Fr Paul Lelen Haokip
The promise of Christmas is the birth of a “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”(Isaiah 9:6). While the COVID-19 pandemic is still here, in the second week of December 2020, a new SARS-CoV-2 variant referred to as VUI (Variant Under Investigation) 202012/01, or the B.1.1.7 lineage poses a threat to any sort of social gathering whatsoever. The SOP recommended by competent authorities needs to be observed for personal and community wellbeing. Will it affect our Christian spirituality if we abstain from one Christmas celebration ? Will it save the lives of many animals if there are no big festivities at Christmas season ? Will Christ’s love be lesser if there is no Christmas 2020 ? Christmas also serves as an occasion to retrospect the year gone by. One can do this at a personal or civic level. It gives us a chance to situate ourselves as one of the actors of that first Christmas at Bethlehem. Christmas is a season to see the type (and degree) of love we have for one another, and for the ecosystem we exist in. Christmas is not only for Christian because “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Prerequisites for proper Christmas
St Paul’s letter to Titus has hinted the possible graces of God with the birth of Christ–training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and Godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:12-13). It is a beautiful revelation that to follow the above Christian characteristics, we need the grace of God. While we are immensely immersed in worldly affairs (personal, social, political, religious), the call of the Saviour of the world is one of upright life which is a challenging task. The entire Bible points towards Jesus Christ. The second book of Samuel promises a descendant of David who will rule forever. Possessing a universal accommodative mindset is another important prerequisite to be a Christian. God includes everyone in his salvific plan. God so loved the world (not just a Nation or community). People believe in God at various moments, with diverse expressions. Sectarianism is against the holistic nature of God. The greatest mistake we could do is to think that “the world” means only human beings. A wrong interpretation of “the world” brings fear and trembling in nature.
The tension (fear) of “how to celebrate Christmas 2020" has gripped the minds of leaders and people around the world. Will I contract coronavirus during this winter ? How safe is this Christmas ? Is it worth to indulge in Christmas programmes this 2020 ? Fear of coronavirus and concern about safety are important variables of this winter. How noisy or quiet can this Christmas be ? The first Christmas happened in a stable, the child Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger with some animals around. The first news about the birth of Jesus was communicated to the shepherds in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night, thus : “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 1:10-12). Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt for fear of Herod. On the other end, Herod feared the birth of Jesus. The fear (respect for) of Caesar Augustus led Joseph and Mary for enrollment (Census) as citizens of the then Roman empire. It was a game of thrones–someone rising, and others trying to secure their thrones. Fear was not really a game of love.
Love at Christmas
Perhaps the English language falls short to express the kinds of love. The Greeks have variants of love such as (a) Eros (romantic or sexual love), (b) Storge (familial love referring to natural or instinctual affection, such as the love of a parent towards offspring and vice versa), (c) Phileo (friendship, brotherly, sisterly love), (d) Agape (unconditional love). However fearful, noisy, or quiet this Christmas be, the intensity of God’s love for us is “agape” which is “an unconditional love”. God’s type of love is so contrary to human love; the latter based on so many conditions. In the truest sense of the term, we fall short to celebrate Christmas because we are not able to reach (express) the kind of love God shows to us. We are not able to reciprocate appropriately. God’s love is unconditionally eternal as he has a plan for us. He has no condition for us to be loved. He just loved us because he is love. Therefore, “neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
God sacrificed his Godhood to be born as a weak human being because He loves us. Christmas is to create an environment of “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among men” (Luke 2:14). Until this is achieved, Christmas may be repeatedly celebrated but the fruit is still not reaped. But why would we celebrate Christmas without expecting of its fruit? Christmas is centred around nature. The sheep, goats, straw, moon, stars, etc., and poverty of humanity remain as witnesses. Christmas is an invitation to quieten our destructive human inclinations towards nature and humans. It is a focus point to mitigate poverty, increase environmental consciousness and make this world a better space to thrive.
[The author is a PhD Research Scholar, Department of Sociology & Social Work, CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bangalore, India. Email: [email protected]