It’s that time of year again. We’re often told that in an age of presents, parties and pigs-in-blankets, it can be all too easy to forget the ‘real’ message of Christmas. The Christmas which is founded on the story of the nativity – on the birth of humanity’s saviour on Earth – is a time when we preach tolerance and peace. It’s not about the insular family occasion which dominates the Western view of the 25th December.
Yet in a modern, secular Britain, what does the Nativity teach us? Jerusalem, the geographic centre of the Christmas story (around six miles from Bethlehem) is being ripped apart by the Israel-Palestine war which rages around it. Both sides of the conflict seek to covet what they could share – the Holy city of their respective religions. This, surely, is where the Christmas principles of love and tolerance need to be applied. The hatred and war which has dominated the politics of the region for centuries stands starkly against that for which they fight.
Of course, the holiday we enjoy so much happens in commemoration of the birth of Christ. And of course, it’s important that we remember why we are celebrating. But the message of the Christmas story does not stand in chronological isolation. Remembering the events of two thousand and fourteen years ago does not mean that we are doing Christmas ‘properly’. Studying those in the world now who work tirelessly in places of war or poverty can teach us far more about love and generosity than the original ‘official’ Christmas can.
In a time of massive global conflict, and where the maxim of ‘love thy neighbour’ could not be applied more aptly than to the two nations warring over the site of Jesus’ manger, we would do well to keep modern Jerusalem closer to our hearts than that one of the past.