Columns

Jesus is the reason for the season

Lance Neita

Sunday, December 02, 2018

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We are heading into a Christmas season, which will very likely report record spending. This will not be because more people are wealthy, but because many more people than ever are working and earning an income. Business is looking forward to a flourishing turnover, and Christmas Market is expected to be a bumper night out.

However, we must also spare a thought — and more than farthing — for the many who will not have the resources or opportunities to indulge, some not even to enjoy a Christmas dinner.

As I write this article there are three homeless men squatting on public property in my town square, and I am praying that I can help to find them some form of shelter before the holidays commence.

The real reason for the season is too often ignored while we spoil ourselves in a frenzy of shopping, partying, overeating, and overspending (on ourselves), while the answer to the question “Who is my neighbour?” stares us right in the face.

The real reason for the season, explicitly measured and outlined in the Bible, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and generation by generation, is the celebration of God's gift to the world through the birth of his son, Jesus Christ.

This is a birthday celebration that faithfully summons Christians each year to recognise and give thanks for Christ's love for us, his grace, his forgiveness, the supreme sacrifice that he made on the cross, and, thank God, his resurrection.

Never mind the historians who go out of their way to prove that Jesus's birth could not have taken place in December because, for instance, the shepherds could not have been abiding outside in fields during that coldest time of the year.

So what? I always greet that argument with a big ho-hum, because although we celebrate the birth on December 25, most scholars agree that he wasn't born on that day, or even in the Year 1 AD.

Researchers believe that the fathers of the early Church settled on December 25 for many reasons, one being that it tied into the closing of the winter solstice and the commencement of longer daylight hours in that part of the world. This so-called 're-birth of the sun' was seen by Christians as representing the light of Christ entering the world. Hence, December 25 was popularised as the date for Christmas, not because Christ was born on that day, but because it was already popular in pagan religious festivals celebrating the birthday of the sun.

Pagan history and Roman mythology aside, what we do know is that Christianity has outlasted all such festivals, and the spirit of giving and sharing, according to Christ's command to love one another as I have loved you, remains paramount in the Christian Christmas celebration as the real reason for the season.

This is notwithstanding the fact that our churches are having a hard time competing with the bacchanal and the dancehall and the focus on merrymaking that dominates the season today. Nothing wrong with the partying and the shopping and the gift-giving that we all enjoy at Christmas, but stick a pin, dare we forget the real reason for the season, and whose birthday we are celebrating.

Such a celebration of the coming of the Son of God into this world is indeed cause for festivity and joy and happiness, but needs to be mixed with sobriety and reverence and, the churches would hope, a response to the church bell and the chance to worship and give thanks to the Creator for some of the very things that we are enjoying at this time.

The truth is that Christmas comes around so quickly nowadays that we tend to forget what it's all about.

We need to fall in love again with the magic, the mystery, the mythical and the factual historical accounts of the birth of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago.

It's a story with myriad pieces and chapters that come together like a mosaic jigsaw puzzle masterminded by the hand of God.

Christmas brings back memories of those favourite chapters led off by Luke 2, “In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register.

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

“He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first-born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.”

Year after year these verses, this story, is told at Sunday School concerts, school plays, church services, and in moments of quiet reflection.

The real reason for the season will forever remain paramount in our minds and memories because of the telling of that story over and over, because of the strong Christian tradition that is rooted in Jamaica, because of the Christmas carols played and sung repeatedly, the family get-togethers, the old ice cream turn-hand bucket, starlight, and fee-fee, the paper decorations stretched across the verandahs and living rooms, the cake mixing and baking, and the traditional Chrismus breeze.

Nowadays, I miss the carols that used to be played regularly on our radio stations and wondered where they had gone over the past few years. It was only when I tuned into Love 101 FM in late November that I discovered that at least one radio station was still faithful to the cause. Apologies to Love, but we were having difficulty picking them up in my part of the world, now they seem to have strengthened their transmission, and Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels, Silent Night, and that grand curtain-opener, O come, all ye faithful, are once more staple items on my car radio.

I am looking forward to the Noranda Community Carolsing later this month when we play-act the Christmas stories and belt out our favourite songs. Each year I am one of the three kings, along with Maurice Bryson and Sheldon Riley. They will keep me on the choir until they find out where the noise is coming from.

I play the role of Balthazar, who was the King of Tarse and Egypt. Balthazar presented the gift of myrrh to Jesus, and for your historical interest, I discovered recently that he was supposed to be a black man.

There should be no excuse to miss out on good carol singing this year. Look forward to the University Singers as they give their annual concert, free of charge, in the UWI Chapel. Awesome. Church choirs all over Jamaica are now practising their anthems and hymn leading for Christmas morning service. The Queenhythe Baptist Church Choir in St Ann never fails to please, and since we are playing the memory game, I recall the Four Paths Choir of my youth, with my father leading the bass, along with cricket captain and organist “Skipper” Lawson. My memories are made of this.

So, Christmas is coming, and it really is the most wonderful time of the year. With all the new monies and all the good times and all the best wishes going around, let us remember the true meaning of the season as embodied in the words of a beloved carol: “Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine, love was born at Christmas, stars and angels gave the sign.”

And if you have a chance to help those homeless people anywhere in Jamaica to find some joy and peace at Christmas, then singalong with Mahalia Jackson:

“If I can help somebody, as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,

If I can show somebody, how they're travelling wrong,

Then my living shall not be in vain.”

These lyrics, as much as any Christmas carol, represent the real reason of the season, in as many words.

Special note: In last week's column I suggested that we should not underrate what I call the 'likeable factor' at play in the ratings we give our Cabinet ministers. I neglected to include the Nigel Clarke as a front line minister who, himself, as do the others, does not display any form of arrogance, and in fact appears to be enjoying his job, which is a plus for the lift in the national spirit that we are experiencing at this time.

Lance Neita is a public relations writer and consultant. Send comments to the Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.

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