Christmas marks a turning point both in the Church’s Liturgical Calendar as well as in the universal civil calendar in that it stands as the junction of all that was, is and is to come! Against this backdrop, looking back at the year since last Christmas is like looking at oneself in a broken mirror that reflects nothing but the brokenness of human life, Christmas heralding the possibility of mending that brokenness. Willy-nilly, the issue of rape [the criminal act involving majors and minors alike] that dominated the news scene, was overshadowed by developments that had the Church reeling under scandals, shattering the myth of the holiness of the ordained both domestically and internationally, whereby even the Sacrament of Reconciliation came in for brazen scrutiny. Allegations and counter allegations have seen the light of day like never before, no less a personage than the Pope himself being accused of a cover-up. The esteem Pakistan earned from the international community when its Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi of the wild, unfounded charge of blasphemy and ordered her release, instantly dropped several notches with the kind of protests that erupted, the government buckling under pressure from fanatics and declaring its readiness to prevent the mother-of-five from leaving the country and allowing for a review petition, in effect signing her death warrant. India struck down Article 377 of the Constitution, decriminalizing gay sex and Article 497, decriminalizing adultery. Several countries have some despot at the helm of affairs playing spoilsport. What message then does Christmas hold for modern man amidst the turmoil that seems to show no signs of abating? Does Christmas have a place in our world at all?
The Nativity - Birth of the ‘new man’!
Saint Paul has an amazing explanation for the reason and purpose of the coming of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in Heaven and on Earth, visible and invisible , whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” ( Col 1:15–16 ). He further states that “then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:24-25).
Interestingly, the Nativity, an event of cosmic significance, brought forth the "new man" who undid the damage caused by the fall of the first man. Just as the Johannine view of Jesus as the incarnate Logos (Jn 1:14a) proclaims the universal relevance of his birth, the Pauline perspective highlights the birth of a new man and a new world in the Nativity. In Paul's eschatological view, Jesus, in contrast to Adam, the old man given to sin, is the new man of morality, fortitude and obedience who ushers in a world of immortality in salvation. Saint Irenaeus [2nd century] wrote: "When he became incarnate and was made man, he commenced afresh the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam – namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God - we might recover in Christ Jesus."
Jesus, the Old Adam - Mary, the New Eve
The Nativity of Jesus thus began to serve as the starting point for "cosmic Christology" in which the birth, life, death and Resurrection of Jesus have universal implications, the concept of Jesus as the "new man" repeating itself in the cycle of the birth-and-rebirth of Jesus from his Nativity to his Resurrection : following his birth, through his morality and obedience to the Father, Jesus brought into effect a new harmony in the relationship between God and man, between the Father and his children. The Nativity and the Resurrection thus created the author and exemplar of a new humanity, Jesus!
Irenaeus, who was also one of the early theologians to use the analogy of "second Adam and second Eve", described Mary as the "second Eve", asserting that the Virgin Mary had "untied the knot of sin bound up by the virgin Eve" and that just as Eve had set in motion the cycle of disobedience that was to rule human behaviour by tempting Adam to disobey God, Mary, from the Annunciation right up to Calvary, had chalked a path of obedience for the second Adam, i.e. Jesus, precisely so that Jesus could undo the damage caused by Adam by bringing about salvation.
Christmas, sign and celebration of fulfilment
Understanding the link of all this to the coming of Jesus at Christmas would depend on the depth of our individual perception of Jesus in relation to our redemption. The Father sent his Son to redeem fallen humankind; the Son fulfilled his mission and regained for us the sonship that we had lost with the sin of our First Parents. Though Redemption has been achieved, the effect of the sin of disobedience continues to be evident in the various happenings both in our own country and in the world at large exposing so clearly the multifaceted nature of sin—denial of basic human rights in terms of the choice of food and religion, infidelity to marital and religious vows, lack of common sense in relation to the observance of the First Commandment, legalization of adultery and same-sex unions and so much else. To subdue all these enemies of humanity the Lord needs the hands and feet of the adherents of the religion of his love to help him. He needs us to evangelize widely! And this, not so that our numbers might trounce other religions but precisely so that multitudes might know the difference between a God who is real and one that doesn’t exist and that, so knowing, may reap the benefit of sharing eternal glory with the Trinity!
Fruit of the Church’s presence
Evangelization per se is both the fruit of and an act flowing from a life of edification as exemplified by Bishop George Pallipparambil SDB of Miao whose ministrations in a place that was once forbidden territory had the Lord working amazing miracles! In a clear case of a fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis [12:2-3], Pallipparambil, who having first arrived from Kerala some 40 years ago without a plan, literally watched the Faith grow from 900 baptized Catholics in 1979 to more than 90,000 today [nearly 20% of the local population that ethnically consisted of Mongolian tribes often in violent conflict with each other], spread across an area comprising 17,000 square miles and served by 28 priests, with another 68 from religious congregations. When asked how it happened, he simply says, “God did the planning. My job was to listen and respond.” Appropriately, when the region was constituted into a diocese in 2005, Pallipparambil was appointed its first bishop. Appropriately, too, both bishop and diocese remain committed to the evangelizing mission!
The decisive moment in Pallipparambil’s life of severe trial came when, on Christmas Morning 1980, trudging from village to village preaching the Good News, a layman in tow, he was arrested and interrogated at the regional police headquarters for hours on end. Word of the arrest having got to a nearby village where he had been preaching, a few hundred men, after finishing with their Christmas celebrations, marched to the spot, equipped with swords and torches. Confronting the police superintendent, the tribal chief demanded: “Give me back my father.” By one-thirty that night, Father and his companion were dropped back at their mission amidst a people hungering for the Gospel which they found as something very meaningful, it having brought them liberation in a larger sense, giving them as it did a sense of dignity they had never known before. That night, Christmas reigned supreme in Miao, even as it became obvious that for Pallipparambil it was not a question of “making” converts, but allowing the transformative message of the Gospel speak for itself. How? “We never concentrated on pushing the Gospel down anyone’s throat,” he is quick to point out, “our primary goal being to help them—education, medicine, women’s empowerment, overcoming illiteracy and animism, getting rid of social evils like sale and purchase of women and girl-child marriage - whatever, we just did it, living with them, breaking bread with them; they witnessed it first-hand and they understood. Their acceptance of the Gospel was a fruit of our work of love, freely given …an actual, direct intervention of the Holy Spirit in their lives.” Liberation theology in action! All evil put under the feet of him whose birth heralded the definite possibility of “peace on earth to people of goodwill” [Lk 2:14b]! Well, isn’t that precisely what Christmas really is!?! Indeed! Not for nothing did Saint Francis d’Assisi tell his friars: “Go, preach the Gospel! Use words if necessary.”
Deus natus est
For Saint Ephrem of 4th century Syria , the uniqueness of the Nativity of Jesus was supplemented with the sign of the Majesty of the Creator through the ability of a powerful God to enter the world as a powerless infant. "Venerate the Nativity, through which you are freed from the bonds of an earthly nativity," urges Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Paul adding: "Just as in Adam all of us died, so too in Christ all of us will be brought to life" (1 Cor 15:22). Jesus, as an obedient Son, fulfilled the divine will and was therefore free from sin, thus revealing the righteousness of the Father in the salvation he wrought for us.
Reign, Rule, and Judge
Amidst the ongoing scenario, a sense of purpose in celebrating Christmas is deepened by Biblical prophecies categorized as follows:
Reign – “If we endure, we shall also reign with him,” writes Paul to Timothy (2 Tim 2:12). Innumerable are the individuals who endure persecution and torture today as in the days of yore. Their reward is well assured, giving hope to those who see in Christmas the fulfilment of the promise of Redemption, a celebration of which implies joy that is heightened by endurance.
Rule – Sacred Scripture declares unequivocally: “And he who overcomes, and keeps my works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations. He shall rule them with an iron rod; as when earthen pots shall be broken to pieces, just as I myself have also received authority from the Father” (Rev 2:26-27). Could this be construed as implying that the Church will eventually rule the world? Well, why not! Needless to say, what the Church is universally going through is but a passing phase before she holds the reins!
Judge – Finally, Scripture holds out an assurance that the believer shall judge the very ones that on earth subdue and subjugate the followers of the Way – “Do you not know that you will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that you will even judge the angels? How much more the things that pertain to this life?” (1 Cor 6:2-3)
The glory of Christmas endures
All said and done, amidst the tumult surrounding us, “each day, according to the spirit of the Church, we can celebrate a new Christmas. There is the eternal birth of the divine Son of the Father, and there is the temporal birth of the Son of God by the Virgin Mary; and there is the real and mystical birth of Jesus Christ in the reception of the Eucharist,” avers Blessed James Alberione. And from the Eucharist flows every grace that can enable us to both celebrate and wish the world around a truly joyful and hope-filled Christmas, singing “Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of goodwill!” (Lk 2:14)(Published on 10th December 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 50)