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How We Really Renew Faith During the Christmas Season
We appear to have a form of religion, but we're losing its power.

The telltale polling of Christmas past has revealed a puzzling lack of connection in Canada's spiritual life. Ipsos Reid's “the meaning of Christmas” survey uncovered the odd reality that 47 percent of those polled said “we will be having a Nativity scene in our home” but only 23 percent declared the holiday was “a time to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ.”

“Use it or lose it” most certainly applies to the world of faith…

News that fits perfectly for the portrait emerging of our soul, the picture shows we have a form of religion, but we're losing its power. Reflection on the birth of Jesus Christ is hard work, sourced by truth and experience, and it takes time. Hauling out the Christmas crèche does not.

“Use it or lose it” most certainly applies to the world of faith, and when the most vibrant and widely practised holiday in the country erodes from its origins, eclipsed by beliefs of family and commerce, we're on track to lose. It might be interesting to examine why so many of us have Nativity sets in the first place. When a near life-size model of one went up outside Toronto's Old City Hall this year, what were we thinking in having these things around?

It's because, somewhere, a relic of belief in our lives decided we should try to be reminded of the mystery of the Incarnation – that doctrine that explains God's gift of putting Jesus in a baby and taking on the messiness of human life from innocence to sin and all the way through to redemption. The fact that the Incarnation story has survived at all and still permeates Christmas gift-giving adds to the mystery of its origin outside the realm of humanity.

A marvellous collection of religious authors in the new book God With Us explains it this way: “In-flesh-ment, God in human form in Jesus entering our history; this is what started Christmas, this is what keeps Christmas going.” The challenge to reflect on that does not go to those who wrote to The Globe and Mail congratulating the newspaper for its neutral Happy Holidays front-page greeting; rather, this is an inside conversation to the 76 percent who make the Statistics Canada nod that Christianity is our faith.

When 23 percent of Canadians describe reflecting on Christ as the meaning of Christmas, it may be useful to consider a few things we stand to lose.

Hope: If God's incarnation is real, it implies that the material life, each person, each activity, can be seen as something that matters to God and has the potential for something outside our limited imaginations. We are not just wrappings around a meaningless cycle of activities; even the most puzzling and painful life has reason and purpose because God chose to make flesh His home.

Epiphany: I don't just mean the season that began on December 25 and goes until January 6, but rather the fullness that the word implies – “manifestation” and discovery of it. It means we can actually participate in God's appearing into the world around us; in fact, we are urged to. As Emilie Griffin writes in God With Us, “not by denying the uncomfortable facts of our environment and our troubled societies, but by letting the Incarnate Christ transform us. The God life within us will strengthen us in times of war and peace. And with transformed hearts we will do what we can for our anxious neighbours and our societies.”

Truth: When we neglect to reflect on the Christian story and attend church together, we lose the facts and experience of God dwelling with humanity. There are endless shortcomings of organized faith, valid grievances with religion that were not encounters with God but rather encounters with gross human error. When that truth halts our Christian interest, we miss the other stubborn truth that God's history has always been to communicate with and among people, despite the fact they cannot replicate holy love. It's the message of grace, and it waits for our attention.

Lorna Dueck is the executive producer of Listen Up TV

Originally published in The Globe and Mail, January 3, 2008.




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