Do militant atheists give Christmas presents to their children, family members and friends? Of course they do. But why? They spend their time rubbishing Christianity, scoffing at any language about God and mocking the mere mention of angels, virgin birth, miracles and resurrection. The presents they are giving affirm the Christmas story because they are representations of the gift of Jesus to the world as Saviour and remembrances of the gifts the eastern astrologers brought to mark his birth. They cannot hide behind Santa Claus.
Christianity exists half-way between unseen worlds and humanity, between heaven and earth. That is its linch-pin role in human social evolution. Christmas is not a regression to earlier years for adults nor an annual rediscovery of the child within. It is the exercise of unconscious wonder, worship and goodness which is hidden by the struggles of life and living.
Do militant atheists think the world would be a better place without Christmas Carols, such as ‘Still the night’, ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ and ‘O come all ye faithful’? Were Joseph Mohr, Phillips Brooks and John Francis Wade who wrote these Carols confused, mistaken and foolish? Should such perfections of words and music be denied public spaces?
Christianity is the most significant corrective to human ‘selfieness’, to our presentation of our egos to the world, to ambition, arrogance and dominance, one toward another. A new-born child is most vulnerable, entirely dependent and has the capacity to melt hearts and inspire joy. So does Jesus.
With His resurrection however, the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ birth became clear. And there the consistent pattern of his birth and life and dying found its fulfilment. Jesus lived as a servant Messiah. His life and horrific death are attested by Roman historians Tacitus (58-108AD) and Suetonius (69-130AD) and by the Jewish historian Josephus (37-100AD). The good conduct of the first Christians is attested by Pliny the Younger (61-113AD) who wrote that ‘they bound themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so’. Richard Dawkins prefers to malign the New Testament Gospel writers as false and absurd.
Jesus died with sacrificial love and with forgiveness on his lips. Apprehension of His resurrection was given to his followers and friends, a circle expanding to more than 500 people initially as attested by the significant convert Paul. This was no individualistic psychological envisioning. The knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection has been spread abroad these past near 2000 years, saving and empowering many and lifting the most disadvantaged to heights of achievement and success.
The keys to understanding Christmas and Christianity are humility before and open-mindedness to the possibility of a personal Creator. ‘How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n; So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n. No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in’.
Within a generation our society and nation have travelled far from its Christian foundations. Bacchanalian feasting will take place throughout the land. Gifts will be given out of obligation proving that it is not the thought that counts. Indulgence and extravagance are the opposites of the real meaning of Christmas. But its essence will be incarnated in the lives of those who know this Jesus Christ to be alive to them and who can truly rejoice at this special time.