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Celebration of Christmas this year
These days, especially in this Advent season, I was reflecting on the message of Christmas. Christmas is of peace, joy and love. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, epitome of love, a hope for all humanity, the Saviour of the world. He was a non-citizen of any country, not owned a citizenship of any nation!
Christmas is the event of God becoming man, they say.... Christmas is the beginning of man becoming God too…or he tells us what we all can become, if we live like Him.
A glance at the situation around us in this Christmas season is alarming. It is of hatred, of violence, of rejection, of suppression, of oppression, of segregation and division, and of making many homeless in their own homeland! Seemingly a hopeless situation is all around us!! The intensity is more when the highest authorities in many countries of our time behave like Caesar of Jesus’ time, ordering a census of all and Citizens to prove that they are legally valid to live in! Mary and Joseph faced the same situation of 19 lakh odd people of Assam due to CAA and the proposed NRC. Mary and Jesus had to go too far to register their names to prove their citizenship! Mary and Joseph are a proto type of those rejected people of our time! They were refugees too like millions of them from the Middle East, Myanmar, war torn African nations, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
There is hope in Jesus. He was an antithesis of what the world believed in. In the midst of uncertainties He came to give us hope.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the Emmanuel, God-with-us. How shall we experience God with us now? How can we give hope to the families of those who were brutally hacked to death by a brain washed, fanatic miscreants? How can we give hope and peace of Christmas to the many families of the Muslim brothers who are lynched in our country this year? What were their faults? Was that they were not born in any Muslim royal families of Arabia? Was it that they born and brought up in Indian soil? How can we preach hope to the rape victims of many places in India? How can we give the message of peace to our Dalit brothers and sisters who are unjustly maltreated every hour of the day in our country? How are we going to communicate the good news of Christmas to my fellow beings who suffered in Kandhamal? What will we tell the innumerable innocent under trials who are languishing in the jail for years, for no fault of theirs?
Yes, Christmas is upon us, a celebration of the birth of the most charismatic and inspiring influential human being to walk the earth. And we must celebrate for sure. But how?
What was the context of Jesus? Was the context of Jesus different from that of ours? Jesus came to a hostile world. The major religion and its powerful authorities of His time were deadly against him. They were on the lookout for a mistake from Jesus, rather than looking for the goodness of Jesus. The religious establishment of Jesus time was in connivance with the political leadership. Herod, the ruler was so selfish, who wanted to eliminate the Child Jesus. Failed, he killed 2000 innocent baby boys! Violence in the name of religion was the order of the day. Roman power was controlling the situation in Palestine. Falsehood was propagated against non-Jews, and treated them unequal. Majoritarianism was ruling the roost. Dissenting voices were silenced. Prophets were murdered. Women were stoned to death. Religious rituals controlled human life. Samaritans and women of all sections, along with lepers and beggars were looked down upon. Organised violence was the order of the day. Religion was a burden on people. Religious interpretations were done by political leaders to suit their ulterior motives.
Palestine during Jesus time was a subject society, a purity society and a patriarchal society. The first century Palestine was a peasant society, characterized by a centralized government and based on a tributary mode of production. This tributary mode of production included its mechanisms of economic exploitation. If Jesus lived in that context, then his earthly ministry must be located within that reality. Various socio-political and economic crises such as: tributary mode of production, domination by external imperial powers like Rome, purity system and structures of patriarchy were the realities of Jesus time. In response to that, the Galilean Jesus who lived amidst all these in Palestine could not lose the opportunity to challenge these crises which marginalized and enslaved the majority of people. In his earthly ministry, Jesus did an ever-ending number of activities as part of his programme of social, political and economic renewal for the people of Israel.
Coming to the birth of Christ, it reminds me of the inhospitable world that Jesus was born. Yes, there are many children in the world born in similar situations, especially in India. Think of the children born in slums, in refugee camps, in riot hit relief camps! Think of the children born as outcastes outside the main village! Think of the girl children, unwanted at birth, and put to death soon after they are born! Think of the child abandoned after birth and having to live in an orphanage! Someone has said, “The Saviour is born in our midst every time a child is born in the periphery of society”. Think of the children who are born and going to be born to the victims of CAA.
Jesus became one among such children. He came among us not as so powerful as a prince or a ruler, but as a weak, vulnerable, powerless child. Powerlessness was His Power. When he became a man, he chose to be in solidarity with the poorest of the poor. He belongs to the margin of society, to be part of the people pushed to the margin by the selfishness and greed and injustice of the one who occupy the seats of power. So it is the selfishness of people that brought about the marginalisation of Jesus at His birth. Our selfishness marginalises people of our times.
If so how can we tell the people who are victimised in India today a Happy Christmas? Does our greeting have any meaning at all?
Look at Jesus’ response this inhospitable world to understand His greatness. He came to this world out of love for it to be its Saviour. The Gospel tells us, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life” (Jn 3: 16). It is true that the world rejected him. He never held this against the humanity. His teaching was, “do good to those who harm you’. So, the Christmas story is a story of TRUE Love. Love will not be love if it were to scorn those who reject it. Love by its very nature goes out to good and bad alike. Jesus told us...”Love your enemies.....so that you become sons and daughters of your Father in Heaven”. So it is clear the Christ-child does not take it amiss that mankind did not receive Him hospitably when He came.
So, conveying Happy Christmas to the victims of injustice and hate crime is proving that Christ and His followers are one with them in words and actions. We must convey hope, trust, confidence and human dignity. We must convey happy Christmas through our love and solidarity with the poor and the marginalised of all sections of the society. Standing with the victims of injustice and speaking for them makes us Christ like.
Child Jesus loved the mankind, He loved especially that part of the mankind that was not loved, that was victimised and marginalised by the ruling class and elite of His time. We need to do the same now. Did Jesus not form part of the marginalised group himself? The Christ-child undoubtedly experienced the life of the poor, marginalised, outcastes, rejected, migrants and refugees. He had to face many obstacles and hardships when he came into this world. All His life He had to live precariously, until the enemies got hold of him and falsely accused him of being a criminal, ant-national, anti-establishment, and succeeded in crucifying him!
But again He extended his love even to his enemies who worked against him and put him to death. In the midst of sufferings on the cross he said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”! So did his love shine out in the midst of all this inhospitality that mankind meted out to him! He won over violence by non-violence, hatred by love, revenge by forgiveness, and rejection by acceptance.
This is Christmas, this is true love, this is the story of God made man, this is the story of hope for us, of love over hatred, peace over violence, selflessness over selfishness, service over greed, harmony of all over hegemony of few, and positivity over negativity. This is Christmas and so we dare to say to all those who suffer unjustly a happy Christmas. It is not merely words, but through actions of solidarity. Through collaboration with all those who work for peace and harmony, networking with all those organisations and groups that work for communal and religious harmony, exposing all those elements who are blind to the realities of human life, denouncing hated that are results of any political ideology, working against the falsehood that are spread by media against the marginalised and minorities, exposing the very nature of extreme ideologies, and working unitedly to mitigate the sufferings of people, standing with Constitutional values of India, and embracing all as God’s children for a better world in which all are respected and accepted. As Pope Francis said, "To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn't lock itself into darkness, that doesn't dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow."
If we do so individually and collectively, with creativity and hope our Christmas wishes will have a meaning. Otherwise, our wishes are empty words without any meaning or relation with Jesus, the Saviour.
Merry Christmas to all!
Sunny Jacob SJ
- Writer is the Secretary of Jesuit Education of South Asia (JEA)