Friday, 22 November 2013

Christmas: a time of ethical transformation

One area where the Christian and secular dimensions of our Christmas celebrations come together in a profound way is in the theme of Christmas as a time of ethical transformation.  There is this notion that our celebrations of Christmas in and of themselves have the power to bring forth our better selves.

This idea began in Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge.  Scrooge was a miser, and he was also a man who refused to celebrate Christmas.  (And those two facts were closely related.)  His response to Christmas, as well as to anything else that would encourage any spark of generosity in him, was always “Bah, Humbug!”

At the beginning of the story, we hear this about Scrooge:

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!  Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

But, by the end of the story, he is described in these terms:

“He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town or borough, in the good old world.”

And, in short, the source of this amazing transformation, in which Scrooge’s best self was enabled to emerge, was in the exposure to the celebration of Christmas.  This story told how the Christmas celebration had the power to transform Scrooge from a self-centered miser to a person who exhibited a lively generosity in every aspect of his life.

We also see this theme, which I call “the Scrooge motif” in many other secular Christmas stories, such as Dr. Seuss’s children’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the films It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, and just about any good “Christmas special” on TV.   Christmas is an occasion of ethical transformation, in which we are enabled to let our best selves emerge.  Our culture believes (or, at the very least, our culture wants to believe) that the season of Christmas transforms us.  It brings out our own better nature, just as it did for Scrooge, for the Grinch, or for many others.

For people of Christian faith, we need to recognise this factor in the Christmas celebrations of our wider community, and to affirm the fact that this season is a time of greater ethical sensitivity for many people, and a time when many of our neighbours are asking the deep questions of life.

Transformation is also a major theme in our Christian faith.  The Christian church has always believed in Christ’s ability to transform each of us into people who reflect the love of God in everything we do.  It is an easy leap for us – as Christians - to say that the entire Christ-event is an occasion of ethical transformation, enabling each of us to allow our best selves to emerge in response to God’s grace to humanity through the person of Christ Jesus. 

In many ways, it’s not all that big a mental leap from our culture’s sense of seasonal transformation to the more profound and radical transformation that is at the heart of our faith.  This Christmas, let’s assist our community to make this leap. 

And, as Mr. Dickens said of Scrooge after his transformation,

“… he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any … [one] alive possessed the knowledge.  May that truly be said of us, and all of us!  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!”

And, if you'd like some of my reflections on Advent and Christmas sitting on your bookshelf as well as on your computer, you may want to buy my book  Christmas Lost and Christmas Regained from Amazon.

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