In a shop window, there was a crib with the figures of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. Beside it a brightly coloured notice told passers-by that the crib was a reminder to everyone that, “Jesus was the reason for the season.”
To most people reading the notice, the words would be meaningless. Teaching religious education to more than three hundred students, in seventeen different sets, in a school in the English shires, I can state with certainty that the words would convey no message whatsoever to the overwhelming majority of them. Among the students I teach, the one who could talk most about Jesus is a devout Muslim. (Islam sees Jesus as a prophet who will return at the end of time). Most English students know little or nothing about Christianity, and have less desire to learn about it. They are typical of the 97% or so who do not attend a Christian church.
If the message in the shop window lacks meaning, it is also untrue. Even at primary school fifty years ago, our teacher would have taught us that the Bible story of the birth of Jesus could not have been something that took place in midwinter. With unrelenting integrity, Miss Rabbage would have taught her unpromising junior class of twenty or so children that the birth of Jesus was, perhaps, in October, and that the church had moved its celebration to midwinter to supplant the pagan solstice festival. The logic was apparent, the reason for the season was not a birth in Bethlehem, but the turning of the days.
In the early church, the Resurrection was the focus of the faith, the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. With the Protestant Reformation in the Sixteenth Century, there were again Christians who set aside the Christmas celebrations in favour of a return to what they believed to be a more Biblical faith. In Northern Ireland, in the 1990s, there were still churches that did not mark Christmas.
Slogans like, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” are the mark of a church that has lost confidence in its New Testament roots, that has put the personal experience of its own members ahead of the radicalism of Jesus of Nazareth.
A recent article in The Times newspaper suggested that the rise of evangelicalism in the Church of England had been accompanied by a drop in the IQ of its bishops. It seems that, if not a drop in intelligence, there has been a decline in the critical faculty of the church leadership. As our primary school class from fifty years ago might have told them, Jesus is not the reason for the season