Christmas – a celebration of God becoming human as a gift of love
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago, the eyes of the world are still fixated on Bethlehem where the Christ child was born. He was born in humble circumstances – a manger. Bethlehem remains the focus of world attention as pilgrims in their millions come to visit the place where Mary gave birth to Jesus.
2,000 years ago, Joseph and a pregnant Mary plodded through rough terrain on donkey and foot, making the 100-mile trip from Nazareth to Joseph’s hometown, Bethlehem. Far away in Rome, the emperor Caesar Augustus had demanded a census be taken of all his conquered lands so he might know what he would collect in taxes. In those days, taxes were paid in crops and animals. Mary and Joseph lived in an oppressive society. They were heavily taxed by local and faraway rulers who demanded as much as 50% to 60% of what the common people grew and owned. The precise nature of conditions in present-day Palestine is similar – perhaps, even worse, in scope. The variations are only a matter of detail.
Palestine is controlled by a vicious colonialist-occupation authority and people live under immense cruelties. As a shepherd guarding his flock at the Fields of the Shepherds one late evening where some of us visited said to our little group: “Some 2000 years ago, the stars had lit up the skies. It pointed to Jesus birth spot. Today it is the blinding lights of killer-bomber aircraft and soldiers in tanks who come to kill us and our children. But we have not fled and will not. This is our homeland and we will stay. We claim this place as legacy from our foreparents. Justice demands that we live here along with others in true peace, not as slaves or colonized people, but as equal citizens with identical rights. We challenge the enslavement that Israel seeks to impose on us. Our longing for freedom and dignity is sustained by hope in the Living God”.
Robyn J. Whitaker, Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies, Trinity College, University of Divinity wrote a few years ago: “The Jesus story, in its historical context, is one of human terror and divine mercy, of human abuse and divine love. It is a story that claims God became human in the form of one who is vulnerable, poor and displaced in order to unveil the injustice of tyrannical power”. He adds that Jesus is like many people in the world – a baby whose Middle-Eastern family was displaced due to terror and political turmoil. Christmas is a gift of love which is but a reminder that we live in a world where millions of children suffer around the world due to politics and religion. Ignore this fact and we risk missing the entire point of the Christmas story.
May we celebrate the birth of Jesus but recognize that the ultimate celebration must be delayed until all who are oppressed are free from bondage. May a just peace prevail in the here and now!