LAST year, my Christmas present was a novel called “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and, as it turns out, some of the “Mad Russian’s” thoughts were incredibly prophetic.
He was writing when Marxism was on the rise in Europe, and capitalism developing in the West. One of his characters, a monk named Father Zosima, said that in 100 years people would be living in closer proximity and have more possessions than at any point in history, but would also be lonelier than ever before.
This is so often the reality in our modern, Western world. Despite the significant prosperity, security and well-being in Australia, isolation, depression, and a lack of communities are all very evident.
This is one of the reasons why Christmas is so important.
The Christmas story of Mary and Joseph reminds us not only of God sharing our humanity, but also the difficult journey that brings together a family.
Several hundred years ago, the “state” (or at least the historical version) was seen as being made up not of individuals but of families. This was the fundamental unit of societies. This shift towards the individual as the key unit in Western society was theological and political.
Firstly, some church denominations began to move towards adult rather than child baptisms. This may seem abstract, but the change was significant. More focus was put on an individual decision rather than a community of faith. This in turn influenced the political shift towards individualism as religious freedom was emphasised and Liberalism was born.
This shift towards individual focus has had significant benefits throughout the world including greater women’s rights, child protection, economic growth and universal suffrage.
However, it is also evident that in this journey we have lost something in terms of close familial relationships.
The family is, by nature, the foundation of civil society. It provides a layer of protection from abuses in wider society or from the state, it creates a safety net of economic and emotional support, and (surprisingly for some parents) it is still the key influencer of values for children and teenagers. Put bluntly, families are the most important factor in a stable society as well as individual human flourishing.
My intention is not to cause discomfort for those people who are part of broken or scattered families, indeed I count myself among this number. Rather, it is to remind that the ideal of the strong, multi-generational family unit is something we must continue to strive for, and not be complacent about.
Certainly, around this time of year there will be holiday conflicts, but perhaps this is something to be grateful for as they provide the opportunity for deeper relationships and indeed greater love and forgiveness.
Therefore, this Christmas make the most of the time you have. Bless each other, share meals, give thanks together, and maybe even take the opportunity to include those who don’t have a family.
At its heart, the Christmas message is about right relationships, with God and each other. You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.
The last two sentences are attributed to Desmond Tutu.
Nick Jensen is a director of the ACT Australian Christian Lobby