Christmas 2017 is being celebrated in a world where hatred, revenge and exclusion are increasing day by day. Social exclusion on the basis of gender, religion, caste, ethnicity, colour nationality etc. has been in vogue throughout the history of mankind. In recent years religion has become a crucial identity on which exclusion, hatred and violence are being propagated. The ISIS wants to impose its own version of Islam and resorts to all forms of violence to realize its ideology. There are other groups of terrorists who are trying to impose their own version of Islam all over the world and indulge in violence. During the year 2017, there were 1970 Islamic attacks in 61 countries, in which 15327 people were killed and 13905 injured, according to The Religion of Peace.com .
In the name of religion 6700 Rohingya Muslims were killed within one month (between August and September) in Myanmar and 730 of them were children. As per a UN report 625000 Rohingyas fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh as refugees till December 6, 2017 because of their persecution in that country. According to a report of IndiasSpend 11 people were killed in 2017 by Gaurakshaks and most of them were Muslims. This is the highest toll from the cow related crimes since 2010. Religious conflicts and religion induced violence have been on increase in Africa steadily. A study by Open Doors states that there are 50 countries in the world where one cannot practise Christianity. Most dangerous among them are North Korea, Somalia and Afghanistan. Heavily-armed terrorists attacked Bethel Memorial Church in the south western Pakistani city of Quetta during a midday service on December 17, killing at least eight people and injuring 44 others. The attack came just over a week before this Christmas.
A poem written by a well-known Malayalam poet, Vayalar Ramavarma is very pertinent in this context.
Human beings created religions; religions created gods.
beings, religions and gods together divided the earth, divided the
We became Hindus, Muslims and Christians; we became strangers.
India became a lunatic asylum.
Thousands of human minds became weapon storages.
God dies in the streets; devil laughs in the streets.
Where is truth; where is beauty?
Where are blood relationships?
Where is the eternal love?
Where are the incarnations that take place once in thousand years?
Human beings die in the streets and religions laugh.
The poet laments on the pathetic and dangerous situation created by human beings because of the negative influence of religions. Misuse of religions by human beings resulted in the divisions, strife, violence and killings. Religions in their original form were noble and prescribed creative solutions for the human problems. In course of time they were misused and abused by human beings. The result is creation of hell on earth.
More than two thousand years ago when Jesus was born in Bethlehem the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased”. Peace- making was an important aspect of Jesus’ teachings. In spite of the spread of Christianity to different parts of the world, its contribution to peace building was neither sustainable nor effective. The reason could be the failure of Christians to translate the message of Jesus into real life. There have been many individual Christians like St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King (Jr.), Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa etc. who have made significant contribution to promote peace in the world. But Christians as a group also had degenerated in certain periods of history and contributed to religious conflicts and wars. The challenge for the Christians of today is to live the message of Jesus and play a creative role in peace-building.
Christians all over the world believe that Jesus is the incarnation of God and through his life, teachings and death he became the saviour of mankind. According to the Gospels, Jesus through his life and teachings showed human beings the way to get liberated from selfishness, exclusiveness and self-centredness. For Jesus the greatest sin is self-centredness and exclusiveness. The whole teaching of Jesus is based on one commandment that he gave his disciples as a parting gift before his death: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. (Jon 13:34) This new commandment of Jesus has two dimensions: unconditional forgiveness devoid of hatred and revenge and seeing God in very human being, and hence no discrimination or exclusion on any ground.
The Gospels describe Jesus as ‘Son of Man’ as well as ‘Son of God’. Jesus did not refer to himself most often as Son of God but as Son of Man. "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) So he called himself Son of Man very often. In the person of Jesus the difference between the two is blurred. Jesus placed human beings and a God who dwells in every human being at the centre of spirituality. That is why he asserted through the parable of the ‘last judgement’ that doing any act of charity to any human being is a service done to God. "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' (Mathew 25:40). That is why St. John says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen”. (1. John 4:20). Christmas is a celebration of the fusion of the Divine and the human, leading to peace and harmony among the people of the world.
Pope Francis has been on a complex and difficult task of reinventing the Catholic Church by bringing back human beings to the centre of spirituality. The central theme of Pope Francis’ Christmas message in 2016 was peace. In his speech he wished peace to the people of all conflict zones in the world and all section of the people, including children. The very purpose of his recent visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh was to disseminate the message of peace.
The message of Christmas to every human being on this planet is that God has become human in the person of Jesus and every human being is raised to the level of Divine. Hence one has to see God in very human person irrespective of his religion, culture, raise, gender, nationality etc. Christmas celebration has to inspire all people, particularly the followers of Jesus, to transcend their lower identities of religion, caste, race, language etc. and experience the highest identities of humanness and the Divine presence in all human beings. Then people of all nations and societies will be able to experience that the whole universe is one family ( vasudaiva kutumbakam).
(Published on 26th December 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 52)