A Bemused Muslim
A few years ago, a Muslim postgraduate and I had a frank discussion in a quiet corner of the university library, about fidelity to God and religious practice in Australia. Christmas was drawing near and he was due to return home shortly. He confided that back in Indonesia, he had been made to believe that Australia had a Christian heritage. However, he had found that the popular celebration of Christian feasts, such as Christmas, belied his expectations. There seemed to be amazing emphasis on decorations, lights, Christmas trees, food, festivity, parties; on Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in shopping malls. And there were enticing ads and their hardly subtle message: “Buy. Buy. Buy. Have a good time. You owe this to yourself, and to your family and loved ones. The more expensive your gift, the greater the proof of your love for those near and dear to you. Can’t afford it? Relax! Use a credit card to tide you over. Go on a holiday? Perhaps a ‘barbie’ by the beach? A cruise? Remember, that to spend is good for the economy.”
My Muslim friend politely asked, “What really is Christmas? How and where does Christ fit into people’s thinking and behaviour during this season?” “And what about Easter, with its chocolate eggs and bunnies?” “Is this what Christian celebration is about?” “What does the Bible say about all this?” “Have both simple and sophisticated Christians of the ‘west’ given away or lost sight of their spiritual legacy? Have they succumbed to materialism, consumerism and commercialism?”
[What would you have said to him in reply?]
Joy is the hope of every human being. How many find it? What is true joy?
Is it not the fee gift of God, the quiet exultation which fills the heart of everyone who seeks the Lord and His will? Is it not the peace that flows from a clear and clean conscience, of the soul loved and forgiven, tended and strengthened through prayer and through the ministry of the Church? Is it not there in the promise of Christmas and the victory of the Risen Christ over sin and death? Is it not joy the command of Scripture? Is not joy our eternal destiny?
We are a people called to rejoice. Always. At all times. Everywhere. However deep the darkness, however threatening the danger, however seemingly cruel the pain, however debilitating the sickness, however deep the ache of separation from loved ones. Does not true joy come through repentance for sin and repentance for the gross presumption which is its twin? Joy through being forgiven and from forgiving those who hurt us? Joy, not from riches and creature comforts, but from lived trust in the Lord, and in our resolution to turn away from sin and to live in the love and the mercy of God, and then to embrace it, drink of it, and yield to its caress.
The time for true joy is now. In Christ. Joy for us. Joy to the world. So we rejoice, not as those whose mind is set on earthly things or beset by fear of what may lie ahead. Not as those whose god is their belly. Not as our materialistic culture urges us to do, forgetful of heaven and our accountability to the Lord God.
Words of Scripture
‘For although the fig tree is not to blossom, nor will the vines bear fruit, the olive crop will disappoint and the fields will yield no food; the sheep will vanish from the fold; no cattle in the stalls. But I shall rejoice in Yahweh, I shall exult in God my Saviour. Yahweh, my Lord is my strength, he will make my feet as light as a doe’s, and set my steps on the heights (Habakkuk 3 : 17 -19)
‘Rejoice under all circumstances. Be joyful always.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’ (Philippians 4:4)
* With Mary, our beloved mother, ‘Cause of our joy, Refuge of sinners and Comfort of the afflicted’ may our souls glorify, indeed magnify the Lord, above all else, and our spirit rejoice at all times in God our Saviour.
* Almighty and merciful God, let neither our daily work nor the cares of this life prevent us from hastening to meet your Son. Enlighten us with your wisdom, and lead us into his company (Divine Office, Morning prayer, Sunday week 2 of Advent)