UNCONFUSING THE MESSAGE

A short editorial ‘Jingle tills, jingle tills’ in the SUNDAY TIMES of 22/12/13 pricked my interest. Here it is…

It is that time of the year again, a deeply religious period when we go to worship at the mall of our choice. These places of worship are, as if by law, obliged to play corny music and put up replicas of trees that are indigenous to the northern hemisphere.

Another exotic is the reindeer, which once appeared in South Africa on the slopes of Table Mountain, to which they escaped along with Himalayan tahrs, a mountain-goat species from India, until both were culled from existence. The former now flourishes, mostly in plastic form, in malls.

Signs of the approaching season, which used to be detected around early December, now make their appearance late in October in some malls where the emphasis is on snow during one of the hottest periods of the year. It must have something to do with climate change.

It is also the time of the year for confusing messages (my bold print).

There is the birth of Jesus, which has over the years been hijacked by a creeping commercialism that linked the birth of a Saviour in straitened circumstances to that of a fat man dressed in unfashionable garb, defying every law of physics and gravity by travelling from, allegedly, the North Pole, around the world in a single night to dispense incredible largesse that fits on a sleigh no bigger than a 4×4 bakkie (a small pickup truck).

What children are expected to make of the significance of a bright star, shepherds, three wise men and the birth of Christianity, along with that pagan humbug of a flying man, his sleigh and a bunch of extravagantly horned Arctic antelope, is difficult to know. At least they have Google and Wikipedia to consult.

If you think this is an absurd view of an eagerly awaited time of the year, just go to your mall and observe – and you will realise that most in our country (South Africa) are a world away from our Christian indulgence.

Not bad for a secular newspaper!

Let’s not get into petty arguments about the date of Christmas or associations with pagan festivals, etc. The fact is we live in a particular world and in a particular context. Yes, as disciples of Jesus within and outside the ‘Institutional Church’ we should celebrate Christ’s birth every day of the year – however a church calendar has its uses in reminding us of the highpoints of the biblical revelation and the grand narrative of God’s sovereign purpose in Christ. The coming down of Jesus is certainly a high point for me!

So why not use this as a teachable time to try and explain to ourselves and our children and our grandchildren the unmatched mystery and magnificence of the God-Man come to earth in a Palestinian cave-cum-stable? And while the crib can never be separated from the cross, let us not neglect to celebrate (as we have done too often) the life of Jesus. For Christ’s humanity, earthiness, humility, play, humour, obedience and ‘glory’ in the every-day has so much to teach us. Not forgetting that his life, pre and post-resurrection, is just as much part of God’s saving purpose for the world as is his death. Recall with me the apostle Paul’s explanation of the Good News in his letter to the little ecclesiae in Rome:  Rom. 5:10-11, ‘For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.’ [verses 12ff develop this theme further:  ‘Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ’].

So how shall we celebrate Advent in Africa 2013? By unconfusing the Good News and celebrating Jesus’ life for us and the honour of God. 

  • Let’s do it in music, song, and merry-making (appropriate)! Read the Gospel stories around Messiah’s birth, preferably from a Bible version different to the one you are used to. Forget about Google and Wikipaedia – simple shepherds could get the basics.  
  • Let’s involve the children and grandchildren in rediscovering Jesus and his birth. Last Sunday afternoon I took a box of nativity figurines to the house church in Motherwell township to help illustrate the human role-players in Christ’s coming – Mary and Joseph, the baby, the animals, the humble shepherds from the veldt, etc. The children and teens were invited to arrange them on the well-worn carpet and talk about the significance of each figure. And so on…
  • Let’s build relationships with family and friends, and for goodness sake let’s talk about Jesus over the holiday braai (barbecue) fires, in natural and spontaneous ways [why o why is Jesus-talk restricted to Christmas morning 9 am to 10 am or any Sunday of the year 9 am to 10.30 am? Surely believers can’t talk about the economy or politics or the weather or their health or themselves all the time?]
  • Let’s reach out to a neighbour or a stranger at the till. Perhaps message someone who is lonely.
  • Let’s find some quiet spot and moment to personally ‘adore him, Christ the Lord!’ Let’s revel anew in his incarnation [for starters, salivate with Jn. 1:14, 18]. Sense again the mysterium tremendum (Rudolph Otto). Let God love you (men!), and love him in return.
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