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Christmas

Christmas

Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas and the common belief of all Christian denominations is that Jesus is the incarnation of God. A statement by Nicodemus in his conversation with the members of Jewish Sanhedrim in the movie, Jesus of Nazareth, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, indicates the nature of incarnation: “I saw in him God’s word becoming alive”. Nicodemus was convinced that God was working through Jesus and his teachings and actions were powerful revelation of God. When John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to ascertain whether he was the messiah Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind can see, the lame can walk, those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases are made clean, the deaf can hear, the dead are raised to life and God news is preached to the poor”.  (Lk. 7:22). What the disciples of John the Baptist saw and experienced was the word of God becoming alive through the person of Jesus and his actions.

The whole life of Jesus was making God’s word alive. Through his teachings and actions he made God alive and meaningful to the people by presenting Him as a loving Father who forgives unconditionally. The ordinary people of his time were overburdened with a ritualistic, legalistic, hierarchical and patriarchal religion and a repressive political system. To such a people he declared, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed , to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk.4:18). The common people could experience the prophecy of prophet Isaiah being fulfilled in the life and teachings of Jesus, although the self righteous, obstinate and prejudiced religious leaders of his time found Jesus as a rebel and one who sabotaged their belief system.   

When Jesus responded with sensitivity and compassion to the agonies of the people in the form of diseases, hunger, handicaps like blindness, lameness, Jesus was bringing God’s word alive. When Jesus broke oppressive Sabbath laws and declared the universal principle that Sabbath is for man and man not for Sabbath he was making God’s word alive. When Jesus ate at the house of Mathew, a tax collector and accepted him as one his disciples he was challenging discrimination based on caste, colour and profession and affirming human dignity. Through this action of Jesus God’s word was becoming alive.

When Jesus made people understand the need for forgiveness and prayed for his tormentors while hanging on the cross he laid the foundation of non-violent approach in conflict resolution and peace building, and the word of God was becoming alive in this process.

When Jesus drove out the traders from the Jerusalem temple he was attacking commercialization of religion because large scale exploitation of the people was taking place in the temple due to the nexus between priests and traders. That is why Jesus said, “You have made my father’s house a den of robbers”. By responding proactively to the abuse of a worship centre and making religion a commodity for sale Jesus was making God’s word alive.

When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus he told the accusers “Let him who is without sin among you, be the first to throw a stone at her”. Thus Jesus questioned the law that was biased against women. By questioning gender discrimination and gender biased laws Jesus was making God’s word alive.

Jesus lambasted the Scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders for their hypocrisy, self righteousness, insensitivity, craving for recognition and praise and misguiding people.  He was not afraid of them. By questioning and reprimanding the irresponsible, unaccountable and oppressive leadership Jesus was causing the word of God to become alive.

Jesus became messiah not because he was a descendant of David but because of his life and actions. St. John writes, “The word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us.” (Jn. 1: 14) It seems that John was referring to the process Jesus underwent, the process to make word of God alive through his teachings and actions. Christmas is a commemoration of birth of Jesus, the beginning of the process of making God’s word alive.

One can observe that the scriptures have become objects of worship rather than sources of inspiration and guidance to the followers of different faiths. Literal understanding of the scriptures leads to the growth of fundamentalism, xenophobia and blind faith. In many Catholic churches the bible is kept alongside the Eucharist. Incensing of Bible is done on various occasions. Verses from the bible are written on the walls of Catholic institutions. Imitating the Hindu custom of reading Ramayan continuously in public, some Catholic priests have introduced the practice of reading the bible continuously ( akhanda Bible parayan). These practices may or may not help one to make the word of God alive. But reflection on the word of God in relation to one’s life situation can definitely affect a person’s life and make him/her proactive, sensitive creative and dynamic.  The result is word of God becoming flesh in a person’s life. The celebration of Christmas shall motivate the followers of Jesus to become facilitators of making word of God alive in all spheres of individual and social life.

Following the model of Jesus, the disciples of Jesus are expected to make the word of God alive by responding to the challenges in the society.

There are millions of people in the world who are suffering from hunger, diseases like HIV/Aids, mental and physical disability etc. When a disciple of Jesus expresses his solidarity with them by sacrificing some of his/her needs and contributing the money thus saved to support such people he/she makes God’s word alive. When the disciples of Jesus are able to transcend the narrow identity of rite, religion, caste, region etc. and build inclusive communities based on the higher identity of humanity and divine presence in every human person, they are making incarnation a daily reality.

There are various oppressive customs and practices in the society that discriminate human beings on the basis of caste, religion and sex. Practice of untouchability and racial and religious discrimination violate human dignity. Women are still discriminated in the Indian society and violence against women is increasing in spite of putting in place stringent laws. Despite the instruction of Pope Francis to include women in the feet washing ceremony on the Holy Thursday the Syro-Malabar and Syo-Malankara churches refuse to comply with the instruction of the Pope. For them their discriminatory tradition is more precious than the human beings. Governments sometimes adopt policies and laws that are harmful to the environment and to the people whose livelihood depends on the nature. The recent decision of the government of India to ban 500 and 1000 rupee notes caused untold suffering to the ordinary people, particularly the daily wage workers, small and marginal farmers, people involved in petty business etc. When the disciples of Jesus protest against discriminatory practices and unjust laws and decisions, they are making word of alive.

Commercialization and politicization of religion are two evils which have plagued the society. It appears that God has become a commodity for sale when one observes critically religious rituals, practices and devotions invented by the priestly class. The income of Thirumala Balaji Temple from the export of hair is more than rupees 200 crores a year. One can easily understand the commercial interest behind the practice of offering hair to the deity. Many so called spirituality centres have become money spinning institutions. Attached to almost all pastoral centers in India there is a shop for selling statues and pious articles. When a disciple of Jesus protests against the exploitation of the religious sentiments of people for commercial and political purpose, the word of God becomes alive in him/her.

Andre Betteille, a renowned Indian sociologist has written in one of his essays, “The vitality of a religion depends on a continuous critique of it by its own reflective members”. Jesus’ fierce criticism of the leaders of his own religion was motivated by the desire to make religion vibrant. The Church today also needs reflective members to point out the aberrations and deviations motivated by power and money. Building opulent churches, erecting huge statues, organizing mega events like parading more than 5000 Santa Clauses on the streets of a busy city on the occasion of Christmas, causing traffic jam and serious inconvenience to the public, are not the ways of Jesus. The effort to stifle criticism and dissenting voices within the Church is not the mind of Jesus. When a disciple of Jesus fulfills his prophetic role by denouncing the aberrations and distortions within the Church he/she is making the word of God alive.

The birth of Jesus is an event that took place more than two thousand years ago. At the same time incarnation is to be a continuous process by responding to the challenges in the society in view of building just, harmonious, inclusive and gender sensitive communities. When a disciple of Jesus responds proactively to issues affecting human persons he/she is facilitating incarnation, the word of God becoming alive.

(Published on 26th December 2016, Volume XXVIII, Issue 52)#