From The Archives: The Substance of Christmas

Editorial Team
Muslim Christian Seeking Asylum

Worship Leader Magazine, November/December 2007

On a recent trip to England, I watched a BBC News account of a young man from a Muslim country who had come to England as an asylum seeker. He had fled his native country because as a convert to Christianity, his life was in danger. The man was refused asylum on religious grounds because he failed to prove he was a Christian. The proof of his faith was assessed through a series of questions put to him by an immigration officer reading from a list of official questions, some of which he could not answer: How do you cook a Christmas turkey? What does the Christmas tree symbolize? What is the name of the season before Christmas? What is the birth date of Jesus Christ?

I was gobsmacked at these “proofs” of faith in Christ. Had this person ever actually celebrated Christmas in his homeland, he would have been killed, never mind the turkey. And he would never have seen anything but palm trees, much less an evergreen Christmas tree. Further, no one knows the exact date of Jesus’ birth, and unless one belongs to a high church tradition, he would not know that the name of the season before Christmas is Advent. The British government decided to “repatriate” this man, which probably means he has received his death sentence. And he is not alone; there are other former Muslims seeking asylum on religious grounds who cannot answer these questions.

Who’s to Blame?

At first, I was simply angry at the authorities for their treatment of this believer and their superficial, shallow view of the Christian faith. Then I wondered if one reason these questions were compiled in the first place was partly our fault—we Christian artists who sometimes offer sen- sentimental, even trivial images of Christmas and Christ. Are we partly guilty?

Have we become immune to the Glory of God?

Have we made God small?

In defense of artists who must yearly concoct a fresh theatrical approach to the Story, it is difficult to bring a new take on a familiar narrative. But we have perhaps too often presented Christmas as a charming family time around a richly laden table, with a fabulously decorated tree in the background and everyone singing, and we’ve not gone much deeper to illuminate the significance of the Incarnation. In the last 50 years, we’ve produced zillions of pageants, plays and concerts, but what have we communicated?

What have people remembered?

Have we crafted the story, or cranked out a cute production?

Seeking a Real Home

This Christmas, let’s remember that our world is full of asylum seekers. They’re not necessarily fleeing their homes because of persecution, but many are looking for the real Jesus. They long to know how to have a strong and deep faith in Christ that anchors them in a wobbly world. Our audiences contain people whose lives are empty or full of pain and chaos. Some come because it’s Christmas and they want to be part of a celebration or a tradition. Some seek asylum in a spiritual shelter where truth brings security, community brings healing, and God makes sense out of life through His amazing love.

Shining in Excellence

We can give them engaging dramas that reveal scriptural truth, dramas that may even be quaint and charming. So as we create and perform, let’s not preach or be heavy-handed, but instead take seriously the responsibility to present memorable, true, provoking images and ideas through enacted relationships shining with artistic excellence. Let’s produce work that illuminates, illustrates and delicately captures hearts, surprising people with eternal truth. Characters need not be biblical, but they do need to be relevant. Plots should not be predictable, but they do need to en- gage the imagination on a deep level.

We must ask ourselves how to communicate the depth and wonder of the Son’s arrival, somehow providing a glimpse of the astounding, liberating truth and purpose of God’s miraculous presence on earth. He will help us. Christ’s presence on earth means so much more than warm family times, cute kids in costume or an artful homage to a nostalgic age that never existed. Sure, we may use sweet, homespun characters to tell our tale, but this Christmas, let’s leave the audience with substance, not sentiment.

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