25 December 2012

Zambia: Why Celebrate Christmas?

THE celebration of Christmas must be sustained to keep remembering the man Jesus Christ whose life altered the history of humanity. The world has various ideas on what Christmas is or isn't.

Some believe that Christmas is about shopping and exchange of gifts.

To others, Christmas is a time to commit heinous crimes or sins they have never committed before.

Irrespective of people's misconception of Christmas, the celebration must continue in a Christian way.

Celebrations in Zambia are quite similar to those in England and the United States (US), with preparations for the December 25 holiday consuming most of the month of December.

I recall, during my early childhood, seeing people buy new clothes, gadgets, plenty of beef, chickens, soft drinks, rice and Irish potatoes, other food stuffs, and beverages in readiness for a great celebration on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

I saw some families buy music systems in readiness for Christmas.

They saved money for the whole year to buy such equipment.

The mood during the festive season was that of expectancy and joyous celebration.

Christmas songs such as "Tell your mother happy new year, tell your mother happy Christmas, tell your father happy new year..." sailed the airwaves and exuded joy and happiness until the whole nation reverberated with the shout of Christmas at mid night.

At Christmas Eve, Christians attended church services first and then feasted later.

Non-Christians started celebrating early in the day until the next day.

Today a lot has changed about Christmas; what used to be a big sacred occasion that was celebrated passionately and in a deeply religious way has lost much of its religiosity, beauty and splendor.

It has lost its Christian characteristics and has become secularised or commercilialised.

As a result, it has lost its influence on society.

Soon or later, it will be a thing of the past.

It is this scenario that begs the question "Why celebrate Christmas?"

To answer this question we must first answer the question "what is Christmas?"

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that it is important to celebrate Christmas.

Observance of Christmas tradition has been religious and secular in nature; it is both a sacred and a secular religious holiday and a worldwide culture and commercial phenomenon.

In the early years of Christianity, the birth of Jesus Christ was not celebrated.

But Easter was the main holiday; in the fourth century, church officials instituted the birth of Jesus as a holiday.

In Christmas, we celebrate the event and not the date; the person of Christmas - Jesus the Christ.

Christ is the hub of the Christian faith and without Christ there can be no christianity and therefore, no Christmas.

It is with this in mind that, instead of focusing on determining the correct date of Christmas, let me articulate some content or theology of Christmas in order to furnish the reason for the season.

There is much more to Christmas than mere exchanging of gifts and feasting.

Let us examine the content or theology in some Christmas carols and hymns and scripture passages for answers.

Some Christmas carols bring to us a variety of theologies.

Christmas carries theology upon which Christianity subsists. What is theology?

Theology is "an ongoing attempt to understand and respond to God's presence in history;" John Macquarrie puts it this way, "The study which, through participation in and reflection upon a religious faith, seeks to express the content of this faith in the clearest and most coherent language available."

In Christmas, people of faith celebrate the message of the birth of Jesus Christ, the love of God for humanity,the joy of Christmas, the redemptive power of giving, the incarnation, God in the flesh: Jesus the Theoanthropic person(God- man), and the virgin birth and others.

Redemption from the power of sin

The evil infected world lay hopelessly in the grip of sin a result of the fall of the first man Adam. In this we see a theology of total depravity of human kind.

Humanity has been completely corrupted by the fall. Indeed a human being may be accurately defined as a creature of God who is "not able not to sin."

It follows that a human being cannot establish a right relationship to God by practicing any form of inherent virtue.

To believe in such virtue is the heresy of "Pelagianism" - the arch heresy of the Western tradition. (Harrisville 1995, 28) A carol, O Holy Night states thus "...Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices." Although Jesus carried our iniquities in his body yet he was not contaminated by the sin he came to take away.

Redemptive power of love

In Christmas the world celebrates God's love for the world. Jesus Christ was born at a time when ignorance, superstition, greed, hatred and hypocrisy prevailed upon the land.

Purity was forgotten and morality was neglected.

He sent Jesus to the world for their redemption.

This theology is steeped in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave his only son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved."

This is augmented by a carol which states that, "God sent His son, they called him Jesus.

He came to love, heal and forgive. He gave His love to buy my pardon."

And then comes the assurance in another carol, "That man will live forever more because of Christmas day." Eternal life is granted through the Christ of Christmas. That's why people spend much of their time and resources in doing charitable deeds during and after the festive season. God's act of giving has redemptive power.

Theology of the incarnation

Jesus the incarnate Son of God took the flesh and blood, the truly human and truly divine. He is the very personification of Divinity.

He came as a lamb of God to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Jesus is God in the flesh.God came and took the body from M

ary and dwelt among us:He is the Theoanthropic person (God- man).

Paul the apostle said, in reference to Jesus, in Philippians 2:7-9 "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on the cross."

Likewise, the song writer puts it this way, "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th' Incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with man to dwell; Jesus, our Emmanuel."

He who could have chosen to remain in the solitude of heaven to avoid contact with the world because it was full of sin, came and dwelt among people to redeem the world.

That's why the incarnation of the Godhead is celebrated in Christmas.

Peace and good will to all people

The birth of Jesus the prince of peace provides an opportunity to disseminate the Christian message of peace to a troubled world that is under the grip of sin and Satan.

This season we must embrace the motif of praise which is linked to the theme that the fulfillment of God's promise in the coming of Jesus the messiah is the cause for joy and rejoicing.

Even as the host of angels in Luke 2:14 praised God saying, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests."

Therefore, I hold with those who believe that Christmas event must be celebrated because it is about all people in the sense that people are the object of God's love.

Christmas is a story of the divine visiting mortal man; the creator in the person of Jesus Christ camping among the created to redeem them, without Christ there could be no Christmas.

Therefore, we must keep the story of Christ alive because it is the essence of Christianity.

Neglect of this important occasion is a threat to the life of the church.

The message for this Christmas is that we must forgive one another as Christ forgave us.

The recent confrontation and killing of a Zambian by a person of Somali origin and the subsequent rioting and looting of the Somalian homes and businesses by Zambians, the arrest and prosecution of Zambians provides us an opportunity to forgive one another and move on in peace. Mary Mcleod Bethune was correct when she said,"Love thy neighbour" is a precept which could transform the world if it were universally practiced.

It connotes brotherhood and, to me, brotherhood of man is the noblest concept in all human relations.

Loving your neighbor means being interracial, interreligious and international."

Enjoy your Christmas celebrations in peace.

(The writer is an advocate for social justice and is Pastor of PeaceTemple Redeemed Methodist Church Kabushi Ndola. He has faithfully served as minister of the Gospel in Zambia and the United States for the past 30years. He is also involved in counseling and mentorship especially on matters of family, community and leadership.

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