Has Christmas failed?

2nd December 2011 - by Fr Shay Cullen

Fr shey-cullen
Fr. Shay Cullen speaking at the 2010 annual conference of the National Justice and Peace Network
Find out more about our work on:

The big question that can be asked about Christmas is… has it failed? Two thousand years after the birth of the boy from Nazareth, who grew up as the son of a village carpenter, turned spiritual revolution, his heart turning message of universal rights, peace and justice has seemingly been rejected, ignored or compromised.

There is much evil in the world and we ask ourselves if we followers have done as he asked and tried to change the world? Have we been active and alive, lovingly helping our neighbours like the Good Samaritan? Have we done nothing, helped no one? “Faith without action is dead”, writes St. James in the New Testament.

In much of society materialistic carnivals have replaced the spiritual revolution Jesus preached. Even the word Christmas has been replaced with Seasons Greetings. Keeping Christ out of Christmas is the norm. For many it is no longer a celebration of the birth of the greatest person the world has ever known but a hedonistic holiday, a time to party, eat to excess, get drunk and indulge in selfish pursuits. This is a challenge for all followers who believe that justice and truth is more important than lies and exploitation; that love of neighbour is greater and more noble than hatred and oppression, that working for freedom for the innocent and to reduce hunger and disease is a great Christian virtue. Christmas is the time when we renew our belief in these spiritual values and turn them into action by helping others without looking for a reward.

The child from Nazareth grew to be a prodigy of inspiration and wisdom. From his earliest years he saw in the temple the contradictions of established religion and its hypocritical compromises with the cruel despotic secular world. Many years later he returned there as a prophet and teacher and chased away the money changers who had commercialised the house of God. He challenged the religious authorities to end abuse, to be compassionate to the poor, do justice and end oppression. They killed him for that.

Christmas is more than twinkling lights, rites and ritual hymns and Halleluiahs. Without a commitment to lasting values the Christmas celebration is no more than money making, jingle bells and a peacock in a pear tree. Christmas is the celebration of the values that Jesus lived and died for. It’s the time for us to renew our commitment to live them daily. To be one with Christ is to oppose violence, war, fear, child and women abuse, exploitation. It is planting and nurturing peace, unselfish love, kindness, justice and the dignity of the person. Many have done just that and have achieved remarkable results in the past fifty years.

These sublime Christian values, moral and spiritual, coming from the teaching and practice of Jesus of Nazareth have seeped into society. In developed countries greater recognition of the rights of poor, the hungry, sick, unemployed and homeless people is evident through welfare and social services. Despite ongoing roll backs and austerity, it’s better than 100 years ago. There is much to be positive, optimistic and joyful about.

While much, much more has yet to be achieved especially in the developing world, women’s and children rights and dignity are now highly recognised and protected. The conventions on human rights especially the rights of the child, women, workers and many more are big steps forward in our time and we have to continue working for their implementation around the world. Unthinkable in the past we can now witness the International Criminal Court bringing tyrants and mass murderers to justice and convicting them for their crimes against humanity. Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was arrested recently and flown to The Hague to stand trial. Arrest warrants are out for Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir for allegedly committing war crimes in Darfur. Many more accused are facing the court.

It was Jesus of Nazareth who brought these values into the world and it started that first Christmas. It was and is a lasting success. It is our task as followers and believers to further establish, prolong and extend them to all humanity and give to as many as possible a more just and happy life.