In this sense the word Christmas belongs to our communities – it means all those things - along with family gatherings - is the central focus for Advent celebrations.
Christmas in this sense is what is referred to as "folk" theology – it involves community - such as a Carols by Candlelight / Torchlight, a shopping centre, a work Christmas party, a Rotary celebration, whatever … and then there is the family "folk" which is a little different in that it is exclusive to the members of that family.
The word exclusive in this context is something desirable – I for one enjoy our annual Tweed Heads Chamber of Commerce Christmas party, I enjoy the various ministry Christmas parties and of course, our family gathering – this year it is our turn to have everyone home from every-which-way – this happens every second year.
Then there is a different question for me as a Christian, in that I completely understand the nature of this "folk" Christmas. I also get the idea that as a follower of Jesus, celebrating the birth of Jesus at Christmas is an 'exclusive' celebration which only makes sense to a believer with an understanding of the 'eternal'.
At this point let me introduce to you a theological debate from Luke 2 verse 14 – this verse records the angels words celebrating the birth of Jesus: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men" (NKJ) and other translations have the word - "goodwill to men".
These two quite different words reveal two very different theological frameworks within Christian thinking. The word "to" men embraces the idea that the Christmas event is ultimately a "folk" experience and there is really nothing that will inhibit an eventual universalism of Salvation.
Whereas if the word is - "toward" men – this presupposes that ultimately there is a choice that each man (generic) makes relating to what they do with this Jesus. Salvation therefore depends not on an open door policy but on an exclusivity policy. So we're back to this word "exclusive".
I recall that almost 40 years ago in seminary, unpicking this one verse, took up an entire one hour lecture. These two very different theological expressions of the Scripture spells out two very different philosophical outworking of our concept of Christmas. With the former, central is this idea of a 'folk' celebration, in the latter it is far more cut and dry, there is 'a sense of bereavement' as some we love and hold dear choose not the Cross.
This word "exclusive" is generally used in materialistic way. An 'exclusive' address, an 'exclusive' school, an 'exclusive' club … these relate to money and status. It can also apply to our personal tastes in what we buy. In one of the episodes of the hilarious television sitcom episodes, 'Keeping up Appearances', Patricia Routledge who plays the eccentric, social-climbing snob Hyacinth Bucket, finds herself in the same dress as one of her guests. One might imagine the drama.
The idea of an 'exclusive' product, is seen to be something desirable but usually unattainable. I read where if you want to be 'seen' but not too-much the car for you in the Bentley. In 2002, Bentley presented Queen Elizabeth II with an official State Limousine to celebrate the Golden Jubilee. 'Exclusivity' is the name of the game when it comes to this car, with a price tag above $405,714 plus costs. I read this past week where Prince William and Princess Catherine have just secured their own Bentley for around $446,000.
The 'materialistic idea' of something like the Bentley was not a priority of Jesus'. The story of the rich man who did not go to Abraham's bosom, and the poor man, Lazarus, who did, is told in Luke 16 verses 19-31. It is only one of many such stories about how "wealth alone" cannot guarantee entry to the exclusive 'Kingdom of God'.
It is important to recognise individuals can choose whether to save their pennies and buy an item of beauty (an exclusive item) or join a group such as a Craft Class which is exclusive to those interested in craft. This is similar to Christian belief because each individual person can choose. It's in the hands of the individual. In this sense it's absurd to refer to such a decision as a community event, yet the community is involved. It's like the biblical notion of marriage, the bedroom is exclusive and why in the Scriptures it is one of the two reasons that allow divorce - when the exclusivity of the marriage bed is broken.
The Old Testament's imagery of the marriage bed relationship between God and his covenant people illustrates this 'exclusivity' (such as worshipping a foreign god, an idol, God is a jealous God), and it follows that Christianity is 'exclusive' - it excludes those who do not have Faith in the Lord Jesus. John 3 verse 16 is defined more succinctly in John 3 verse 18. ("But he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God"). Jesus' Salvation is exclusive.
The choice is within the heart and mind of each person, individually. The question becomes for each person: "Do I or Don't I".
Cricket is in the air. This exclusivity is likened to a batsman when given out by the umpire of life. The parable is that the innings is over. It's pointless walking off the pitch and displaying the shot one should have played. The decision is done and dusted. The only question remaining is which pavillion is the batsman headed to?
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at