By Boxter Kharbteng
What images conjure in your mind when you think of Christmas? I guess it depends on who you ask. Initially, I thought I’d limit to children Christmas trees and lights, gifts, cakes andSanta Claus. But make no mistakes,lots of adultstoo associate Christmas withthese.To the listwe can add: Christmas carols, plays, church services, and parties. But is that all Christmas is about? Christians with one voice will say, No — certainly not. Such a view of Christmas is superficial, and quite frankly, a caricature and miscarriage of the true meaning and significance of the world’s greatest festival that is called “Christmas.”
Let’s cut to the chase. What really is Christmas all about? Off-the-cuff, we can say it’s about the birth of Jesus Christ. Yes, but what about it? After all, several countries observe the birth of their national hero. While Jesus was and is a hero to millions, yet his followers celebrate his birthnot in the context of a hero but a savior. Celebration of a hero’s birth is limited to his or her country, but celebration of Jesus’ birthtranscends national and ethnic boundaries — irrespective of whether they celebrate Christmas on December 25 or January 7.
This article takes a closer look at Christmasand notices that it has something interesting and significant to say about God, man, and metaphysics. The following paragraphs briefly address each one of these foci.
Christmas and Theology
“Theology” is used here in a restricted sense of the Greek word,theos, for God. In its full form, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ begins with God. It is an outcome of his plan to save humans from their sins which, if nothing is done, they will die and be destroyed forever. At the heart of the Christmas story is God who is so full of love and mercy for sinful humankind that he decided to come down to save them by way of the incarnation — that is, by taking upon himself human flesh and blood in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
This teaching or belief that Someone from “out there,” from another realm, had come to rescue man is actually quite significant. The Christmas story shows that salvation is not about man going up to God but God coming down to man. From the perspective of comparative religions, this is seen as the dividing line of difference between Christianity and other religions— because the latter place emphasis on man’s need to do something— in fact, many things—in order to please God. It puts a premium on human initiative and effort for salvation.
Christmas and Anthropology
The term “anthropology” in this article is used in its original Greek sense of anthrōpos or ‘man’which is an inclusive, generic word referring to humankind, not in the sense of a male human (Greek:anēr). What is said about man is immediately conveyed by these words that heralded the birth of Jesus: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21 —the angel to Joseph, the so-called the ‘father’ of Jesus).In this passage we encounter an uncomfortable and unpleasant word— ‘sins.’ Sin, in the Christian tradition, has been understood to be “a lack of conformity to God’s moral law either in act, disposition, or state.”And sin is so serious that it required God’s intervention to save man from its deadly consequences. So, here we have a creature called “man” in a state of disconformity or disalignment with God. Just as it is difficult and certainly not safe to drive a car with its wheels out of alignment, similarly, the Christmas story tells us that man has gone out of kilter, and Jesus the Christ had finally come to bring about the much-needed moral and spiritual alignmentfor humanity— an announcement that should turn secular humanists off, not on!
The Christmas story rides rough shod over the humanistic credo that “man is the measure of all things.”From its point of view, before man can become “the measure” of all things, he needs to first of all have his own moraland spiritual “edge” straightened. Now the upshot of these remarks is that Christmas also points to a moral and spiritual standard that objectively exists outside of man. Ultimately, itpoints to a Law Giver whose existence and reality secular humanists and existentialists deny.
There is, nevertheless, a point of partial contact between Christmas and humanism. The latter’s optimistic and glorious estimate of manpartially corresponds with the former’s implicit showing the preciousness and invaluable worth of man. God’s stooping himself to the level of his creature makes little sense if the materialist is right that man is just an amalgamation of atoms.
A true Christmas celebration then calls upon its celebrants and believers to identify with its spirit and principle by aligning their treatment of other humans — with respectfor they are of great value before God. It can be assumed that we generally know how to show respect as well as disrespect to people. Just as there are different ways of showing respect, there are likewise different ways of showing disrespect. For instance, any form of harassment, name-calling, shaming, including the giving someone a name that elicits chuckles and bemusement because it conveys a funny or otherwise negative meaning and connotation. Such naming embarrasses and demeans a person’s self-worth. Any form of assault — sexual assault not excluded— goes contrary to this human value pointed up by the Christmas event. Other acts that go against the grain of respecting a human being include cheating and deceiving another person, lying to or about someone, and threatening or bullyinganyone.
Christmas and Metaphysics
Implicit in Christmas is also an assumption of a certain metaphysic or idea of reality that goes counter to at least two other widely-held metaphysical views — pantheism and materialism. Pantheism teaches that reality is one. The world of nature and the rest of the universe are only a manifestation of this single Reality. Moreover, this reality is non-material and spiritual in nature. Therefore, do not become fooled by the material world. It is not real. Under pantheism, the real problem is not sin but ignorance. What a man really needs is enlightenment and liberation from illusion and delusion,rather than forgiveness of sins.
Materialism, like pantheism, also embraces the idea of a single reality (monism). However, it differs from pantheism because it believes that this reality is purely material. Everything in the universe is reducible to atoms. This worldview is widely held by mainstream science, and is also called scientific monism.
The Christmas message, however, gives us a very different metaphysical view. In the story we have a cast of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus;God, angels, wise men, shepherds, sheep, and fields (Matthew 1:23; 2:1, 12; Luke 2:7, 8, 13-15).The metaphysic conveyed by the Christmas story is that God is real, and angels and spiritual beings are as real as are humans, sheep and hills.
Summary and Conclusion
The above three dimensions indicate that there is more to Christmas than meets the eye. The theological dimension of Christmas focuses on God as one who is full of love. To take Christmas seriously is to think of his love. It is to carry the spirit and principle of Christmas beyond the threshold of the celebration,to a life with enough room for love.Now we know why love is such a big deal in Christianity which is not the case with other religions. The anthropological dimension of Christmas focuses both on man as a sinner and as one with inestimable worth and value. To accept being a sinner implies the need to humbly and readily recognize one’s faults, weaknesses and shortcomings. But to accept one’s life as having a great value before God implies the need to live out one’s life consistentand in harmonywith the value and honor that God has invested upon you as a human being. The metaphysical dimension of Christmas with its focus on the plural nature of realitytells us that humans are not alone in the universe. If my freedom ends where the other person’s nose begins, then we humans are not free live our lives as if nothing else matters, or nothing else has value. Our actions and activities should be such that they are not carried out at the expense of other entities of reality such as the world of naturearound, above, and underneath us.The deleterious effects of human activities on them is real because nature is real— not illusional (contra pantheism). All in all, the Christmas celebration that is conscious of these dimensions addsweight and significance to this blessed and joyous annual Christian festival. So, here are the final words from yours truly: “Merry Christmas!—to the readers and staff of The Shillong Times!”