Once again, the lead up to Christmas is upon us; Santa is out in full force, shopping centres are playing Bing Crosby and the ‘spirit of giving’ is in the air. You may be planning to attend the local Christmas Carols at some point.
If it is a religious caroling event, the children may be dressing up as shepherds and angels; if they are the larger ‘commercial’ carols you will be more likely to see the little ones dressed as elves and reindeer. However, Christmas is celebrated though, it is well and truly a season that lights up the faces of children everywhere.
From a marketing point of view, Christmas is like manna from heaven.
The car parks are crowded, the food courts are full and the EFTPOS terminals are running hot. While many families, including my own, go with the ‘Kris Kringle’ method of present giving, (meaning that each adult buys for one other adult in the family), the children always receive individual presents from all the members of the family.
Outranking gifts from mum and dad, however, are the gifts children receive from the jolly man in the red suit. Once based in the historical personage of the gift giving St Nicholas, from the early 20th century he has strangely morphed into a man living at the North Pole with a large team of magical elves and flying reindeer.
How is it that Christmas has become the pre-eminent season for children? Is it because the true meaning of the season revolves around a little baby, that we seem to have given over Christmas to those aged under twelve?
Christmas is a wonderful time for children and no one would want to take that away from them; it may even inspire children towards good behaviour throughout the rest of the year (for which parents are most probably glad).
I wonder, though, if adults are conscious enough to allow Christmas to carry a deeper meaning for themselves and not fall into the trap of thinking that Christmas is a time for children.
Much more than being a toy party, Christmas is a season for adults; that baby in the manger has more to say to adults than anyone in primary school. The Christian story holds that the child born of Mary is actually God himself, but why would God send his Son to the earth as a child?
In one sense it was probably because babies are cute and everyone drops any defences in the presence of children but, in a deeper sense, the coming to earth as an infant indicates a level of humility and childlike trust which most adults need to strive for in pursuing God.
And, as the story reveals, this baby was not to remain a baby but, from the moment of birth, was on a trajectory towards death. Here was a child who was actually born to die.
At his presentation in the temple as an infant he was recognised as one who would be responsible for the fall and rise of many and as a sign that would be rejected.
Just listen to the words of the classical Christmas carols currently ringing out in every shopping centre in town.
One tells us to fall on our knees at the birth of the Christ child and in another we ask to be saved from Satan’s tyranny and the depths of hell! That’s right …in your local department store they are playing hymns about heaven, hell and the mysteries of salvation.
And as that happens we think it is all about gift-buying and children sitting on the knee of a fat man in red velvet.
More than being a season for children, Christmas is a season for adults. Christmas is about a child but it is not for children.
To appreciate the depth of Christmas, one must have an adult faith which is open to God’s revelation in the way that a baby is open to the care of its parents.
If we overly dress up Christmas as something merely for children then we rob both children and ourselves of the depth of hope that Christmas should inspire in all of us.
It is right and proper that Christmas lights up the eyes of little ones but if the birth of the saviour doesn’t also light up the eyes of their parents then it risks being no more than a party without a purpose.