December at last! After thirty days of November, here in the UK, which I think was the dreariest month of the year, with dark evenings drawing in and the weather getting cooler and wetter, I feel a better mood comes in with December. Winter Solstice, the end of the year, Christmas holidays, the world of snow, Christmas trees, tinsel, baubles, giant illuminated plastic Santa and coloured lights ablaze over city streets, knowing that children are getting excited for their presents, wallets are getting slimmer by the day as bank accounts diminish and the credit card goes into overdrive. Meanwhile, stockists of socks and neck-ties feel their eyes sparkle as wives and girlfriends enter their shops to keep their tills ringing.
And oh yes, people who had little time for anything spiritual throughout the rest of the year begin to turn "churchy". As Christmas carols begins to be sang, the pews begin to fill. The BBC's Christmas broadcast of Songs of Praise each year brings views of packed cathedrals, beautiful traditional carols and a wide TV audience.
There is something nice about a helpless baby in the crib. He does not pose a threat to the way we like to live our lives. An adult Jesus will be too demanding. A baby, on the other hand, is so cute. Everyone would like to hold the baby Jesus and cuddle him. He does not make any demands on anybody, doesn't he?
And the Christmas carols. Surely we all have our favourites. Although I like quite a number of traditional carols, my favourite is Come all ye Faithful. This song contain the verse which just about embrace the whole of the Christian creed in a nutshell. Here it is:
God of God
Light of Light
Lo he abhors not the virgin's womb
Begotten, not created;
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.
This is such a beautiful song, the lyrics always touches my heart whenever the song is sung. But this is because the carol teaches the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, specifically to die a cruel death on the cross to atone for our sins. As someone once said, Christmas is all about Easter. But it seems to me that a much greater percent of the British population either do not fully link the birth of Jesus Christ to his death and resurrection or do not wish to, and how much less one's daily commitment to him? And statistics seem to bear this out, even if surveys cannot be made absolute cut-and-dry, they do give a fairly approximate guide with allowance for some variations.
In the UK, according to the Christian charity Tear Fund, with 10% of British people attending church on a weekly basis, only 7% of the total population say they are practicing Christians. In turn, 32,200,000, or 66% of the population say they have no connection with church at all throughout the year. The remaining 24% have a nominal connection with the church but don't attend regularly. All this is quite a contrast to the 43% of the British population who attended Christmas services in 2005, compared to the 45.7% who said they had no religion at all.
Furthermore, a graph shows that church attendance in the UK is constantly declining. By examining the chart representing those who profess the faith to those who don't, in 1983 those who called themselves Christian were the majority with 66% professing the faith, until recently, in June 2008 the number of non-believers overtook to become the new majority, by 2009 the number of non-believers stood at 51% to the professing 44%. The remaining 5% probably were not sure. The orange line represents the people of other faiths, such as Muslim, which stayed practically level throughout the 26 years the survey covered. (To study the illustration, you may have to bring the zoom to 200%.)
In the USA, statistics seem to indicate that 26% of the population attend church every week or more. States such a Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina top the bill with a staggering 58% of the state's population attending church regularly. In turn, New Hampshire and Vermont, in the New England area, has a lowest attendance of 24%. But by looking at the comparisons, it becomes immediately obvious that the Americans are much more keen on regular church attendance than the British. And yet, a recent news report says that the UK is one of the most generous countries in Europe, if not the world when it comes to giving to charities. Charity TV shows, such as the BBC annual Comic Relief and Children in Need entertainment shows has always raised millions of pounds from the viewing audience, in addition to private giving, the greater number of donations going to medical charities.
So here in the UK we see ourselves as a Christian country. We make a great festival of Christmas, so much so, that the image of a baby lying in a cattle feeding trough somehow gets lost in all the bright lights and tinsel glitter. We all love to celebrate Christmas. And I would dare to say that die-hard atheists such as Professor Richard Dawkins had every year pulled and snapped a Christmas cracker with his family members over a table laid with a succulent roast turkey with all its trimmings, followed by Christmas pudding set alight with Brandy and served with lashings of cream. Not to mention nuts, chocolates and all other festive niceties to add to the excitement in his children's eyes as they tore away the gaily-coloured wrapping to reveal their presents. Indeed, thanks to the Christian faith, even atheists can, and do enjoy the holiday.
And this is the point of this article. Although we love Christmas, we still want to keep the baby in the crib. In the crib is where we want the child to stay, because if we take him out of the crib, he'll start to grow up. And as he grows, he'll begin to say things we would not want to hear. Real horrible things like as; to be his disciple, we must take up the cross and follow him. And to add to this, the preference to him over everything we have, including our family and even our own lives. And the gritty discomfort we feel when he quotes from the Law of Moses. And whenever he quotes from the Law, we become aware of our own sins, and that is not nice. And those statements he comes out such as selling all that we have and give the proceeds to the poor and come follow me. Okay, we might be rich in Heaven one day but does this mean I have to wonder homeless through the cold, wet streets? After all, he did say that foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, and that the servant is not greater than his master. Challenging stuff!!!
Yes, he did say also, on this very issue, that what's impossible with men is possible with God. Then that bit which really puncture our righteous pride. That is to trust in him brings eternal life, and this life is in the Son of God, and not of ourselves. So what are we left with? Nothing. For the Cross of Christ slays the old man stone dead. In other words, to live is Christ, and not of us. Little wonder that we want to keep the child in the crib, even to celebrate his birth every year. But stay in the crib he must.
But would Jesus Christ really want every follower to catch rheumatism, arthritis and a host of other ailments by tramping through the cold, wet, wind-blown streets? Well, there is absolutely no record of this ever happening, but history is filled with records of imprisonment, torture and death of saints who has answered his call. But with all of these martyrs, it would have been impossible for a single case to have happened unless God himself gives him the power. Because our self-preservation is the strongest instinct every person has, only the power of the Holy Spirit in the person would make his love and commitment to Christ even stronger than his natural instinct. So the central message for every true believer is this: Be filled with the Holy Spirit and let him both guide you and be rich in the knowledge of his word, which is gotten by reading the Bible with a believing heart. Only then would it become possible for your love for God and his Kingdom to dominate your life to the point of death.
After all, in Heaven one's joy is so full, so satisfying that it can be likened to a child's excitement on a Christmas morning, except that the excitement is eternal. There will be no unwanted presents, no burnt turkey, no family rows, no hangover from excess drinking, most important of all, no post-holiday blues to endure on the first day back at work.