A radical Christmas awaits those of faith
GUEST EDITORIAL BY FR S’MILO MNGADI
A famous retail store recently ran a Christmas advert with the tagline “Christmas is about food”. Is this true? In many ways it is. Christmas is about food. Food is abundant at Christmas. We eat turkeys, fruit mince pies, rich cakes and so on. The original scene of Christmas is Bethlehem — which means “House of Bread” — and its main actor is the Bread of Life on whose Body we feed.
What does one do, though, when “gantry has stolen Christmas”, as one cartoon reacted to the launch of the e-tolls in Gauteng? There will be fewer delicacies as money goes to the toll. More importantly, the core or the root of Christmas has somehow been stolen.
The Latin word for root is “radix” and the root of Christmas is radical change.
Christmas is radical. The first Christmas brought about radical change. It frustrated natural laws and conventional codes. God became human. The Eternal One became time-bound. The Omnipresent became space-constrained.
Above all, the people for whom God broke the normal order did not welcome him, let alone accept his new order of peace: “He came to his own and his own did not welcome him” (Jn 1:11).
Jesus came to save us. Biblically, being saved (from the Greek soteria) means being spared, being delivered and being edified — being made a better person.
Jesus came to spare us from whatever endangers us. He came to release us from what holds us in bondage. By his coming, we are better people. We were creatures who fell and became sinners only to be elevated to be children of God and co-heirs with Jesus.
“To those who welcomed him, he gave power to become sons and daughters of God” (Jn 1:12). This is radical change.
This radical message is sometimes sugar-coated with carols-by-candlelight, decorations, lunches and dinners, gift-sharing and, worst of all, over-commercialisation. This is fine for children, but as men and women of faith, we cannot be content with such.
We need to go beyond the “sugary” part and get to the bitter yet healing part which brings about radical change in our lives. Our lives, then, will radiate “Glory to God” and advance “Peace to people of goodwill”.
At Christmas, Joseph and Mary could not find a place to sleep at Bethlehem. Was there really no space at all for them? Was it not that some people could not accept a little inconvenience so that a heavily pregnant woman could have a little comfort? The true Christmas spirit cannot allow a privilege of convenience to override the basic right to life and its necessities.
The angels first brought the message of Christmas to the shepherds who were not worthy of the census that was taking place. Jesus is primarily born for the world’s “nobodies”.
This is very radical. It means that to have a true Christmas spirit, it is “nobodies”, and not the crème de la crème, who should be our priority. Pope Francis is leading the way in this regard.
These shepherds left everything to see the baby Jesus. We do not hear that the sheep they left were stolen or devoured by wolves. Why? “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things [that you worry and are anxious about] shall be added unto you” (Mt 6:33).
In this true Christmas spirit, we need to set priorities for our 2014 resolutions.
Christmas is family time. However, the first Christmas family was very strange. Joseph continued to be with Mary though it was against the customs of the day. Why? Only because God had said so.
The stability of families and marriages rests only on what God has said, his Word. The Word of God gives life and love. Family is a community of life and love. It is also a place of joy and radical sacrifice. Joseph, a Jewish man, becomes a midwife. How radical!
Sweet as it is, Christmas calls for radical change. As we are filled with “sweets” at Christmas, let us be filled with real food, Jesus Christ. In that way, no gantry can steal our Christmas.
Fr Mngadi is the communications officer of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
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