By Joseph M Bradley
In Scotland, a certain Christmas mood is obvious in some of the big supermarkets months prior to Christmas Day. By November, one can’t escape Christmas adverts on television. Many are vehicles for ideas about needs, wants and other ‘essentials’, about clothing, hair, make-up, glamour, beauty, style, fame, wealth, swagger, desire, and fun. Much is of it is about self: How do I look, how do I feel, what do others think of me?
What often catches the eye is how hyper-sexualised these adverts are. A certain representation of what constitutes sexuality is promoted to tempt viewers into buying in to the associated lifestyle. Cars, clothes, food, alcohol, travel, holidays, sport and more: All sold frequently using particular notions about the human body, sex, and ‘fun’. Such ideas are central to tempting us to consume more and to buy in to an assured vision regarding what we should seek in life. Too, of course, how to be happy and not ‘weird’ or ‘old fashioned’. Many people are tempted to be part of what’s going on, to be accepted, be cool. A particular idea of ‘having fun’ infuses much of what we are confronted with as well.
Music too is part of a typical British/US Western World package at Christmas. Generally, popular music is saturated with limited notions of ‘the body’, and sexualised imageries: to encourage us to buy, admire, adopt, copy, accept, aspire. This encourages us to see ourselves and others through a material and sexual lens. Since the 1980s, popular music, especially via pop video and many pop lyrics, constantly present a world through a sexual lens: this to a point whereas much pop video content is now pornographic.
The secular Christmas, or ‘Xmas’, dominates popular culture. In December 2021 Scotland’s top broadsheet newspaper, The Herald, published a weekend magazine, entitled ‘Luxury’, with the sub-title ‘Celebrate Christmas in Style’. Its pages contain adverts, stories and news about food, alcohol, houses, places to visit, shows, jewellery, perfume, TV, etc. During early December 2021, the BBC ran a thirty second advert relating to Christmas involving plenty of well-known faces, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and ‘fun’.
The scenario described is an ‘Xmas’ reality for many people in modern Scotland. One that you struggle to find reference to Christ or the meaning of His birth.
Much of this arises from basic misunderstandings, lack of knowledge of, and hostility towards, Christianity. Arguably, unlike in the recent past, today these characteristics dominate Scottish society, education, politics and culture. As in many other countries, in Scotland there are numerous moral and ideological forces that daily contend and attack many of the basic creeds, doctrines and virtues of Christianity.
Today the Christian message, especially at Christmas, can seem harder than ever to communicate. In the face of the moral and ideological challenges evident, powerful forces oppose Christ and His saving mission: His birth purpose, His presence and sacrificing Himself in human time and history.
However, for those Christians that wait patiently throughout Advent for the real Christmas, the birth of Jesus marks a specific elevation of the call to repent, transform, and to be fully human and holy. Christmas is the beginning of a radical and revolutionary articulation of life’s purpose and meaning. No one is left out of this invitation and calling. Recently, Bishop Robert Barron in the USA wrote that the thinking and prayerful Christian preparation for Christmas entails:
“a penitential dimension, because it is the season in which we prepare for the coming of a Saviour, and we don’t need a Saviour unless we’re deeply convinced there is something to be saved from. When we have become deeply aware of our sin, we know that we can cling to nothing in ourselves, that everything we offer is, to some degree, tainted and impure. We can’t show our cultural, professional, and personal accomplishments to God as though they are enough to save us. But the moment we realize that fact, we move into the Advent spirit, desperately craving a Saviour.”
Along with the happy family and community celebrations, Christmas is a special moment when Christians remember the birth of Christ the Redeemer, the Saviour of humanity, God’s purpose for His creation. As His children, He wants nothing to come in the way – including our own contrary and sinful thoughts, beliefs and actions – of His loving relationship with us.
There is potential for everyday ‘things’ in life to make us turn away from the Christ in Christmas. Looking for, and better still, finding Christ in Christmas, is the antidote to empty worldly promises with regards seeing ourselves, and seeing much of the world, through a self-centred and ultimately self-destructive lens.
The promise of Christmas is so much more wonderous.