WHAT DOES CHRISTMAS MEAN TO ME?
Have you noticed how familiar things can look different, depending on the background against which we see them? A red object looks orange against a yellow background, and it appears purplish against a blue background. The impact of Christmas is some times very much like that to me. Christmas in England for most people is about customs and traditions of having a Christmas tree, opening presents, eating turkey, Christmas puddings and mince pies, listening very respectfully to Her Majesty’s Christmas message and so on. The real excitement of Christmas came to us after the birth of our daughter, then having my nephew and his children, and those, lonely, stranded, foreign students of mine around for Christmas. Therefore, the background and circumstances alter the character of Christmas for everyone. For most people, Christmas is just another family occasion of giving and receiving, forgetting and forgiving, remembering and renewing friendships. It is also a time of reaching out to our families and friends to make them happy.
In all of this we may miss the message God wants us to hear. For many people, however, the Christmas story is pure fantasy, story for the children. The shepherds had no problems. It was their first Christmas! Unhindered by tradition and preconceived ideas, commercial pressures, they heard very clearly what God was saying to them. God spoke to them in a spectacular way. They were afraid, but not side tracked by the sight and sounds of God’s glory and His angels that they did not miss the message God had for them on that very special night; “go to Bethlehem, where you find the saviour of the world.” The scene at Bethlehem was not very spectacular in a worldly sense- a baby and his parents in cattle shed nothing very much to gloat about. The wonder of the advent season is that the Son of God came to a very ordinary, falling and failing world which was full of disappointed people fast losing hope. God confirmed His message by doing what He said He would do. God speaks to us in spectacular ways and by working out His promises in our lives. If we miss the message it is because we can not distinguish His voice through sounds of Christmases Past and present.
I believe there is more to Christmas celebration and the secular world is missing out on it. Perhaps it is only in the relatively trivial incidents of our daily lives that human beings can see God. May be effort of the thoughtfulness of buying presents and sending cards, or attempting to heal some of those painful divisions that comes between members of a family or a parish does reflect more truly the idea of “God with us” than any amount of talk about salvation, paradise and eternal life. The story of Jesus is one of giving himself away, to the shepherds, to the Magi and, above all to His Father. The story of Jesus is also one of spreading light, at Christmas, Jesus, the light, shines in the darkness, but very few receive the light: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and a few shepherds. ‘Our world needs witnesses more than it needs preachers.’ Christmas will have its true meaning if people see us living out our faith with courage, if they see that we are a community where there is kindness and forgiveness, if we reach out to hold and to heal the wounded, the weak and the suffering among us then others will know who we are, and what we are celebrating at Christmas. Therefore, Christmas to me is a time for reaching out; when each of us must give thanks for the goodness we have experienced from God and seek to share that goodness with others. This is the only way, the Christian way of rescuing the crude commercialisation of Christmas in the high streets.
The good news of Christmas season is hope and reconciliation. In the midst of all disturbing news, financial meltdown, and the carnage at Mumbai and other places, Christmas renews our faith in the promise of peace on earth, and calls us once again to praise God whose glory extends over all creation and beyond all our imagination. Jesus came to us as a child threatened by violence, as a refugee whose family fled due to the selfish interests of a king. It is a time, for offering our, thanks and praise for the gift of God's love revealed in human weakness. Jesus Christ has given us the great commandment to love one another and calls us to pray for our enemies. He has called us to seek solidarity with the neglected and abandoned. That is where Jesus is at this Christmas. He is with the homeless and in the refugee camps. He is with the marginalised and voiceless people everywhere. Christmas is the right time to ponder on the Irish Proverb: “It is in the shelter of each other people live.” Let us celebrate the hope of peace despite continuing violence and international terrorism, despite fear and suspicion, hatred and greed, nationalism and globalisation.
The good news of Christmas should remind us that God reaches out in love and calls us to love one another. We must try to develop a sense of unity with everyone. It is because of our inflated ego we become restless in taking action against others who have a different understanding. Worshipping God while harming or hating others cannot be called a religious experience; an American marine shooting an ‘infidel’ and other soldiers approvingly making a sign of the cross or any other religious symbols has nothing to do with Christianity or any religion; it only reveals one’s utter ignorance, inhumanity, and misguided teachings. Jesus taught us that the kingdom of God is within us. Therefore, it is important to look for this unity or oneness in the heart of everything. This unity can be seen, in infinity confining itself, to the limited and finite form, of a human child to propagate the message of love. We see this unity in baby Jesus. “The word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John1:14) Therefore, the simple message of Christmas is this: if God has been the Father and Creator, then forever at the heart of this universe there has been a giving and receiving, an exchange of love between man and God. In the establishment of this communion between man and God there is no conflict. Therefore, in seeking God we find one another in love; without loving, there is no living.
Indian sages taught us, “Ekam satya Vipra bahudah vadanti.”- Even though the learned interpret differently, there is only one reality. Pilgrimage to God is only through pilgrimage to man, that to meet God and His truth you first must meet man in his essence. The essence of man is the realisation of his nothingness, the realisation that man is nothing, but God is everything. We must make peace with our neighbour before we begin to worship God; making peace itself is an act of worship. Our real experience of God is our experiences with Jesus. People know God because of Jesus. Jesus said,” I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6). Our Jesus is the baby of Bethlehem, encapsulating the whole universe and all created things, he is indeed the Jesus who died on the cross for us, outside the city wall on the Calvary hill and he is the risen Christ of our Easter Joy. Jesus is the reason for the season; let us make the word become flesh within us through the grace of God. Let us make it the only story of our whole being.
Christmas story has a very strong connection with the creation story in Genesis: think of Eve’s response to Satan at the very beginning, Eve said ‘yes’ to Satan and ‘no’ to God’s command. Therefore, it became absolutely necessary for Mary to say ‘yes.’ The first ‘no’ brought death and destruction and all the miseries that we can think of; but Mary’s ‘yes’ brought, joy, peace and salvation for mankind. Imagine the Garden of Eden and the olive groves of Gethsemane. God’s love bridges these two gardens. At the Garden of Eden, God and a man parted company, but God decides to be with us to become our Immanuel through the obedience of Mary. First Adam was indeed a disappointment, hence it was necessary for a second Adam to come and pour out the love of God at Gethsemane. Only identifying with us through Christmas he could be our saviour. Let us recall what Paul wrote to Philippians, ‘He poured himself out by taking the form of a slave so that he can untie our bondage and give us freedom.’ At the Garden of Eden we lost the paradise, but on the Calvary Hills outside the city walls, the thief on the cross gained the paradise. You and I have the same chance of gaining it now.
Let us receive the promised light of Jesus into all areas of darkness in our lives, let the light of Christ shine on us. Let us celebrate with joy the coming of Jesus, the Christ, our Messiah, and Immanuel, as our wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father and prince of peace. Therefore, Christmas in a nutshell is the fulfilment of a promise through the obedience of Mary for expressing God’s love for the purpose of our salvation so that you and I could enjoy an ‘abide with him’ experience into eternity. Let the word become flesh at this Christmas within us and let every moment and situation be a Christmas for us. In that way our lives become a celebration and our gift to our loving God.
May the peace and joy of Jesus be with everyone at this Christmas and the New Year; may the Holy Spirit heal, renew and teach us what God wishes us to see. May God’s abundant blessing be upon all the readers of the ‘Light of Life community’ through out the New Year.
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