The advent of the Christmas Season this year evokes some very mixed feelings. There is, of course, no shortage of pleasant things to look forward to. It is a time to put the stresses and tribulations of the past year on hold for a few weeks, and try and relax with friends and family. It is a time to reawaken some of the hope and joy that is the essence of the message passed on to mankind from sacred events that happened millennia ago. With the start of a new year, it is also time to take an introspective look at who we are and hopefully resolve to try a little harder in the coming year to improve on who we are and what we do.
Yet, overshadowing all this is the fact that the state of the world around us seems more perilous than ever, and the future appears to be as uncertain as it has been in many decades. The world is awash with terrorism, genocide and hybrid wars. Climate change is wreaking havoc on our weather and the earth’s ecology. We have a psychotic tyrant in the far east that is close to finalizing a nuclear capability that threatens the world as well as his closest neighbours. We have a President of the most powerful country in the world just south of our borders that day in and day out, is demonstrating a level of narcissism, nepotism, incompetence, questionable sanity, boorish behavior, misogyny and other deplorable character traits that border on the incomprehensible. We have the latest despotic Russian Tsar waging war on his neighbours and destabilizing the Middle East, in order to try and recreate a dead empire that caused levels of death and destruction unparalleled in history. We have a resurgence of ultra right-wing fascism in Europe. We have a pseudo-Islamist terrorist movement whose deadly attacks have brought fear to the free world. We have a whole generation of tech era kids that are addicted to digital escapist technology and oblivious to the world around them.
It can be hard to reconcile these depressing developments with the hopes and optimism that are the cornerstone of the Christmas spirit. And yet, what we have today is not really that different from the first Christmas two thousand years ago. If you were an inhabitant then of what we now call the Holy Land, your life was just as perilous and threatening as anything now. War, oppression, suffering and death were a constant in people’s lives. The ruling structures and political systems were devoid of morality and altruism, and motivated mostly by greed, power and exploitation. The exact nature and details of the risks and challenges that people faced might be different from what we see now, but the nub of it was that life truly was nasty, brutish and short.
In the midst of all this appeared the inspiring figure of Jesus Christ, with a promise of hope, redemption and salvation from the consequences of humankind’s imperfections and sins. There are atheists or non-believers who may argue whether he was ever a real person or just a mythological construct. Regardless, few would question the fact that Jesus Christ was and remains a powerful symbol. He brought the essential message that, for all our shortcomings, we are capable of better things.
The essence of the message of Christianity as well as most of the world’s religions, is that we all have the ability to transcend our mortal limitations, imperfections and transgressions and aspire towards a more perfect world. We have a purpose in this life, and that is to leave this world a better place than when we entered it. We accomplish this through basing our lives and our actions on kindness, unselfishness, love for our fellow man and woman, responsible stewardship for the land and this planet that we live in, and making the most of our talents and intelligence, putting them to constructive use for the benefit of mankind.
We may not all believe in Christmas or Jesus Christ, however we all need to heed the importance of what they symbolize. In an unpredictable and dangerous world, we all need hope and re-assurance that our lives are not futile and irrelevant. We all need to have a clearly defined set of principles and priorities to govern our lives in such a manner that we are advancing the cause of society and civilization. We need the shining examples and moral armour to help us combat the pernicious effects of hate, racism, greed, selfishness and material addiction. We need a compass to guide the way towards spiritual peace and satisfaction and away from the temptations of self-gratification, acquisitiveness and materialism.
There is no doubt that over the past several thousand years, organized religions have often become subverted through their alliances with temporal powers, and strayed from their initial purpose. In our intellectual age, it is easy to be critical of all establishments including religious ones. However, this should not dissuade us from appreciating their moral and spiritual underpinnings and learning what we can about how to manage our spiritual and moral selves. Needless to say, Christmas is a good time to do this.