Christmas in the commuinty
Christmas is our most conspicuous cultural reminder of a more thoroughly-Christian society. And while it's true that Christmas is steadily becoming secularised, it is still a time of year when Christianity and wider culture experience a temporary convergence.
For just a few weeks it's appropriate to go to events where Jesus is spoken of, even to join in singing songs about his birth and future return.
Christian concerns which are drowned out at other times of year momentarily come to the fore; "it is more blessed to give than to receive', the importance of inclusion, a concern for those in need, and so on.
Because of this brief convergence, churches recognise Christmas as an opportunity to draw people to Christ.
At Dundas we try to capitalise by running seasonal events that present the gospel. As well as family-friendly Christmas services we host open-air carols at the local school. We have a women's Christmas event with an evangelistic speaker (this year we'll be making hand-crafted Christmas ornaments). Church members are being encouraged to co-ordinate Christmas street parties as a follow-up to doorknocking their neighbours for Connect09.
But what about those for whom Christmas itself is a foreign idea? In Dundas we have many neighbours who come from a Chinese Buddhist background, and I asked a few such mums at our weekly Kidsarts club how they felt about Christmas.
The first thing that struck me was how willing they were to discuss religion. They assumed broad similarities between Buddhism and Christianity. They perceived both religions as concerned with morality, and a beyond-this-life accountability for the way you live.
Picking up on the "convergence' mentioned above, Christmas is also a time when our multicultural society becomes more monocultural, and these women understood Christmas very much as a Western festival. Some didn't have the tradition of gift-giving, and it was a time when they felt less in synch with the wider community. But they enjoyed the fairy lights, nativity scenes, cards, family time and general goodwill in the community and wanted to be a part of that.
The actual message of Christmas "” of Jesus coming into the world "” was seen as perplexing. It was "very foreign" and Western to them, quite different from their Eastern world view. It was easy for them to see it as culturally relative and "not for me".
I think they found the whole concept of a personal God becoming a human being incredible. But the women were very open to their children being involved in Christian activities at Christmas time. They believed that if their children are to grow up in a Western culture, they should know about that Western culture. They could find out about it and then "make up their own mind".
The women I spoke to were perfectly willing to come to church activities with their children at Christmas and were open to talking about matters of faith.
Ironically, the cultural convergence which means Anglos are more reachable at Christmas may be a barrier to some non-Anglos for whom it reinforces the notion that Christianity has a Western cultural message rather than a universal one.
We need to keep connecting all year round, so we can communicate the message that when Jesus came into the world he showed himself to be Lord of all.
RUTH LUKABYO, Evangelism and Church History lecturer at Youthworks College, attends Dundas Anglican Church