WE ARE TOLD FREQUENTLY that Christmas is a time of giving. It is a time when we give our money to retailers for consumer goods that many us can't really afford and which we give to family and friends who probably don't really need them.
While it is true that encouraging the frenetic consumption of essentially disposable products can no longer be the goal of our economic system, its a message that, at this time of the year, gets buried under a landslide of advertising urging us to buy, buy, buy. And then you can spend even more money you haven’t got at the Boxing Day sales.
Of course Christmas isn't supposed to be a time of regimented fun orchestrated by a capitalism gone mad. We are also told this it is a time to mark and reflect on the life and times of a man who gave birth to one of the world's major religions.
That meaning is wrapped up in the Nativity scene we are all familiar with. Jesus, the son of God, born in a manger under a star that guided the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. The child grew into blameless man. He became the Christ, the saviour of Humanity, his miraculous deeds recounted in the Bible.
For many people, this is enough. They find meaning in a story that they judge to be true. Whether there has been any critical assessment gone into that judgment is open to debate.
But many us recoil at this interpretation of Jesus because it requires us to leaves our critical faculties parked at the entrance to the church. We find it as believable as the story of a jolly fat man in a red suit flying through the sky in a sleigh pulled by seven reindeer.
But this interpretation of Jesus is exactly that - an interpretation. It is an interpretation born of political expediency and choices made. Hidden behind this Jesus, a strangely ethereal figure unconcerned with mundane earthly matters, stands a historical Jesus grounded in the material conditions of his time. This is the Jesus many of us would understand and perhaps be inspired by, if only the story was told.
This is Jesus the Jewish revolutionary. This is the historical Jesus who sought to build a political movement that challenged the Roman occupation, the Jesus who declared that the status quo was corrupt, who defied the corpulent priesthood.
That Jesus has largely been lost - and not by accident. Christianity itself felt the need to distance itself from the revolutionary politics of its founder because, initially at least, it allowed the early church to escape retribution from the Roman Empire. A Jesus depicted as a peaceful, law abiding spiritual leader was one Rome could tolerate. This was the Jesus that left us with little more than a few platitudes and some inspirational thoughts.
In 325 C.E. (Common Era) the Nicene Creed formally sanctioned the orthodox belief of the Christian Church - Jesus was the Messiah. The long evolution of Jesus the revolutionary leader to the Son of God was complete.
The real Jesus that has been largely forgotten - and is nowhere to be found at Christmas - is the Jesus who took on the most powerful empire in the world. Yes, he may of lost - but it is an inspiring story that resonates even today. Many of us would draw parallels with our struggles. And, like Jesus, we too are confronted by a powerful empire - one that will anoint a new Caesar on January 20 next year.
Have a good one. See you in 2017.