The Pope’s recent contribution to the demythologisation of Christmas strikes me as being merely the latest in the church’s never-ending campaign to get us to pay more religious attention to Easter and less to the Nativity event.
I’ve written about this phenomenon before. Irritated beyond measure by the commercialisation of Christmas on the one hand and the public’s fading knowledge of what Easter is all about on the other, our Western tradition clergy seem to want to do all they can to rally the faithful to this and persuade unbelievers of the primacy of the Easter message. It’s hard pounding.
Turbocapitalism’s interference with Christmas is only too obvious. Year by year, we see the number of Christmas cards on sale with any kind of religious message or imagery diminish and the ever-increasing focus on gifts, food and drink and jollity take their place. Christmas still manages to get some of its message through. But I don’t think we should worry too much. For anybody who ever thinks about it, however briefly, the Christmas message outweighs the Easter one.
It was not always thus, and is not what the clergy believe, but to modern eyes, the comforting miracle that the divine has participated in our humanity and human predicament to the extent of actually being born amongst us is way more significant than the ambiguities of the Passion and Resurrection. Christ born ‘wins’ over Christ reborn. It’s not hard to see why.
Difficulties about Easter
The Easter message seems to me to be undercut by at least three factors. First, we live in a post-enlightenment world where the idea of surviving death just does not seem to make any kind of scientific sense. Even bishops have been known to acknowledge this concession.
Second, we are less interested than our forefathers were in the desirability, let alone feasibility, of eternal life. For us now, the cry “I want to live forever” sounds an altogether different note.
Third, the whole narrative of the crucifixion and subsequent rising from the tomb is based on the doctrine that it was for our salvation, to settle a debt with a “God”: a debt that demanded recompense, and got it. This – yes – unpleasant and incredible weapon in the armoury of the faith defines Easter in ways that are not only difficult to subscribe to but also impossible to warm to.
Priests know this. The Anglican church’s annual attempt to make Easter celebrations ‘rhyme’ with Christmas ones – darkness, candles, rebirth etc – shows that it recognises the problem well enough. By the same token Christmas is tasked to ‘look forward’ to Easter (“Born that Man no more may die…”) as a way of giving the latter some type of life support.
Keep up the good work, I say, and give both of the great festivals their due, recognising that the community’s instinctive feel for what is ‘right’ in belief is not necessarily ‘wrong’. We know what we believe. Happy Christmas.