Being a good traditional Scot I grew up much preferring New Years Day to Christmas. However people change and now I really do enjoy the opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ and to reflect in the mid-winter darkness on the light of the world being incarnated.
It seems to me though a little ironic that, as Scottish society is becoming more secularised, the Church is placing an even bigger emphasis on Christmas and is, to be frank, sounding increasingly desperate. We have gone from looking for people to attend and worship every Sunday, to being thankful that they might even darken our doorstep just once a year. If a dog is for more than Christmas, then how much more Jesus?!
At every nativity, at least with those who actually try to have some semblance of the biblical story, one of the facts that is put across is that ‘there was no room at the inn’ for baby Jesus. It strikes me as a suitable metaphor for how much of Scotland will celebrate his birth this year. Some will have no room for Jesus because they are too busy watching TV, feeding themselves or getting whatever presents they can. The glitz, consumerism and greed leave little place for Jesus. And yet still people struggle to find satisfaction.
Others want to exclude Christ from Christmas in order to be ‘inclusive’. But ‘Winterville’ or ‘seasons greetings’ is not the real problem. No the real problem are the atheists/agnostics who under the guise of ‘secularism’ want to remove all trace of Christianity from society. Of course they get very upset if you say that.
Indeed even today I read on one newspaper website one of the more fundamentalist secularists stating, “Secularism is not about atheism or antitheism, it is about removing religion from public life.” The recent fuss about Jim Murphy’s Catholicism was excused by the Secular Society when they declared “The Scottish Secular Society have no problem with Mr Murphy's beliefs, but a very great problem with the way in which we fear they will influence his political decisions.”
Thus the militant secularists magnanimously say they will let us have our ‘private’ beliefs and reduce us to the status of a knitting club or Trekkie society, as long as these beliefs don’t actually affect our public actions or lives. They want to remove religion from public life.
This essentially means they want to remove Christians from public life, as we have recently seen with Jim Murphy MP, because no Christian is going to hold to an internalised faith only, which doesn’t affect their outlook in every part of their lives. The secularists will continue these witch hunts until Christ is removed from public life and we end up with a Godless dictatorship. For them there is no room for Christ in the inn of the Brave New World of modern Scotland.
And I fear that perhaps most tragically of all there is no room for Christ in much of the Church. The story is told of a man meeting Jesus sitting outside a church in South Africa during the Apartheid times. “I can’t get in there,” said the black man (it was a whites only church)”. “Neither can I” said Jesus.
It’s a tragedy that much of the church in Scotland seems to regard Jesus as some kind of dead figure from the past who is largely unnecessary except as the ultimate celebrity idol. We ignore his Word, we mock his teachings and we think that we are the Head of the Church. Jesus is reduced to a bit part in his own play. If the Holy Spirit were removed from the church in Scotland today, then 90 per cent of what we do would carry on as if nothing had happened. No room for Jesus in the church.
But there is hope. Christ has not gone away. He is patient not wanting anyone to perish. He still stands at the door and knocks. If anyone hears his voice he will come in and feast with them. It’s not too late for us as individuals, for our families, for the church or for our society. We can still seek him, while he may be found. May this be the greatest Christmas for us all – when we come to know the Christ whose ‘time’ it is.
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
Rev David Robertson is Moderator Designate of the Free Church of Scotland, minister of St Peter's Free Church in Dundee and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity