still "battered and bruised") and also from a few "hard knocks on the head". He is an extensive world traveller (on a "shoestring budget") and failed professional emigrater who has spent most of his life’s savings on airfares. He is still sliding down the razor blade of life on the beautiful undiscovered island that is New Zealand, somewhere near the bottom (rude!) of the world near Antarctica. There he talks to the 60 million sheep! Craig has been involved in the corporate world (life assurance) for "many moons". However, through a rather strange (and unique) set of circumstances and finding himself in a small town near the bottom of the world ...and with nothing else to do, he started writing. That was five years ago. Five published books later and having written another twenty manuscripts (now 300 + on widely differing subjects - well what else is there to do here?)... this is where Craig is in the "journey/adventure" that is life. Craig has run a run a successful creative writing course (not teaching sheep!) at the local Polytechnic. He was the author of (as far as we know) the first creative writing course on the internet. He has many varied interests and passions and is particularly interested in the field of psychology – studying the human mind and what makes different people "tick-tock grandfather clock". He is fascinated by the "overlap between psychology and the dimension of spirituality". One of his missions in life is helping people make the most of their hidden potential and so finding their niche in life... so that they are happy. Craig’s various books probably tell more about his rather "eventful" life best (no one could believe it!). He writes books with serious messages and themes, then as a contrast "rather crazy, wacky stuff"…to keep him sane here. As an ‘anonymouse’ person wrote: "All of us are born mad; some of us remain so." Well nothing else much happens in quiet provincial New Zealand, other than headlines like "Golf Ball Thrown at Policeman" and "Beach Toilet Closed for Season.". True! from For Craig’s books see AMAZON at ... but rather GO to ?? When the writer is no more, the value of your purchase will soar." All proceeds go to the needy and underprivileged… and a charity (most worthy-Bill and I) “When the writer is no more , the value of your purchase will soar! “ “Together, one mind, one life (one small step at a time), let’s see how many people (and lives) we can encourage, impact, empower, enrich, uplift and perhaps even inspire to reach their fullest potentials…and strive for and perhaps one sunny day even achieve their wildest dreams.” PPS Don’t worry about the world ending today… as it’s already tomorrow in scenic and tranquil ‘little’ New Zealand

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