Monday 24 December 2018

Christmas Reflections - December 25, 2018

Genesis narrates that humankind was created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-28). This means that the origin and identity of the human (male and female) are found only in God. The commission to “be fruitful and multiply”, is indicative of the fact that creation was meant to be ongoing. It was not a static event, but a dynamic one in which humans were invited to be co-creators with God. This is also signposted by the generosity of God in giving to humans “every plant yielding seed… you shall have them for food” (Gen 1:29). Through this munificence, God intended that humans would live in harmony with God, each other and nature.

Initially humans responded to God as God directed them, but soon, things spiralled out of control. The “use” which humans were supposed to make of things, turned to abuse. The harmonious relationships that male and female were meant to have deteriorated into disharmonious and discordant ones. The communion and intimacy with nature turned into hostility, aggression and violence. Cosmos was turned once again into Chaos.

On numerous occasions God intervened and tried to restore the harmony that was intended (Heb 1:1). This was done in a variety of ways. God sent prophets, messengers, kings as well as blessings and benedictions, and reminders through catastrophes, calamities and devastations. To these there was initially a positive response, but soon humans forgot themselves and again and again, Cosmos turned to Chaos. We tried to figure God out and the result was God was made in our image and likeness.

Finally God decide to choose a way that had never been tried before. God would become human in every sense of the word through his Son. In this way, God could feel, think, experience, talk and act like humans and through this recreate the Cosmos. It was thus in the fullness of time that God became human in the person of Jesus Christ. The reason why God chose this way was to liberate us not from the world but in and through the world. It was to show that God in the flesh made visible in Jesus is inextricably bound with our history. It was to show that this world was good and that it was possible to live unselfishly and still live full lives. It was to show that love was the only reality and that genuine love was unconditional.

Christmas is thus the celebration of Jesus as fully human in every sense of the word (Gal 4:4-6). The fact that Jesus remained in his mother’s womb and was born of Mary like every other human is clearly God’s way of making explicit that Jesus was like us in every single way. This fact is important, because through it we realise who we are as humans. His birth as a human makes us aware of our own limitlessness and the potential that is dormant is all of us as humans. It gives us a vision of the present and the future. It also reveals to us who we are now and how much we can be. The humanity of the divine gives us a glimpse into our own divinity.

The name chosen for the child indicated who he would be. While it was usually the prerogative of the father to choose the name for the child, in the case of Jesus, it was not his foster father Joseph, but his true father God who chose the name through the angel (Lk 1:31; Mt 1:31). As a matter of fact in the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph is told why the child would be named Jesus “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21). Jesus would live out his name in the truest sense of the word. In doing so, he would also reveal who God is.

In his humanity, Jesus scaled heights like no one before him had ever done. The prophets, kings and messengers God had sent, paled in comparison with who Jesus was and what he did. His way of living was so novel, unique and radical that even the pre-cursor John wondered how it was possible for anyone to live in this manner (Mt 11:2-5). This was because Jesus came with a one point agenda which was to communicate the unfathomable, immeasurable and endless love of God for all of humanity and the Cosmos.

Jesus proclaimed this fact in his initial proclamation in Galilee in which he declared that God’s love had come for all and we had only to open our hearts to receive it (Mk 1:15; Mt 4:17). In this manifesto, especially sinners were accepted, acknowledged and loved for who they were (Mk 2:17; Lk 4:18-21). The repentance of the sinner was a consequence of their having received the love and forgiveness of God (Lk 7:47). There were no conditions that had to be fulfilled, because the mercy of God in Jesus, was grace and not merit (1 Jn 4:10). The spontaneous response to such unmerited love, grace, mercy and forgiveness could only be that one was willing to look at oneself anew and consequently look at others and the whole of creation in a new way.

Jesus showed this acceptance in a tangible and concrete way through his healings and exorcisms. These were not an appendix to his mission, but were as much a part of it as his verbal proclamation. As a matter of fact in his response to the disciples of John the Baptist who were sent to ask him if he was the Messiah, Jesus replied by pointing to both his miracles and his proclamation (Lk 7:22). This indicated that he was indeed sent by the Father to heal the broken world and restore it to the glorious cosmos it was meant to be.

Even as Jesus made every attempt to restore the world, not everyone was able to accept this agenda. He met with aggressive opposition every step of the way. This, however, did not deter or frighten him and he persevered loving even and especially when love was not returned and taught everyone who followed him to do the same (Mt 5:43-47). This kind of love had never been experienced or witnessed before and it was too much for some to bear. Since they could not understand it, they condemned and with it, the one who loved in this way. They managed to manipulate the situation in such a manner that this love was seen as scandalous, shocking and an abomination and succeeded in nailing him to a tree (Jn 19:7,16). Despite the fact that he was crucified, the legacy of love that he brought from God continued in his disciples, and continues even today.

To be sure, we live in a world in which corruption, selfishness, injustice, intolerance, communal disharmony and racial and caste discrimination continue to raise their ugly heads. The wanton destruction of nature and its use for selfish reasons is evident even to those who cannot see. In such a world then, the relevance of Christmas is even more striking. Christmas asks us to go back to God’s unconditional love manifested in creation. It asks us to rebuild those harmonious relationships with God, others and nature as God intended. It asks us to persevere in love as Jesus taught, even when love is not returned or spurned. Christmas challenges us to continue the mission of Jesus to build a better world. It calls us to know that the divine became human so that we might realise and live out our own divinity.

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