IT IS HARD to know how much credence to give to the seasonal round of stories about creeping secularism: under-the-counter holy stamps, a choir told that its carols are too religious. . . It would be reassuring if politicians felt free to mention Christ without fear of a palaver. A satirical, politically correct nativity scene ends as Mary exclaims: “You mean my son has entered human history to deliver the message, ‘Hello, it’s winter’?”
The nature of Christ’s coming reveals the character of the God whom Christians worship: he does not force himself on unwilling sceptics. The time for celestial signposts is past. Even the miracles that Christ performed could be ignored and disbelieved, as events showed. But this does not spare Christians the pain of seeing people ignore Christ still — and not normally because of antagonism, but simply out of a vague fear that somebody, probably a Muslim or a secularist, will be offended. The fear is unfounded: the truths of the gospel can be stated clearly in public without any ill effect.
This, of course, is a challenge to the Church, since there is often little discernible benefit, either. It is easy to hear the story of the incarnation and remain unchanged. Christ’s parable of the seed scattered on the ground remains applicable. At Christmas, the soil is a rich mixture of memory, sentiment, habit, and longing, and so the tender shoots of faith take root more readily. Parishes make an extra effort to get people into church at Christmas. The same energy needs to be found in the new year to build the sort of nurturing, kindly, responsive community that will enable young faith to mature.