19th December 1999
An event in human history that shook the world
By Francis Vethanayagam
It's Christmas once again. This year and this time it would be celebrated with added significance and a difference by the Christian world. It is exactly 2000 years after the greatest event in human history was been witnessed and recorded.
It is the birth of Jesus Christ. The Church calls it the Great Jubilee. The dawn of a new millennium is yet another historical event eagerly awaited.
The unique thing about the birth of Christ was the prophecy made several years before he came into this world in the form of a human, by those who wrote scriptures.
"In the beginning was the world and the word became flesh and dwelt among us." Christ was born poor, lived and died a poor man. With centuries rolling by, are we mindful and entertaining joyful thoughts of the Second Coming of Jesus? The first advent was really a prelude to this certain event. This time it may not be in the form of a helpless babe, wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger.
Advent is a season of hope and joy of the Saviour's coming. To gain an insight into the Christmas mystery, our preparations must not be confined to a purely external and ephemeral exercise.
It must mean acceptance of and hospitality to those whom we see as Jesus Christ through faith. Human pride, deceit and arrogance should be eliminated and be humbled. The Lord alone should be exalted on this day. But unfortunately the Christian world today has changed its attitudes towards a meaningful Christmas. Christ is no longer the central figure. Christmas has lost its spiritual values. Its true meaning and significance have been forgotten in a commercial world daily turning towards materialistic ideas and secularism.
Anyone who says or thinks that Christmas begins and ends on December 25 is mistaken. Christ is born in us every moment of every day in the inn of our lives. It is a continuous mystery like the life of Christ. Hence let us not forget that every day is yet another Christmas day to a true Christian. Each day the challenge resounds "Peace on earth to men of good will." Do we realize that Jesus is no longer the babe of Bethlehem. He is a living Saviour who can be experienced in our daily lives. We see God the Father through Jesus. We also see and experience God who bypasses power, prestige, authority, privilege and above all Kingship to be the servant of all. Do we also not see a just, kind, tolerant, compassionate, sympathetic and merciful God who will have nothing to do with sin or unrighteousness, instead a loving God ready to give us all what he has?
Jesus was born not only to reveal God to man but also to redeem and bring about eternal salvation. This was proved on the first Christmas night when the angels proclaimed, "Unto You is born today in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord."
Today even after 2000 years the true message of Christmas that God planned and initiated through Jesus Christ to liberate man from the fetters of evil and to ensure peace and freedom has had very little impact. On the contrary there is a vast segment in society who are disillusioned by the injustice, exploitation and oppression of unfair and unjust sociopolitical and economic systems that have denied many a new life of freedom, dignity and the opportunity to live as useful and responsible members of society.
Just take a look at the manner in which Christmas is celebrated by the majority of Christians all over the world. A non-Christian is treated to a distasteful opinion and impression of the sacred event and happenings at Christmas, and in no way the real cognition of the birth of a God and any mystical idea of the incarnation of the God-man. Therefore a true Christian's view of God should be that of an intimate and forgiving being, a condition made possible by the incarnation.
Christmas is a God-given time to think of the lowly, the have-nots and those oppressed and marginalized. People in need are left desolate and abandoned in their hour of crisis and trial. They are completely deserted. Christ said "the poor you will have with you always." He was fully aware of their suffering and poverty.
Should we not reflect and ponder deeply in what Christ said at least this Christmas? Unfortunately today there is a coterie of Christians who fail to see, realize and face the stark realities that confront these unfortunate ones in our society. A needy person is not a beggar. Let's lend a helping hand to those who have been less fortunate and ostracized. It is our bounden duty and obligation through noble deeds to bring new life and hope for these people to live with honour, dignity and self-respect. This is their God-given birthright. By asking people to care, share and give, Christ did not mean from the rich to the rich. He certainly did not expect and want his birthday celebrated in such a cavalier fashion.
Finally on this great day of the birth of the Prince of Peace let us not forget our own land, where there is unending turmoil, unrest, death and destruction.
It's peace that we all yearn for in our dear motherland. There cannot be peace without justice, fairplay and a spirit of give and take. The country has upto now paid a heavy price in blood. Thousands have been rendered homeless and are refugees in the land of their birth. Unimaginable destruction has taken place to property and places of worship. When will this end and will it ever end?
It must be remembered that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic society where every citizen has the right to live in peace, harmony and freedom with dignity and self-respect. Those who preach and incite hatred and violence are only causing self-destruction to everything around.
The spirit of Christ should pervade every nook and corner of this country. It is then and then alone that lasting peace would dawn. It is the ardent hope of everyone that in the new millennium brotherhood devoid of injustice, greed and hatred will soon enfold Sri Lanka in the direction of a partnership of people to usher peace and harmony. A peaceful Christmas and a blessed New Year to all.
By Selvie Selvaratnam
"Suddenly a great army of heaven's angels appeared, singing praises to God: 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased' - The Holy Bible. Luke 2"
For many people the Christmas season has become a stale re-run of empty merry making - a re-run of the trivial. As another year limps to a close, and a new millennium raises its head on the horizon, people are asking the question - 'have human beings moved forward or backward?' There is a mood of disillusionment and hopelessness everywhere.
But for devoted Christians throughout the globe, Christmas is a celebration of a wonderful love that never palls - the love of God for his creation! They exult giving thanks to God for the salvation that began when God became incarnate as the babe of Bethlehem - a babe who in young manhood would pay the price for their sins on the cross, setting them free from its bondage.
The peace of Christmas that the angels proclaimed is one of God's greatest gifts to human beings. Jesus is referred to by many titles in the Bible - 'Emmanuel', 'Messiah', 'Counsellor', 'The Mighty God', 'Everlasting Father', and 'The Prince of Peace' - Isaiah 9:6.
The people were drooping under the heavy hand of Roman domination when Jesus was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.
The taxes were bleeding the people dry, and above all else, they yearned for freedom - freedom of expression, choice and movement! The birth of a Messiah - a deliverer had been prophesied six hundred years before Jesus was born. Finally, the long awaited heavenly announcement came - 'Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord! - (St.Luke2:11).
The Jews expected a political king - a hero who would overthrow Roman domination. But violence was not in the agenda for Jesus the Prince of Peace. 'God was reconciling the world unto Himself' - The Bible: 2 Cor 5:19. He won the right to dispense peace not by shedding the blood of others, but by shedding his own precious blood, sacrificing himself willingly on the Cross.
Just as 2000 years ago, the angelic promise of peace sounded to a despairing hopeless people, so today God's message of peace and hope comes to us despite life's apparent gray gloom.
The gift of peace that Jesus offers, involves us on three different levels - peace with God, peace with our fellow beings and peace within ourselves.
If our relationship with God is awry, then we cannot experience the blessed peace which Jesus offers. The Bible states that there is no human being who is sinless. Our sins, our frailties rise-up as a wall preventing God's peace reaching us. We ask and obtain as a gift, the free pardon which God alone can give us. The following lines from the popular carol 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' underlines this truth.
"Mild he lays his glory by,
Peace with our fellow beings is an important requisite if we are to experience God given peace. If there is hate in our hearts, there will be no room in our hearts for peace.
Hate strangles peace, and all that is good and wholesome. Over and over again, throughout His earthly life, Lord Jesus reiterated the importance of forgiving each other. He who was sinless, practised what he preached on the Cross by forgiving those who had unjustly murdered him.
"Father forgive them, they know not what they are do," he whispered with his failing breath. There are situations when humanly it would be impossible to forgive.
But Jesus who forgave his murderers, will give us the grace and strength to do it.
Peace within ourselves. When the first two requisites have been fulfilled, God is able to bless us with his own peace which surpasses human understanding. 'Not as the world gives, give I unto you' said Jesus. It is a cliche but a reality that we may possess all the material possessions which humanity yearns for, and yet feel empty and depressed. lt is only God's own peace that can fill this vacuum. 'Oh! Taste and see that the Lord is good' enthused a happy Psalmist.
When the peace of God touches our hearts, it sets the bells of joy ringing in our lives, regardless of how gloomy our external circumstances may be. I end with the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (13th Century) -
'Lord make me an instrument of Thy Peace.
'Shalom' - Peace - God's great gift be yours this season!
By Louis Benedict
The momentous though mysterious mission of the three wise men to see the newborn Christ in Bethlehem is an event that powerfully portrays the universality of Christmas.
Perhaps the three wise men from the east could be seen as messengers from the other great religions and cultures of the world.
The star that guided them to the cattle shed in the little and then unknown town of Bethlehem was a sign of the whole galaxy or the cosmos uniting with an event when the hopes and dreams not just of a millennium but of millions of years were fulfilled.
In an universal perspective, we could reflect today on what the coming of Christ meant to sages of other schools of spirituality then and now.
Hinduism being the oldest of the great spiritualities, it would be prudent to ponder on the insight and experience of one of the greatest Hindu philosophers, Rabindranath Tagore.
The Bengali poet, whose masterpiece is today India's hallowed national anthem, was perhaps inspired by one of the greatest parables of Jesus Christ when he wrote a classic in the immortal 'Geethanjalie.'
The theme and thrust of the parable of the Good Samaritan comes out in this verse which must challenge and disturb the tendency to seek a comfortable or convenient religion of external conformity to obligations and observances.
Whom does thou worship in the lonely dark corner of a temple with
the doors all shut?
Centuries ago Lord Buddha practised and preached the philosophy of liberation from selfishness and greed.
Some 2,800 years later we see in Sri Lanka a catastrophic breakdown in spiritual, moral and social values, creating a hell hole which the country's most senior Buddhist prelate recently described as a "Kabalma Kabal" (worst of the worst) society.
What does the coming of Christ mean in a society which has become uncaring, callous and insensitive, if not senseless?
As a backdrop we could reflect on an enlightened insight that Buddhist sociology professor S.T. Hettige wrote recently on the root causes of the unprecedented crime wave in our country. This is how he sees it:
"The country has undergone tremendous change during the past 20 years or so due to the liberalization of the economy. It has disrupted the social stability and the non-native order that were there earlier.
"Although there was poverty during those early days those who were in the lower strata of the society felt that they were taken care of. There were a lot of programmes, genuine ones to look after them.
"On the other hand what one had, corresponded with what one was.
"Those who had money were either rich for generations or they were intellectuals or business people who had made their way to the top by sheer hard work.
"People knew how the rich got their money and when one of them went in a car nobody bothered about it that much.
"Also there were rules and regulations debarring conspicuous consumption and extravagance.
"Even when it came to facilities like medical care there wasn't a big difference between what the poor could get and what the rich could access. There was social justice. People didn't feel that they were deprived of much.
"With the liberalization of the economy the whole scenario changed. The market economy encouraged people to sell whatever they had to earn money.
"The social welfare systems were removed and the poor were left destitute.
"Anything went with money. If one had money one could go to a private hospital or even abroad for medication.
"Those who did not have money had to wait in long queues in dirty hospital corridors.
"Suddenly, those who never had a cent and who did not work hard were plying on roads in expensive vehicles and throwing large parties. No one knew how they got this money.
"Their children were sent to private schools and international schools and even abroad for education.
"Their children got better job opportunities because they knew their English and had access to all the best things. The poor were overlooked even if they had university degrees."
The crucial difference between Jesus Christ and most of us mainly religious and political leaders is that he from the very beginning identified with the poorest of the poor by experiencing all the agony and oppression they were going through.
He did not just give some assistance like Janasaviya or Samurdhi or like what the World Bank and the IMF give.
He became poor for the poor, but he did not only share their burden.He also uplifted and liberated them into the awareness and faith that they are the children of God.
It was in this light that Mahatma Gandhi identified with the deprived classes of his era and inflamed the Hindu Brahmins by renaming those oppressed, marginalised people as Harijans the children of God.
From the beginning, Jesus Christ identified with the poor. He was born in a cattleshed with the ox and lamb for company on a cold night.
The world had no room for him. Within days he had to flee the terrorism of a power-crazy king.
He was a refugee like the 380,000 displaced people of the Wanni who are languishing even today in varying degrees of deprivation and degradation while uncaring and insensitive Christians in the city bust up Rs. 15,000 for a take-away roast turkey or as much as Rs. 35,000 a person for a millennium bash.
Right up to the lonely Cross on Calvary, Jesus Christ did not merely provide bread and physical healing for the poor but he identified with them in every way.
With six days to go for the last Christmas of the millennium, we need to acknowledge that we all are part of the crisis and reflect on how we could become part of the solution to defuse the poverty bomb.
The basis for this could be a sincere and deep reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The priest and the assistant priest involved in the challenging story were on their way to a synagogue for a service or ritual.
They would on seeing the dying man on the road have struggled with a host of contradictory and confusing questions in their minds. Finally the key factor in their decision to pass by was "if I go to help that dying man what will happen to me?". The centre and the operative word was 'me' self-centredness and self-interest.
The Samaritans at that time were a despised and marginalised people. They were not tolerated in Synagogues or would not have been invited to any Christmas lunch in so-called respectable homes.
As in the case of the priest, the Samaritan also would have faced a struggle and a conflicting situation.
But the key factor in his decision was "If I do not help the dying man what would happen to him?"
The centre and the operative word was 'him' the other. He was other-centred, the nature of God.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas amidst the millennium hype and the political roar of a presidential election, let us meditate on the reality and the truth about ourselves. We all are self-centred and tainted by self-interest, most of the time seeking personal gain or glory even in the religious acts that we perform.
Our performance and behaviour may be good, by worldly or externally-judged standards but what of the inner self the motives and attitudes?
We need to become aware and acknowledge that our urge and obsession to control our own lives for our own personal benefit, gain and glory is a violation of natural and universal law. For example, let's take the human body which essentially comprises cells working in coordination for the common good.
What is cancer? It begins when one cell acts selfishly and does whatever it wants. This gradually destroys the whole body.
A similar principle applies to society. If we live a self-centred life for our own self-interest, we will end up destroying society and destroying ourselves in the process.
Through faith, Christmas opens the way for a liberation from the self-destructive path of self-centredness in our thoughts, words, deeds, decisions and relationships.
In that experience only, will there be something more meaningful than cakes or crackers to celebrate our Christmas.
By Leonard R. Maharachchi
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus into the human world. God decided to intervene in the sordid affairs of this world, when Adam and Eve displayed their weakness - the idea of Christ's birth was there at the very beginning of creation.
In the wisdom of God, He thought it fit to prepare His people for 4000 years so that, waiting in hope, they may expect a Messiah, and receive Him well when He did come.
Later God saw to it, that the arrival of Jesus in the fullness of time was prepared by His precursor, St. John the Baptist. Based on this clue, the Church in the latter days, set a time period called Advent, for people to prepare for the worthy celebration of Christmas.
The Biblical vision of Christmas, as given by Isiah, 'A day on which the Lord, broke the yoke of people's burden'. Christmas was intended to be a point where the bar across the shoulders of people and the rod of their oppressors is broken.
But at Christmas today, sadly Christians are caught up in a supermarket Christmas, not the Biblical one.
Today the rich and the affluent in particular, celebrate Christmas, by placing burdens on the poor masses, to whom Christmas really belongs.
How sad that Jesus's Birthday, is celebrated by unworthy people opposing the very ideals which Christmas stands for?
In Sri Lanka, where a senseless war is being waged for over 15 years, Christmas has been celebrated, as opposed to Isiah's vision that 'Blood soaked cloaks, would be thrown out for burning', thanks to the warmongers, who build their little empires.
The liturgy of this year's Christmas day, presents Jesus as the light that has shone on a people who walk in darkness. (Is.9/2) Luke too, presents Jesus of Christmas, as light coming into the world. (2/9). Jesus by consenting to come to this world incognito, had placed himself at the disposal of his Father, God, to fulfil his mission to liberate his people from selfishness. But today most of the world's ills stem from selfishness. In the event of Christmas, Jesus illustrated how much God is prepared to share his love with poor mortals like us.
In the history of our country, it is chronicled that a good king called Wasabha, went out in the nights in disguise, to see for himself, how his people were getting on. At Christmas God came down to the home of Homo Sapiens, incognito, like our own Wasabha, to see for himself, how things were going on in the world He had created. Of the synoptics Mark who wrote about Jesus, does not mention Christmas. Mathew and Luke do.
But the real Christmas, is told and re-told by the evangelist John ,"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.
The Word was God, and through Him all things were made, and nothing was made without Him. The Word was Life, and this Life brought Light to the world, shining in darkness ..." (I/ 1-5).
John presents Jesus as the eternal Word of God; he refers to him as the Word. John says, "And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us."
The Church too teaches, that Jesus is the Love of God become Incarnate. John went on to say that his gospel was written so that we might believe Jesus was the promised Saviour, and that He is God's Son, and through faith in him, we might have life. (20/3) John also refers to the virgin birth of Jesus, in a different way from other gospel writers.
In John 1/12. 13 we read, "But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor will of man, but of God."
Further if we analyse the nativity, we find that entire episode is of religious, almost mystical significance.
The virgin birth, the celestial heralding of the news to poor shepherds, while royalty and the priestly tribe were kept in the dark, the appearance of a heavenly star, the worship of the Baby by Kings from the East, all point to a mystical event, distinct from an ordinary birth.
In the terminology of one liturgy, Christmas is the first moment of the Passover and hence it is present across space and time.
The Eastern Martyrology proclaimed it as a vigil for this feast, a 3 day Pasch, called 'Christ Vigil'.
Its teaching is that, there had to be a Christmas, because there had to be a Good Friday, contrary to our idea which is the opposite of it. That Christmas was for the glorification of God, is seen again in John who sums up thus, "And we saw His glory, the glory of the only-begotten of God, full of grace and truth."
Do we see God's glory at our Christmas celebrations?
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