Christmas season is a season of joy and happiness. Though Easter is the greatest feast of Christianity, Christmas is celebrated all over the world both young and old and men and women. There are many symbols are used to express the joyful event of Christmas: Star, X’mas Cards, Sancta Claus, X’mas Carols and Christmas Tree etc. Many a times, people tend to forget the significance of X’mas concentrating on the externals. Sometimes we live in a dream world for a few days of X’mas season. It is very essential that we understand the true meaning of it by reading in the infancy narratives presented by St. Mathew and St. Luke in their gospels.
Chesterton, a great English writer says, “Christianity is a religion of Paradoxes”. Though there are paradoxes, they express a truth in a striking manner: “For whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mt. 16:25). “Enter by narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life” (Mt. 7:13-14).
In a similar manner, the Infancy narratives express the paradoxes of life. They bring out in a forceful manner the deeper meaning of life. Jesus coming is the dawn of a counter culture. Hence these paradoxes are the distinguishing marks of Christian life. Let us take a few examples of these paradoxes from the Infancy narratives in the Gospel according to Luke. (Lk. 2:1-20).
a) Angels: The Angels appeared not to people who have learnt the law, the scribes, not to people offer sacrifices in the temple, the priests, not to those who had strictly observed the Law of Moses, the Pharisees. But he appeared to the shepherds, who were uneducated, uncouth and unexpected people, who were considered by the Jewish society as belonging to the group of thieves. It is surprising that God did not send his angels, to announce about the birth of the Messiah, to people who were expecting him. But the angels appeared and announced the birth of the Messiah, to those who least expected about his coming. Here two opposite poles are meeting. It tells the truth that God searches for human beings always without any reservation, whatever may be our state or condition of life. His love is unconditional. He reinstates the dignity of human persons who have no say in the society.
b) Shepherd’s field: The Jewish people considered that Palestine, the holy land was the center of the world. In the holy land, the city of Jerusalem on mount Zion is the center of the land. In Jerusalem, the temple was the center of the city. In the temple, Holy of Holies was the center, because God dwells there in the Ark of the Covenant.
In fact, the announcement of Messiah was first done not in Jerusalem, nor in the temple but in the fields where the shepherds are guarding the sheep. God in Christ has come and sanctified every place. The cleavage between divine and mundane is abolished. The idea of holiness is demystified. The heaven and earth meet at the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The nature becomes like a mirror which reflects God’s goodness and his care for the earth.
c) Shepherds: Shepherds who walk long stretches in search of grass for their sheep. They don’t mind whether it is sun or rain. They are bold to defend their sheep from the wolves and thieves. But the same shepherds became afraid when they saw “The glory of Lord shone around them”. Hence “The angel said to them ‘ Be not afraid; for behold I bring you Good News of a great Joy which will come to all people, for to you is born this day, in the city of David a savior, who is the Christ the Lord’ “ (Lk. 2:9-11). God’s presence in the coming of the Savior in our midst in Jesus, brings in joy where there is fear, love and understanding where there is hurt feelings, positive thoughts where there is negative feelings.
d) Wrapped in swaddling clothes: Mary and Joseph came from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register their names according to the decree of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus (Lk. 2:1). Mary was pregnant and the time had come suddenly for her to be delivered. Since they had no place in the inn, they had to go into a manger meant for animals. Mary gave birth to a son and wrapped in the swaddling clothes (Lk. 2:7). Since they did not expect the child to be born in the near future, they were not ready and they did not take sufficient clothes for the child to be wrapped. Hence they tore the clothes that they had and wrapped the child. They were not worried about the lack of clothes. But they were satisfied with what they had. Usually we don’t think of what we have but we, more often think of what we don’t have. But true happiness consists in living satisfied with what we have rather than longing for the things that we wish to have. If we want every wish of ours to be fulfilled, it would definitely create anxiety, worry and finally sadness.
e) Manger is a place where the animals eat their fodder and there Jesus was laid in the manger. Jesus, the Messiah was with animals and becomes fodder for men. The place of fodder for animals had become the place for the fodder for men. The food eternal is in the place of the food which is perishable. It reminds us the words of Jesus, “I am the bread of life” (John. 6:35). The manger has become a tabernacle. God has come into our midst in Jesus to give us life eternal.
Hence X’mas celebration calls us to realize the following:
(i) To respect human dignity as man is created in the image and likeness. Hence everyone in Christ Jesus becomes children of God. “There is no distinction between Jew or Gentile, Male or Female, freeman or slave” (Gal. 3:28)
(ii) The distinction between divine and mundane is abolished. God has come in our midst to sanctify everything of this world. Hence we must learn to see God’s presence every human activities. It invites us to respect the nature which reflects the glory of God. The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only Son, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14).
(iii) Since God has come in our midst there is no room for despair, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;” (2 Cor. 4:8-9). Jesus can lead us from hopeless situation into a hopeful situation; from fear and anxiety into peace and Joy, from pessimism to optimism we need to recognize his presence in our midst. Jesus says that the kingdom of God is your midst (Lk 17:21).
(iv) Being is more important than having. Material possessions alone cannot satisfy human longings. one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions (Lk. 12:15). Life is lived in relationship with God and with others. We need to be satisfied with what we have and be always thankful to God.
(v) Jesus is the fountain of life. In him “No longer I live but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 1:20). He feeds us daily though his Word and Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose
Bishop of Thanjavur