Hannah is sitting on the floor in front of the Christmas tree, wearing a Santa hat, singing, “la, la, la, la, life’s a happy dream”. She is only 6. There are 20 little kids her age who had life stolen from them before they even got to Christmas this year.
We Kiwi Christians can be a bit confused when it comes to celebrating Christmas. Easter is easier – Easter bunny is clearly a crock and we find it reasonably easy to claim Easter as a Christian occasion because for the unbelievers around us it is just a long weekend and an excuse to eat chocolate.
Christmas, however, has all sorts of cultural baggage and expectations which make us feel quite out of sorts here downunder in a secular society attempting to celebrate what is effectively a northern hemisphere midwinter festival. People hang up lights to decorate their houses despite it still being light at 10pm. We gorge ourselves with food then flop around getting sunburnt. Songs like “Let it Snow”, “Jingle Bells” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” play in shopping malls that are selling bathing suits, camping gear and cricket sets. It really doesn’t work, it’s like some collage of Christmas clutter dumped into a jumbled heap on the beach. Yet we still have plenty to be thankful for in our Kiwi Christmas celebrations.
Pointers to Christ
It is summer, most people are on holiday, and even despite the pre-Christmas madness in a time to relax. Let’s treasure that, Jesus came to give us rest – while flopping around after Christmas dinner too full to move much, enjoy the rest and consider God who came to gain it for us.
Christmas in New Zealand is blessed with fresh fruit and vegetables; cherries, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, new potatoes, baby peas… Jesus is the true vine, He came to bless the earth and make it bountiful, He plants the seeds of the great harvest. For us Christmas is like a harvest festival and we are right to rejoice in the bounty of God’s blessing.
Particularly here in the deep south, Christmas day is long – it gets light at about 5am and stays light until after 10pm. Seventeen hours of glorious light, almost two-thirds of the day! And here under the ozone hole it is bright light, a taste of what dazzled those shepherds and a reminder that He who dwells in unapproachable light came to abide with us. Every time you put on the sunnies and sun hat (and sunscreen) be reminded of the Light who dawned upon the whole earth in the advent.
An element of the nativity story that we obviously can identify with in New Zealand is the sheep (mmm… roast lamb for Christmas dinner!). Now, aside from the obvious anomaly of a lamb being present in the Christmas story if it was mid-winter, we know about sheep here, despite the Fonterra take over. Jesus is the Lamb of God, leading up to Christmas lambs are everywhere you look in this country – we get to remember the Passover, the feast of weeks (harvest) and the Advent all in one!
Christmas is a time when families like to get together, with all the strife this entails. Spare a thought for Mary and Joseph – they had travelled for days to get there, had lousy accommodation, were both isolated and lonely for home yet were in a town full of their relatives and then had a load of complete strangers turn up for supper! So whether lonely for company or overwhelmed by too much of it, you can at least feel for someone in the advent story.
Kiwis often get the barbeque out on Christmas day. Mary and Joseph quite likely cooked in a similar way on the very day Jesus was born. They certainly didn’t microwave last night’s leftovers!
Another way in which Kiwis have an empathetic perspective on the nativity story is our smallness and insignificance on the world stage. God chose to be born as a baby into a poor family in a stable in Bethlehem – an insignificant town. He then grew up in Nazareth, an even more lowly village. God chooses the insignificant place to come as God incarnate. Christ will come to us and dwell even here at the bottom of the world, we can be sure of this because He has already done it before – 2,000 years ago.
Gifts I have noticed recently:
750) Children asleep.
751) Friendly neighbours.
752) Christian work colleagues.
753) Headache forcing me away from the computer.
754) Spring growth (and a lawnmower!).
On Sunday we took the kids to the Santa parade – the very name of it has put me off for years (yes, I deprive my kids!), but it was not as bad as I expected.
While it was very secular (only one or two floats mentioned Jesus), it was not as tacky or commercialized as I had expected it to be. Maybe living in a very small city at the bottom of the world has kept us more colloquial than I thought.
My reason for going along was for the kids – the idea of standing in the hot sun for several hours with cranky kids and several thousand other people was not really my idea of a good time. But I recalled similar parades that I went to as a child and how much I enjoyed them. This offset my self-righteous disapproval of the whole concept of a Santa parade masquerading as a celebration of Jesus’ birthday.
And it was fun, people were friendly, the floats were interesting, kids were happy and we didn’t get too sunburned. When considered simply as a representation of the Kiwi cultural norm in which Christmas is a family time with some fantasy fun for the kids to liven it up, the Santa parade is an enjoyable community event and cynical Christians like me need to extend the grace to others of accepting their beliefs (or lack thereof).
I am the odd one out in our society in that I have a very strong and deep conviction that God exists and Jesus Christ is the Son of God, born of a virgin, crucified for my sins and bodily raised from the dead on the third day – this is sheer nuttiness to most New Zealanders. I am a religious nutter and have to be comfortable with that.
Once I accept how odd I appear to most people it becomes a lot easier to enjoy the good aspects of my own culture.
I think each year that passes sees a bigger gap between what I see Christmas as being about and the trivial selfishness of the ‘cultural Christmas’ around me. Maybe my eyesight is just getting better?
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15).
Remember what Christmas felt like when you were a child: the excited expectation of presents and food and treats and people you love coming to visit. For children Christmas is all joy in the anticipation, it just happens, seemingly by magic – the only anxiety is over whether you will really get the present you’ve been eagerly hoping for.
This is an example to us of what Advent is all about, the anticipation of the coming of God. For the Jews in 1 B.C. and earlier the yearning was for the promised messiah, in about A.D. 30 the anticipation reached fever pitch as the wild prophet John strode from the desert proclaiming the immanent arrival of the messiah.
Then the anticlimax of the messiah as a man, a very ordinary looking man at that, one who even ate and drank with sinners! This is not what they were expecting, should they be looking for another? (Matthew 11:3).
We also are looking forward to the coming of Jesus (again). Do you have the childlike faith and excitement for this that Christmas should elicit is all children?
This post was inspired by Noel Piper’s post ‘If Not Santa, What?‘ at the Desiring God blog.