SO Christmas is five days away. In Jamaica, Christmas is a time when more people than usual go to church. It is also a time when there is general 'jollification', although people might not be aware for the reason for the celebration. This year's Christmas comes at a time when some churches are celebrating the growth of their membership, while others, particularly Roman Catholics, are disappointed that their numbers have dwindled even further.
In politics, whenever a political party loses office it usually waits about a year before saying 'now that you have the power that you sought, what have you done with it?' But in Church, we do not normally ask the question 'now that your church is in the majority, what impact have you had on the society?' Indeed, I have not heard of anyone beside myself who asks this question of the Adventists, the combined Church of God denominations, and whatever other church holds significantly large numbers in Jamaica.
Why does crime and violence exist in the way that it does in Jamaica? True, the history of crime, violence and corruption in Jamaica really goes back to Henry Morgan and the pirates. But since that time, especially since the start of the 20th century more than a hundred years ago, we have had a multiplicity of churches in Jamaica which all claim to be the 'correct' church. How has this impacted on the society?
The truth is that there are good and holy people in just about every church. God knows it, but unfortunately Satan also knows it. So what Satan does is to keep the churches divided, quibbling over which church is the 'right' church, what is the correct interpretation of the Bible, and which church has more sinners than which.
There are very few Roman Catholic countries that come near Jamaica's level of violence. One is Rwanda in Africa where there have been special problems caused by the divide and rule tactics of their former colonial masters. Another is Brazil.
But when people go about calling Jamaica the crime capital of the world, what are they really saying about the churches that make up Jamaica? Part of the third verse of O Holy Night is "truly he taught us to love one another/His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother/And in his name all oppression shall cease".
I have asked this question repeatedly: If the Roman Catholic Church was growing in Jamaica at the same rate of the Adventists in Jamaica, and crime and violence was either growing or not getting any better, what would the Adventists and the other churches say about Roman Catholics? A speculative question perhaps, but one that is based on the behaviour of Adventists to Roman Catholics.
Officially, Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas. In the case of the Adventists, their reason is that Jesus Christ was not born on December 25, nor do we know the exact date. In the case of Jehovah's Witnesses, they do not believe in celebrating birthdays at all. However the celebration has brought a focus on Jesus Christ over the centuries, which has brought about many conversions — some through acts of kindness that are expressed at this time of the year.
So what if December 25 was originally a pagan celebration in Rome? The Christians converted it to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, just as Jesus converted the feast of the Passover into His Eucharist and God converted the corn festival of 50 days after Passover (Pentecost) into the day when the Holy Spirit came.
The eastern and western parts of the world have different days for the celebration, but the Christians on both sides of the world had no problem with celebrating the birth of Jesus until the 19th century when the Jehovah's Witnesses and Adventists came about.
Wasn't this authority given to Peter the apostle and his successors? "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19). The successors of the apostles determined that December 25 would be celebrated as Christmas day, and that is OK for me.
But while Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses do not officially celebrate Christmas, many of them do it culturally. To me, the best tasting sorrel at Christmas is prepared in Jehovah's Witness homes and the best tasting Christmas pudding comes from Adventist homes.
During the Christmas season — 11 years ago, I was at the home of friends who attend the Seventh-Day Church of God. I was served Christmas pudding and I remarked that the rum in the pudding tasted great.
There was great laughter and the mother of the family said "you caught me there". Some Christians (not Roman Catholics) view alcohol as "Satan's poison", but they hide the rum and mix it in their sorrel and Christmas pudding.
I pray that Christmas will cause us to make attempts to inject Christian ethics in all of our dealings.
Have a Merry Christmas.