What is Christmas all about? Rhetorical question? No. Many people ask this sincerely because it has become increasingly more difficult to identify what is the real meaning of Christmas.
So, is it about the rampant commercialism we see in the many department stores of Jakarta? It seems everywhere you look there are decorations signifying the arrival of the festive season. And they seem to appear earlier each year. Many of the store displays are festooned with snowy landscapes which makes you wonder about the relevance in a city where the temperature rarely drops below 22C. One of the Malls has a wonderful snowy display and a huge statue of Santa Claus. You can even get to sit on Santa’s knee and tell him what you want for Christmas. All this creates a sense of fantasy and mystique. No, I don’t think that’s the heart of Christmas.
Is Christmas about the food and festivities? Some of us will look forward to Christmas as it is a time for eating special dishes we don’t normally eat the rest of the year. It’s also a great time for parties where we can eat, drink and dance the night away. Problem with that is the tendency for some people to overindulge. I don’t think that’s the heart of Christmas.
How about the holidays? Some people take advantage of the couple of extra days off and the kids are on holiday from school, so let’s go somewhere. This is a great family opportunity that we don’t get the rest of the year and is planned and saved for the whole year. Hotels and Airlines love this time of year. I don’t think that’s the heart of Christmas.
What about giving gifts? That seems to be very popular at Christmas time. Certainly much more than at other times of the year. It’s like one big birthday party where we give and receive gifts from family, friends and colleagues. Mostly these are things we want to receive and often the gifts we give to others are the things that we would love to have for ourselves but want someone else to enjoy. We even enjoy their gift vicariously as they unwrap it and we watch the expressions of joy that come over them. I love watching children unwrap Christmas gifts. I don’t think that’s the heart of Christmas.
Is it about going to church? To celebrate the season with others who share our faith? After all, that’s where the idea of Christmas originated. But for some people this is the only time they attend church and Christmas has no great meaning because it is taken of context. So, why bother? I don’t think that’s the heart of Christmas.
All of these things have some part in contributing to the meaning of Christmas. But clearly the most significant thing that lies at the heart of Christmas is the event that happened almost 2,000 years ago when a young virgin gave birth to a little boy in a stable in Israel. This was to set in motion an incredible sequence of events, all prophesied about hundreds of years before, that would change the course of history. This boy became the man, Jesus whose name means “God saves”. One prophet called him “Immanuel” meaning “God with us” because in him the presence of the Almighty God entered the physical realm of this world.
He became the scapegoat for all the sins of mankind when he was mercilessly executed even though he committed no crime. But Jesus conquered death on the third day when he rose again from the dead. Through him we can have the assurance of our sins forgiven because of his death and of our own eternal life through resurrection. It is possible through believing that Jesus is indeed the Saviour of the world and putting our faith (trust) in him. This is why we celebrate Christmas. I hope you can find the true meaning of Christmas for yourself this year.
Rev. Alan Wood, Vicar, All Saints Anglican Church, Jakarta