Christmas is undoubtedly the most exuberantly celebrated celebration in our culture: witness the numerous Christmas markets, street decorations, the atmosphere music in shopping streets, and the family celebrations, extensive dining, fun and gifts, often to the abundant. The story behind it, however, is increasingly disappearing into the background, fading, evaporating … The cheerful Santa Claus has culturally repressed the tender Christmas child, as it sometimes seems. For many, those stories about the stall and the manager, the ox and the donkey, the sages and the star are just a kind of vague fairy tale, like those of the Brothers Grimm.: sea-sweet and moving, but purely invented. Although no one can verify the exact historical facts about the birth of Jesus, there are still important differences: this is a person who has really lived, walked around and preached, and who has radically changed history. So let us not use the word ‘fairy tale’ or ‘myth’ too quickly. This birth story also exudes a large number of values that are quite countercultural, both in that time and today. The ‘Savior of the world’ who is born in a stable, even Hollywood could hardly have invented such a scenario. The performances we make of it, about Joseph and Mary on their donkey to Bethlehem and who got their baby in the straw: it looks like a woolly, pinkish story from an old children’s storybook, but it was raw reality for them. In terms of experience, it is very close to stories of young families fleeing from war who have to give birth during a trip in a bus shelter. And it has something very contradictory that we celebrate this story with exclusive expensive snacks and overwhelm each other with the latest digital gadgets.
But for the God of the Bible, this should not be so strange, because He is the ‘director’ who has staged it all. Why? What was the hidden ‘script’ behind this strange scenario that nobody understood at the time – and I wonder who understands it today. Why could not He let his son be born in the imperial palace in Rome, in satin sheets, with trumpet and drum roll, with rows of high-ranking people who came to sit down for their homage? That would have been much more logical and simpler? But not, because God does not think as cliché and stereotyped as people. You can expect a surprise from him every day, say: a miracle. When we think we ‘understand’ Him, He frustrates us again by coming out from another angle.
There are some striking aspects in the Christmas events that go against our culture, or actually against all human tendencies. A baby is already extremely weak and fragile anyway: it is really helpless and could not possibly survive on its own. The same baby in a trough in a stable is this even more because the environment is then also hostile. And if the poor family had hoped that the worst was over, the misery only started: the tyrannical king Herod was in his paranoia intent on killing this birth in blood. This baby was thus attacked from the first days of his life by the absolute monarch, who did not at all his aggression and repression. Now Joseph and Mary became really refugees. It was even an ‘intercontinental flight’: from Asia to Africa. But it was far from nice because Egyptians looked down on their Jewish neighbors with contempt. And yet this was not a problem for that God to put his own son in such a scenario. He stood there with great reassurance to look at, knowing that it would all be alright. A baby already speaks of frailty, but in those circumstances, it was the double vulnerability. There is a lot of life energy to protect and protect ourselves: material, financial, emotional, relational … Think of all possible ‘insurances’ against every conceivable risk and all security today. We organize our lives so that we are safe and covered, even if we have to build thick walls. Why then does this God so deliberately and radically choose for vulnerability? Well eh, maybe exactly to do something about those thick walls? Because those thick walls of self-defense are at the same time also walls in which we imprison ourselves, do not we?
In our time, individualism and autonomy are glorified as secular dogmas: we must be inaccessible, untouchable, unperturbed. The modern man places himself on the throne and wants to play for god there: he strives for omnipotence and immortality. Our culture continuously teaches us to stand on our own feet, not to need anyone, to be complacent. Dependency sounds like a curse word. We must always look cool and cool, but in the meantime, we walk on our toes until we get cramps. Vulnerability drives us to fear, yes, but at the same time, it brings us closer to the bare core of existence: who am I when everything around me falls away? When all masks and beautiful appearances fall, and I ‘stripped’ of all the tierlantijntjes? When I have been completely driven out of my comfort zone? Or, if the package is torn off, is it clear that the box is empty? Glamor and glitter are often like a smokescreen to hide our inner insecurity, creating a false security or a fake identity. There is great power in those who dare to pose themselves vulnerable: he dares to drop his self-defense and show his weaknesses. It’s disarming, is not it? It is true, more authentic. It creates proximity and real contact.
But it is a risk: the outstretched hand can be ignored, the good intention can be misused, someone can stab a dagger in the weak spot. That is why it is courageous to do. You must be willing to cash. You must be sure enough of who you really are. The vulnerability is a strength. Those who dare to take a step towards real humanity are refreshingly authentic. He wants to make a deep connection. Behind this Christmas story is not only a different image of man, but also a different image of God, which was quite revolutionary for that time. The Greek gods on the Olympusberg prefer to stay far away from the people: the mortals could not even come close, because this was hybrids (‘hubris’) that was always severely punished. The gods remained on their high mountain, in their “sacred isolation,” and would never humble themselves by descending. The Christmas story speaks of a God who does not keep away from the mortals, not even from their suffering. He chooses as a place of birth a dirty trough in a stable that smelled of manure, in a context of infanticide and flight. He even knows in advance that He will be rejected, stricken and chased, mocked and spit on, and eventually even crucified, but this does not scare Him off. Weakness is a different kind of power. Love always takes risks. He’s talking about it, because that’s what it’s worth to him to really connect with people. This ‘director’ is also constantly misunderstood in the world. But he was not mistaken: the scenario turned out to ‘work’: this vulnerable and upsetting baby has changed the world more profoundly than the then Roman emperor Augustus in his white marble palace. After 2000 years still have 2.5 billion followers, you do not just do that. He has apparently hit the right, sensitive string in people. How he did that is another story …
The Christmas days are behind us. Days of family fun, with Christmas lights in the hedge, and a Christmas tree with packages underneath. And next to those parcels, a Christmas stalls-with-baby-Jesus. A stall that was packed in that big cardboard box where ‘Christmas decoration’ gets up and that, without any discussion or major considerations, is set up with the Christmas tree. My party also has a Christmas stall. It is the first letter of her name: the C-of-CD & V. A C which is not discussed internally, which the members perceive as ‘belonging to the standard package’, but which we do not waste too many words on. Which we do not ‘explain’ internally or externally. And I would like to see that differently. “CD & V? No, that with that belief and things is nothing for me” Because today, as Flemish Christian Democrats, we have opportunities in two areas when we fail to highlight what that C stands for. And also, what she does not stand for. After all, I regularly speak with young people who tell me that CD & V does not appeal to them because ‘all that religious or church is nothing for them’. Error: CD & V is not a religious or religious party. Believers of all tendencies and non-believers are welcome at CD & V. That was already the case at the establishment of the CVP in 1945, but still this is not clear enough today. Not that for personal reasons I would like to contrast myself with the church: on the contrary, as a practicing Catholic – with progressive stamp – I would like to thank the Flemish church community. Only politics, and a choice for CD & V, is not a question of religious convictions, but of values conviction. And now let that C be incredibly value-full.
“CD & V, what do you stand for”? A question that CD & V people sometimes get is ‘what do you really mean for now’? And we also respond to this. That today we are the only center party in Flanders. That we consider principles such as stewardship, personalism, and subsidiarity important. Difficult notions, but with some explanation we can convince the questioner of the value behind these concepts. What we need to be able to explain much more concretely at that moment is what our priorities are, what we are really putting in front of . Or, what is unacceptable to us, the red lines that we will never exceed. The option for the weakest ones And that C provides very clear ground principles. To pick out one that is close to my heart: the option for the weakest. The unconditional non-abandonment of disabled, mentally ill, homeless, illegal immigrants, drug addicts. A diverse group of people in a precarious situation, in which they have sometimes ended up in their own way. Of people who, according to some, do not produce anything economically and may never do that again. But who deserve our unconditional support. Un-conditional. In a society that imposes more and more conditions.
An open, inviting C that appeals to new groups
I also believe that by putting our C more forward as an open, inviting, but valuable C, new people will call themselves Christian Democrat. For example, I notice that many New Flemish people – with diverse backgrounds or religious convictions – strongly value family values, attach importance to openness to ideology, adhere to ethical care as well. Values that are specific to the C. Although we count a lot of New Flemings in our ranks, the C remains a barrier for many others to this day. While the net should be our unique selling proposition. I hope that as CD & V we will polish our Christmas stalls again, realize what it is all about beautiful, and dare to explain to others why it is still under our tree.