The day called Christmas and our part in the Commonwealth of Heaven

By Jill Segger
December 24, 2018

Like it or not, 25 December draws a line across our lives.“We must have a coffee/lunch before Christmas.” “Can you turn this around for me before the break?” And that’s without the increasing difficulty of trying to time the purchase of perishables so as to avoid parking vexations and tetchy thronging.

Then there is the uncomfortable silence, part pity, part incomprehension when you answer the inevitable “what are you doing for Christmas?” with a cheerful “nothing”.

Actually, I am doing something – helping at an afternoon of hospitality for people who just want a little quiet companionship, free of crackers and paper hats and that slightly forced jollity which so often accompanies this time of year. This is a space where it is fine to bring sadness, anxiety, loneliness. Our Meeting House on Tuesday afternoon will be – we hope – a place of refuge for quite a few souls who don’t fit comfortably into the advertising industry’s stage set. They have a far greater dignity: the simple value of humanity.

It should not surprise us that it may be hard to hang onto a belief in that eternal worth when society and power appear to hold it of little, or at best, merely notional value. In a time of rapidly increasing food bank use, benefit sanctions, crumbling mental health services and homelessness, expecting a comforting conformity with the winter consumer-fest seems particularly cruel. Where could we find a better standing for showing a sign of contradiction? For taking the step back which could enable reconsideration with humility?

An unexamined Christmas season is a poor look – for ‘religious’ people and for those who have no time for religion. The Nativity myth still exercises a strong hold on the minds and hearts of most of us and provides a measuring rod for the inequalities which, at this season, strike an ugly and discordant note with what we retain of the Christian tradition. Maybe the anti-religious have something to teach us about hypocrisy; maybe we have the opportunity to manifest rejection of complacent consumerism and stand in uncomfortable solidarity with the marginalised.

This isn’t easy. The familial and social expectations of Christmas are considerable: love and friendship require that they be respected, but do not necessarily provide the template for how we may do so. Close proximity to unfamiliar lives may be uncomfortable but it is a necessary discomfort if we are to be true components of that interlocking ecosystem of experience and emotion which makes us human.

We were warned against the poverty of greeting only our friends. This is the season for reworking our own hearts and taking whatever steps we may towards the Commonwealth of Heaven.

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© Jill Segger is Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. You can follow her on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.