Christmas is a time for family, parties, presents and attending the school nativity play. Even the news headlines shift from the daily worries of life, reporting instead the encouraging contents of the Queen’s speech or the festive comments of church leaders. It is the one time in the year when we are able, at least to some extent, to shut out the harsh realities of life. In recent years, even our political leaders have taken to issuing their own secular homilies at Christmas whereas previously they would restrain the urge to comment until the New Year!
In fact our experience of Christmas is far removed from the event which we are supposed to be remembering. For many, it has become little more than an opportunity for excessive consumption and consumerism with the worry of how to pay off the credit cards postponed until January. In the process we have lost sight of the wonder and glory of the birth of the Christ Child – God Incarnate –who came to redeem humanity, open up the way of life, give hope beyond death and who is sovereign over all human rulers. If religion features in our recollection of the Christmas story, it tends to focus on the activities of Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, the shepherds, the angels and the wise men.
The one part of the story which is systematically excluded from our narrative is the contribution of the political power of the day. Herod the Great as a vassal ruler representing the Roman Empire in Judea rightly deduced that this child posed a threat to the political establishment and to his position in particular. The Biblical narrative informs us that he took immediate and ruthless action to deal with the problem by ordering the murder of all boys under the age of two who resided in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Such brutality and injustice was characteristic of an empire built on military conquest, subjugation of other nations, exploitation of the vulnerable and the excessive luxury enjoyed by the ruling elite.
Perhaps we deceive ourselves that modern society has progressed and that such behaviour is no longer possible by those who rule over us. If only this were true for the people of Syria who have endured the brutalities of Islamic State or the Assad regime.
But are we so much better? In Scotland there are those who are held in slavery, raped and exploited every day. There are those whose lives are ended before they have had the chance to be born, all in the name of “choice”. For those with disabilities, the law allows this to happen at any stage up to term. In 90 per cent of cases, those with Downs Syndrome are aborted.
We live in a world where the richest 1 per cent of the global population may own as much as 50 per cent of the world’s wealth.
The good news is that it was to just such a world that the Saviour came that first Christmas. God became incarnate in order to deliver us from the power of sin and death and bring the possibility of new life. It is a message which still brings hope. It has the power to transform the lives of individuals and whole societies. It is the love of the One who gave Himself to redeem His creation. It is a message which inspired His followers to tend the sick and rescue unwanted infants who had been left outside to die on Roman hillsides. Today that same love inspires Christians to establish food banks, house the homeless, support those who experience crisis pregnancies and provide palliative care to the terminally ill. It inspires us to give money to help the materially poor in developing countries and to work to protect the lives of the most vulnerable in society, because we understand that every person is precious to God and every life is to be cherished.
For CARE it motivates us to campaign against human trafficking and call for legislative reform to tackle the demand for the exploitation of vulnerable people through prostitution. This Christmas as we enjoy our turkey and open our presents, let’s take time to reflect on the One who came as a baby to give His life so that the world might be rescued from the power of sin and death.
Dr Gordon Macdonald is Parliamentary Officer of CARE for Scotland