December 2011

Seeing Christmas in its proper context

The Christmas story is a reflection of our own story where we all strive in some way or another to be born into the fullness of life, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS

In The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine on December 3, journalist Fenella Souter wrote a piece entitled “Divine Intervention?” in which she critiqued the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. I found the article lacking on many fronts. There was little understanding of the nature of biblical writings and stories, or of the vast array of literary styles contained in the Bible, such as poems, myths and narratives that we accept in any other literary collection.

The article lacked an appreciation of the stories of the Bible as theological documents. It was bereft of reputable scripture scholars and presented a smorgasbord of historical, popularist celebrations of ‘Christmas’ over the past centuries as though they represented the full story behind the feast. For me, the article highlighted the dearth of religious literacy among writers in the popular press.

Just as Souter’s piece is far removed from the Christian community’s belief in, and practice of Christmas, so too is the commercial presentation of Christmas that the business, media and advertising world would have us participate in. Our commercial world’s interest is in generating profits and convincing everyone to spend beyond their means. We’re encouraged to gather in some form of family celebration and then to overindulge. This may sound cynical, but such a view of Christmas has very little to do with the Christian theological understanding of the incarnate God who dwells among us.

The celebration of Christmas is not purely the remembrance of a child born some 2,000 years ago who happened to become famous because he claimed to be of God, as common folklore would have us believe. The infancy stories found in the Gospel of Luke are written from the perspective of belief in the resurrection. These stories are theological reflections about the faith of a people and their spiritual journey. Luke’s whole presentation, from the infancy story in his Gospel to the endeavours of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles, dramatises the promise of God throughout salvation history. As Jesuit priest and scripture scholar, Brendan Byrne says:

“Luke with considerable literary skill tells his story in such a way as to suggest that the birth and childhood of Jesus comes as a climax of a long series of saving intervention of God. To the scripturally formed reader this signal – a clear message – here, again, is sacred time, a moment of God’s saving interaction, the fulfilment of promise.”

Like the early Christians, contemporary Christians celebrating the feast of Christmas seek to grapple with the reality of a God of love who comes into our human world, who invites us into a spiritual journey and who exists at the heart of the created order. The Christmas story is a reflection of our own story where we all strive in some way or another to be born into the fullness of life. There is much more to life than glitter and sparkles, food and drink, and the false gods of self deception and illusion.

So what is the message that each of us can take from our Christmas celebrations? For me, it is that this unassuming man, through his birth, life, death and resurrection, was truly God among us, and continues to invite us into a spiritual journey with him.

Clare Condon

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence. In 2022, Clare was awarded an Honorary Doctor of the University from Australian Catholic University.

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