It is said that this country is only nominally Christian and that there are places in the UK where Christianity is a minority religion. Of course Christianity has been a minority religion in other countries since the time of Christ. Neither is the recent persecution of Christians anything new, though the portrayal in news items is somewhat different. For us, here in the UK, should we be concerned about our eastern neighbours and the so called rise of Islam? Firstly I think we can say that any life taken in the name of religion is one too many. Christianity has its share of bloody histories, ours are not clean hands. We as Christians are not known for our good treatment of our neighbours. As Gandhi said: “An eye for an eye makes us both blind” Gandhi – a Buddhist proclaimed himself as a follower of Jesus.
So what about our Christmas that seems to be so under threat in this country? The question is of course, from where does our Christmas celebration arise? The pagan midwinter festival on 21st coincides with the celebration of Christmas and coincidentally (or not) includes feasting. The twelve days of Christmas which to Christians signify the journey of the Magi, happily coincides with the twelve day pagan festival. Candles feature heavily in the Jewish midwinter festival of Hanukkah a festival celebrating renewal of faith and commemorating the rededication of the temple. The Roman festival Saturnalia also featured many candles. It was the Victorians who resurrected Christmas and kept the bits they liked, ditched the bits they didn’t. We end up singing strange Christmas Carols which we don’t quite understand any more. Christmas always was a multicultural festival. Christians alone cannot make claim to it. Not even to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Take the old Mhugal Mosque in Fatehpur Sikri. On the gateway is inscribed the following:
Jesus, Son of Mary on whom be peace said: “The world is a bridge. Pass over it, but build no houses upon it. He who hopes for a day may hope for eternity but the world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen.
Why on the main Mosque should there be a quotation from Jesus – not perhaps one we are familiar with from our western scriptures – but attributed nonetheless to Jesus, Son of Mary. Jesus is important to Muslims too. There is a wealth of sayings about Jesus in Islamic writings which have been lost to western Christianity. Indeed Mary is revered in Islamic scriptures. Rather than fearing the idea of a multicultural Christmas, it is one time of the year that Muslims and Christians can truly come together and pray with each other celebrating the birth of Jesus and working towards a future which is built upon understanding and peace rather than hate and mistrust. The gift of Christmas is the Christ Child, a gift we must share.