Christmas, violence & Sainsbury’s

‘Is this the greatest Christmas ad ever?’

A month ago, the British supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, released an ad commemorating the famous Christmas Day football match between British and German forces in 1914.

In this ad, the celebration of Christmas becomes a universally shared circuit-breaker in the constancy of violence. This connection of Christmas Day and the temporary ceasefire or hiatus in conflict is well established in the Western cultural memory.

So it is no surprise that many have commented on the shocking juxtaposition in the image we have been seeing again and again over the last 24 hours. There is a red and gold Lindt chocolate sign on a glass window, wishing ‘Merry Christmas’; and there are the faces of two frightened hostages, holding up a black and white flag under threat of harm.

Our prayers go out on behalf of everyone affected by this terrible action: for the families, friends & colleagues of those killed; for those who have survived the ordeal, both hostages & police; for protection against similar, isolated incidents; for our Muslim neighbours – both for the vast majority who do not see non-Muslims as their enemy, and equally for those who do.

Many good and helpful things have already been written about these events. I want to add just one more thing.

Christmas is about peace; but it has always been surrounded by violence.

This morning I spoke at the Anglicare Christmas Service on the journey of the Magi to Bethlehem, in Matthew 2:1-18. It is a beautiful & moving story, with a shattering close:

‘When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.’

Herod, named King of the Jews in 40BC by the Roman Senate, grew increasingly paranoid about his position between 8 & 4BC. When he heard that another King of the Jews – the true King – had been born, he acted as swiftly as he could. Since the events of Matthew 2 happened over more than a year, Herod couldn’t be sure exactly when Jesus Christ was born. So, to be safe, he had every child born in Bethlehem within a window of 2 years executed.

Christmas has been associated with violence from the beginning. And this is unsurprising, though tragic, since Christmas is the story of the true King coming to bring peace by claiming the throne that is his. And that throne is contested – by our own idolatrous hearts, by states and institutions and corporations, by the spirit of our age.

The very violence that we have just witnessed is the overflow of this contest. It is the manifestation of the brokenness of a world that has rebelled against its Creator to seek prosperity elsewhere, but has found only fear & suffering. And it is to this violence that Jesus Christ comes, the King who will bring peace precisely because he will bring his glorious, universal & eternal rule.

Phil 2:5       In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6    Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7     rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8     And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9     Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10     that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11     and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

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