24th December 2000 
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Christmas - the other side

By Laila Nasry, Ruhanie Perera and Uthpala Gunethilake 
Ahh... Christmas. Cast a net and you will catch all those nice and positive words bouncing out of everybody's mouths, littering the air. All of us tend to look at Christmas through rose tinted glasses. The season of goodwill, of peace and the famous cliches go. 

But Christmas, which stands for the celebration of the birth of the saviour has been grossly twisted out of proportion to be just another reason to have good time and make a quick buck. 

The giving spirit of Christmas has been commercialised to the point of being abused. It has turned into a merry-go round of 'shop until you drop.' The focus is on giving extravagant gifts and not on showing love and appreciation, on sending big cards with little or no thought behind them. We walked around the city buzzing with the zest of Christmas shopping and found, amid the excitement and the general good mood of the season, a sense of weariness and a fair bit of cynicism. 

"The commercialisation is outrageous. When Chrismas is really about the message of God, people abuse it horribly," said one shopper, echoing many others. Many also felt the dent the season left on their purses was just too much. "Though they claim there are sales and discounts for the season, things seem to be as expensive as ever." Agreeing with her another consumer protested that the prices have been raised drastically. "I suppose that's how those in the business make their living but then it's a burden on those of us who earn a monthly salary," he said.

Another complained that the eternally escalating cost of living makes it impossible for people to really celebrate the season. 

There are still people out there who don't have food on their tables or who won't have a place to sleep this Christmas. Even for us Christmas is just another time we celebrate to keep the tradition going," she added.

"One good thing about Christmas is that for whatever reason, people do give during Christmas. At other times they don't give at all. Christmas seems to be hollow today with not much religion involved: it's just another reason to have hollow fun," said a young shopper.

"This is really not a season to celebrate. There's a war in the North and our economy is down in the dumps, and amidst all these problems, celebrating just seems like a joke," says another.

The other thing about the season which gets everyone's goat is the insurmountable traffic. "Even if you are not shopping you can't walk on the road and you can't take a bus without getting stuck," exclaimed a shopper. All the main shopping complexes are clogged in along with the main roads, and at peak hours their alternative routes as well. Many people complained that shopping is sometimes the last thing you feel like doing in the overcrowded malls.

However, through all that hassle and strung nerves, you somehow manage to sieve through the myriads of products the shops offer and find gifts for your loved ones. Thankful at last, and feeling glad that the footslogging, after all, was to appreciate a loved one and you can't wait till you give him or her the gift. But thud, your heart falls with the receiver's face once he or she sees the present.

"This is something that people overlook. They should think that it's not just a gift, it's the thought that went into it. What you get as a gift may not be what you wanted but you should think deep enough to know how much thought went into it," says one gift-hunter.

It seems as if Christmas is not all cheer and goodwill. Though plenty of this does exist, behind that are those same festering problems that plague us throughout the year. Maybe, though swamped as we are by the season's general festive mood, we need to look around and help where we can. After all Christmas is all about hope, about a better world...

Christmas is sharing, caring and giving

By Francis Vethanayagam
This time it is the Mil lennium Christmas. Exactly twenty centuries have rolled by after the birth of Jesus Christ, considered by Christians the greatest event in human history. 

Today, the Christmas celebration tends to reach its climax with the traditional Midnight Mass and the merry making thereafter. The older generation, though, still recall and yearn for a more hallowed Christmas. But then the world has changed and Christmas traditions have also changed.

But one thing can never change and that is the message of peace, goodwill, repentance and forgiveness, which Christ came into this world to give us and the salvation He obtained on the Cross for us. This will always remain the central theme and message of Christmas till the end of time. It is thus sad that at present, man has adopted a materialistic outlook towards Christmas. It is a Christmas without Christ. Is it not true to say that Christians themselves are to a great extent responsible for the present-day commercialisation of this event? To many it would be discomfiting but true to be told that Christ is crucified at Christmas, amidst the extravagance of a secular society.

But it is not too late to take Christ out of this materialistic environment. We all need to be a part of that solution and we can be so if we only think of the significance of what happened on that first Christmas at Bethlehem. Christmas is not something that took place in a far-off land many centuries ago. Christmas like the life of Christ is a continuous mystery. It is not only that God became man on that day, but that He was born in us, so that we could die to sin and permit the life in Him to flow into us. 

He also came into this world not only to reveal God, but also to redeem and save man from his lost condition. This he did by sacrificing His life on the Cross and taking on Himself the penalty for human sin, thus enabling man to live in fellowship with God. 

How many of us realise that Christmas is a festival of hope, expectation and goodwill. Let us remember that on this sacred day, it is the spiritual joy and happiness that Christians should experience. At present, the world is in turmoil. Fear and uncertainty like dark clouds overshadow us. This situation will only change when people turn to God. It is only then that we could sing "Glory to God in the highest and peace on Earth" for we now see neither the glory of God nor peace on Earth. 

In this festive season, the Christmas message can be meaningful and fitting only if we go out and look for Christ in our neighbour in a suffering world and share God's love and peace by a life of service. If we who call ourselves by His name are self-indulgent and unmindful of the homeless, the displaced, the hungry and naked, it will seem as if Christ's birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection have made no impact on our lives. 

Never in our history has there been so much grief, misery and want as abounds in our dear motherland today. Christians are thus called to be bring peace, joy and hope to this world by reaching out to those in need and distress. Christmas is sharing, caring and giving to those who cannot give to us. 

Let's celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way

By Lenard Mahaarachchi
Christmas as we know it, was first celebrated around 336 AD, when Pope Liberius told the Roman Christians, that instead of participating in the pagan festival in honour of the Sun-god Ra, they could celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. 

The Bible however, tells us that Christmas had its beginnings at the very outset of creation, when our first parents, sinned against God, necessitating a sacrifice, to appease the Almighty. 

God promised the fallen human race, a Redeemer. (Read Gen. 3/16).As a result the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ had to come down to earth as a mere child, in all human weakness.

Christmas is thus called because of its sacrificial nature. It means, the Mass of Christ, mass here meaning sacrifice. So, it is the death of Jesus, as a sacrifice that necessitated His birth - that we call Christmas. To understand the Jesus of Christmas, we need to read between the lines of the evangelist John's Gospel.

In fact Jesus is there at the beginning of John's Gospel, as the word, 'that is God', that 'was with God' from the very beginning, by whom all things were created and without whom nothing was created that was made. (Jn. 1/1-5). This pre-eminent Word of God, John then tells us, was made Flesh, meaning became man, to dwell among us. He then tells of how he saw (John and others) the Glory of the only-begotten of God. (vs. 14 etc). This is Jesus, whom we think of at Christmas in particular, and at all other times, in general.

Christmas, the Holy Birth of the God-Son, is a mystery. In the terminolgoy of theology, we call it the mystery of Incarnation, that had its fulfilment in another mystery, that of our Redemption. But, unfortunately today, as at the time of Cromwell of England, Christmas is much misunderstood. History tells us that Cromwell banned Christmas in England and in other colonies that came under it. Much like then, this august festival of God becoming man, for the sake of man's redemption, is being prostituted with a gamut of nonsensical customs and habits. And even after 2000 years, Jesus of Christmas is not known to over three fourths of the world's people, something that the Christians have to be ashamed about.

So why was the Birth of Jesus not celebrated in the first three centuries? The celebration of Birthdays then was a pagan custom, and besides only the Birthday of Rome's Caesar, could be memorialized. The second reason was that the early Christians, were not like their counterparts today, engaged in pre-occupations, but were hoping to receive Jesus, at His glorious second coming, as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. 

But alas, lamentably today's Christians have no idea about this return of Jesus in Glory. Jesus was not born on December 25th as is believed. Theologians are still debating the real date of Jesus's birth. He did not appear among us in royal attire, but in a robe of flesh, through Mary's virginal womb. He came preserving His majesty of divinity, assuming a lowly form of human nature. He descended from heaven, so that we may ascend there one day. He came incognito lest men be dazzled with His glory.

What Jesus did was like what an ancient Sinhala king did. King Wasabha is chronicled to have gone at night in disguise, to see for himself how his people got on. We also read that Emperor Joseph II visited the hovels of his city concealing his identity to his people to see how they lived. What Jesus of Christmas did was just that.

So, let this Christmas, the first this millennium, drive sense into the heads of Christians. Let us unite to celebrate the birth of God, in a meaningful way. Maybe even taking a cue from our Buddhist brethren, and refrain from consuming wine or any such desecrating rituals. A holy Christmas to you all. 

The Bethlehem Star

Glorious and loving Father, 
Creator of heaven, sky and earth. 
Thank you for making ME the star to 
Announce the birth of 
Your dear and gentle son, Jesus.
From heaven did He come 
But, no man on earth had room in their heart 
The son of God to receive.
This Christmas too, the people who 
Welcome Jesus are few. 
Forgive them O Father, 
They know not what they do.
Look! they are buying gifts, 
Painting and polishing...
It's a frantic scramble down there
Now whose birthday they're celebrating, 
They seem to have forgotten........ 
That's not fair.
Their theme is:- "My gifts, my food, my family 
My fun."
They seem to have forgotten the words of your son...........
"Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, That you do unto me".
But if love for all was in their hearts
Everyday, would Christmas be.
Help them to share their love, time, 
Talents and care
And they too may shine like the Bethlehem Star
Brightening the lives of the poor, 
The lost and broken-hearted,
Lighting the path of the drug-addicts, 
Prostitutes and dejected
For isn't that why Jesus came down to earth
To shower love, forgiveness, kindness 
And wipe away all hurt?
He didn't cast the first stone or point a finger
But strove to serve mankind 
And with the lost, to linger.
So shine and manifest God's unfailing care
Let's lead all to the son of God's
Unconditional love.

-Sandra Victoria 

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