In recent years especially here and in other first world countries, we have witnessed a subtle ‘de-christianization’ of Christmas. Sensitivity to the religious, or non-religious, convictions of others has led some people to substitute seasonal greetings for the traditional Christmas cards, and nativity scenes are now less frequently displayed in shop windows and in the foyers of public buildings than was formerly the case. Similarly, in our media-driven world, we are so distracted by gifts and toys, by the newest gadgets and by this year’s novelties, that Christmas seems to have become more about Santa Claus than about the baby of Bethlehem. Some of us are so preoccupied with the material and social aspects of the festivities that we may miss the message of the carols that can be heard in many shopping centres and on many streets of our towns and cities in the days leading up to Christmas. Today as we celebrate Christ’s birth, let us focus on the true meaning of Christmas. What does the saying “unto us a child is born, a child who is Emmanuel, God is with us.
This remark which is reflected in our Gospel reading, tells us that the son of God entered into the stream of human history and embraced the human condition with all its vulnerability and fragility, with all its joys and sorrows. The world into which Jesus came was not the romanticised world of the traditional Christmas cards and nativity plays. There was always more to the story. Jesus experienced a fragmented world such as our today. There were lots of political turmoil and suppression, there were poverty, penury and want, there was depravity of all sorts. Jesus came to shine as light in the midst of those human tragedies just as he shines in our world of broken promises and shattered dreams. Jesus comes to show us the way to true and lasting happiness.
Every year, when the time comes to send out our Christmas cards, we get out our address books, there we may come across a name and we scream ‘gosh, I have not communicated with the fellow for ages now’. Sometimes we may even be confused wondering whether we sent him a card last Christmas or not. We are faced with a dilemma, should we send him a card or not? Some of us has got people with whom we communicate only once a year, at Christmas. At one time, we may have been very close and gradually the gulf between us kept widening and widening. Now we have reached a sorry stage when we communicate only at Christmas, just once a year. This shows us that relationship suffers from neglect just as a garden does. This can also happen in our relationship with God. We can get disconnected with God. It is not necessarily that we stopped believing in God, but we just have a feeling of being disconnected with him. When people allow themselves to be disconnected with God a loss is incurred and a large vacuum occurs. Christ came to keep us permanently connected with God. We don’t die on the day we cease to believe in a personal deity but we die, the day our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily of a wonder which is beyond all reasoning. The Christmas message is that God is ever close and loving towards us. An inner peace springs from being connected with God and also being connected with all people especially our estranged friends and family members.
Christmas brings peace into our lives and into our world. On Christmas day in 1914, the German and English soldiers faced each other from trenches filled with mud and rats. In the English trenches, cards and letters arrived from home and this cheered them up a little bit. By midnight some of them began to sing. Then suddenly, one of them shouted ‘listen!’. When they listened, they heard the German soldiers singing the ‘Silent Night’ in the chilly darkness of the night and their voices were echoing down towards them. A few moments later, two brave soldiers met in the open and more soldiers trooped out of their trenches and joined them. On Christmas day, soldiers from both sides walked freely from no man’s land. They exchanged food and drinks and shared jokes. There was no official truce signed but the power of Christmas was stronger than all the armies at the front put together. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is a sense of inner calm and designates right relationship with God and neighbour.
Christmas demonstrates that God speaks the language of love. This language is assented to by people of various tribes, cultures, races, sex and social stratification. Let us hymn this love and help to build other people’s lives in and through it.