Christmas – Tradition or Reflection
Traditions are good as well as bad. Some traditions have a definite origin and fulfil a certain need in certain contexts. There is an interesting Indian story. A guru used to teach his disciples sitting under a tree every morning. A black cat came to the place jumped around and distracted the discourse of the guru. The guru got angry and asked his disciples to catch the cat and tie to a tree trunk. It became every day event. The black cat was tied to the tree and released after the guru finished his discourse. It happened for many years. One day the guru died. A new guru took over and wanted to give his inauguration discourse. He seated on the previous guru’s seat. Before, starting his discourse, he looked up and saw the black cat missing. “Where is the black cat?” The disciples said that the black cat is also dead. Guru shouted angrily: “Fools. Do you not realize, I cannot deliver lecture if the black cat is not tied to the tree. Run, catch one, and tie it.”
The black cat was tied, so that it would not disturb the discourse of the guru. It was a good, needy practice. However, when the cat died, the practices should have been abandoned. But, the new guru did not understand the history or context, ordered the cat to be tied as a tradition. Many traditions have such interesting origins and should have been long abandoned but continue to this day in local communities, societies, nations, culture and religions.
Christmas – Tradition or a tool for teaching/evangelism?
Anativity scene, Christmas tree, hanging stars, placing gifts, exchanging cards, distributing cakes…………….are some traditions followed by a majority of Christians. These began many centuries ago. Only oral communication was the predominant method of communication. Visual aids for communication were not cheap and not readily available. How could Christian parents teach children and the local Church teach the community about the most sacred and significant truth of Incarnation? There were some artists or gifted people who could create visual aids. May be, they got the clue from the Passover, where, Israelites explained what God did for them in the feast. The whole feast was enactment of Passover that happened several centuries ago led by Moses. With remarkable progress in technology and communication tools, our children could see in YouTube and televisions. Several centuries ago, the nativity scene was the only visual communication of the gospel.
The nativity scene, tree and stars were marvellous tools to teach children the truth of incarnation. When we were missionaries in North India, word quickly spread that we decorated a nativity scene and neighbours would just drop in to see. My wife and I used this as an opportunity to explain the truth of incarnation, and how Lord Jesus came to save us from our sins. We also gifted them a New Testament. It became an opportunity to share with people. The people used to ask about each and every thing that is displayed to know the meaning.
Date of Christmas?
There are people who argue that 25 December as the exact date of Lord Jesus birth. They may be true. Christmas is not about the date, but about the love of God that was demonstrated by sending His Son to the world. That should be celebrated every day of the year. For right or wrong reasons, 25 December is the date fixed by some leaders in the past and has been followed for many years. Again, this day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the Advent of Lord Jesus Christ. We generally say: “We know for sure Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem. We are not sure of the date, but we celebrate the fact not the date during Christmas season.” In India, many children do not know their date of birth as their parents are ignorant and illiterate. When they go to school, the teacher may enter a date arbitrarily and that date becomes the date of birth of that child. He has to live with it throughout his life as his date of birth is a mystery. In the same way, the date of birth of Lord Jesus Christ is not known, but that does not minimize the truth of his birth and significance of incarnation.
This is another tradition that brings cheer to many and ruffles the feathers of some. The angelic choir sang, rejoicing the birth of the Saviour as recorded in Luke’s gospel. Today, his faithful people like to sing to remember and reflect on that great event. Carol rounds were again a wonderful tool for sharing the gospel. When we were in Haryana, we used to go to villages to sing in the homes of the believers and they used to invite relatives and neighbours. That gave us tremendous opportunity to share the love of Lord Jesus Christ. However in some places this is used for raising funds from among Christians which is not right and resented.
While we were in Chandigarh, one secular club invited to their gathering to share about Santa Claus and Christmas and also to come with the dress of Santa Claus. I have never worn a Santa Claus apparel before or after that event. I took that as an opportunity and challenge to share the love of Lord Jesus Christ. I spoke that: Christmas is many times equated with gifts. Truly, Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God is the greatest (indescribable) gift given by God to humanity. After explaining that, I said Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas who lived in Europe, who chose poor people and kids and dropped gifts for those families in the night.
Unfortunately, the focus has changed from sharing and giving to receiving and getting. Our children could be taught to sacrifice and prepare a gift and place it under the tree in homes that could be shared with a friend who is poor, marginalized and deprived. Instead of expecting, they could be taught to give and enjoy the joy of giving.
Instead of throwing the baby with the bathwater, let us learn to look with a redemptive attitude. The whole Advent or Christmas season provides us an opportunity to reflect God’s amazing love and wisely share this joy and hope with others.