There are times when it seems that spectator sport is taking over the world. While in Victoria we are recovering from the AFL Grand Final with its public holiday and gearing up for the Melbourne Cup with its public holiday, a Big Bash League cricket game is being planned for Christmas Day.
This is yet another reminder, as have been AFL and NRL football matches played on Good Friday, that Australia is not formally a Christian society and that big sporting events are as much public rituals as were games and spectacles at the Colosseum in the Roman Empire.
These events bring citizens together. They also celebrate and reflect the corporate values of our day. We may regret the passing of a former era but they are part of the world in which we live.
With these changes, however, we may risk losing something precious, important for us both as Australians and as Christians. These feasts offer a space for reflection on the larger and deeper elements of our lives.
They invite us to immerse ourselves in a world of gift in our personal lives, our families and our communities. They allow us to recognise something precious even in the messy abrasions of our everyday relationships.
These elements of Christmas and other Christian feasts lie deeper than the commercially driven big events and promotions that have taken them over. If they are not to be swamped or choked, we need consciously to give them space and to work at it both personally and also as a Church.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters in celebrating the fast of Ramadan and breaking the feast at Eid, and our Jewish brothers and sisters in their celebration of Passover and other feasts, show us the way in this. Their celebrations reveal them as communities prepared to sail into the wind of the commercial values of our public culture. That is why their celebrations are a gift to our society as a whole.
When Christmas is celebrated like this in Christian families and churches, it too is a gift to society. It is neither big nor a bash. It focuses on the small things of God’s presence – on family, on children, on affection.
It is not about crowds, exhibitions or big spending. It focuses on the intimacies of personal relationships and play, not on noisy camaraderie and competition.
If we make space for these things through our church communities, Good Friday football, Sunday shopping and Christmas Day cricket will fall into place as diversions from work we can welcome, expressions of commercial values we can shrug off, and as incidental noise in the society to which we happily belong.
Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial