And a while ago, I had an e-mail discussion with a friend of mine, who was lamenting the secularisation of society in this country. He wrote: "We are in danger of losing the communal memory of Christian myths, the Christian rhythm of the week, and the Christian cycle of the year. These are valuable in themselves, whatever meaning we attach to them. They have not been replaced by alternative in our secular society."
This rang very deep bells with me. I was brought up in the Christian mainstream at a little primary school, and sand all the C of E hymns and followed the rhythm of the Christian year. They are a part of who I am, a part of my deepest life. So when Christmas comes round, I love to attend a Carol Service, and sing the carols with gusto (while mentally exclaiming at the message of some of them, I must admit!). Yesterday afternoon, I drove to Warwick to join in the Carol Service at Warwick Unitarian Chapel, which was really lovely. The sense of Christmas community was palpable.
|Warwick Unitarian chapel|
Is this hypocritical of me? If I don't believe that Jesus was the unique Son of God, should I celebrate Christmas, which is all about such unlikely elements as God becoming man, and a virgin birth? But as a cultural Christian, I am still moved by the age-old story, even though I know in my head that it is mythical, and conflated from the stories in the two gospels. My heart still responds to it.
My answer, as a Unitarian, is that the Christmas I care about is more to do with the message of "peace on earth and goodwill to all men" (and women, of course). I truly believe that the message that Jesus preached - love God, love your neighbour, and don't forget to love yourself - is a crucially important one in this mad world of ours. If Christmas reminds people of this great truth, which is common to all religions, then I'm all for it.
So let us celebrate Christmas as a time when the universally applicable message of love and peace and goodwill to all is brought to the front of people's minds, and our bit of the world grows a little bit more charitable, and a little bit more kindly.