Question: Joh Edayal
At Christmas we remember the event that God became a human being. What really makes friends of God and friends of human being?
Answer: Saji Mathew Kanayankal CST
It is true that Christmas is a time of reflecting the fundamental faith experience of Christianity that God became a human and dwelt among us. On the one hand it is a historical reality, but on the other hand it is a mystery. The mystery of incarnation may not be fully grasped but it can be experienced. As Karl Rahner points out, “mystery is something undisclosed,… is the impenetrable which is already present.” As he explains, we should not expect that mystery to stop its mysterious dimension one day and become comprehensible, rather it always remains incomprehensible. “So much so that the immediate vision of God that is promised to us, as our fulfilment, is the immediacy of the incomprehensible.” So is the beauty of Christmas. On the one side, its mysterious dimension- an incomprehensible reality; whereas on the other hand, it is one of the most tangible mystery, because by incarnation, God becomes human being and He is with us. In Rahner’s own words, “a process of God’s self-renunciation and self-expression into what other than Godself.” Thus, the incomprehensible mystery became the part of our profession of faith, not because we comprehend it fully, but because we love Jesus of Nazareth and we strongly believe that He is God and He is truly revealed to us a full human being which we find in the Gospel. In nutshell, we, the corporeal and limited beings, understand the deeper mysteries of God through historical Jesus – a total human being. This humanness is the beauty of the incarnation and in Christmas what we celebrate is this deeper mystical faith experience of Christianity.
However, the sad reality of today is that the basic faith experience has become just a celebration for some, it is a question of culture and for others it is a religious ceremony. It is very difficult to see Jesus of the Gospel in these celebrations! In other words, we lose the deeper mystical and Christological insights of God’s dwelling among human being. Without reflecting on the true mystery of Christmas, one cannot be a real friend of both God and human being. Forgetting the historicity of Christmas and its mystical dimension is prevalent today and I would like to explain it in terms of commodification or marketisation of Christmas.
All the more, the true meaning of Christmas is negated today by its commodification. It is odd to see that the preparation for Christmas is started in the super/hyper markets far before any Christian institutions! ‘The corporate Christmas’ rapidly swallowing its religious, spiritual and ethical values. The materialism associated with Christmas has become a manifestation of holiday spirit. In the corporate world, Christmas is not a time of humble reflection, effusive charity and financial modesty, rather it is just a market opportunity to be exploited and to gain more profit. The grammar of humanness in Christmas is gradually evaporating by the culture of hedonism and consumerism.
Many of the traditional practices of Christmas are furtively marketised today. Christmas gift itself became one of the best business of our time. Instead of an expression of love, friendship and togetherness and a language of understanding and sharing, it becomes just a custom of exchanging some useful gadgets! While shops are opened, our minds remain closed! We also loose the art of keeping a small branch of a tree from the backyards, or to the extent the trees are disappeared from our yards. Since Christmas tree is available in the supermarket with well decorations, we opt for it. Similarly, the stimulating seasonal lights or nativity scenes are available in the market and the on-line Christmas special food is also awaiting at the door at a cheaper rate! So is the celebration of the birth of Jesus in the neoliberal post-modern world!
At least some of us heard about the ‘Black Friday’ of America! By the last week of November, a kick off of a profitable holiday season – the Christmas shopping season – begins, like the kick off of the FIFA, a time of celebration and market. The one who was born in the manger is really mocked at here! Poprock music, obnoxious decorations, splendour of money, play of wealth and riches, amusement of income, remuneration and profit, all those are quite contradictory to the Child in the manger – announces us His birth now! As happened on the eve of Christmas, the wealthy and the affluent conquer the inn, he is out! The rich and the big multinationals have occupied the places – the poor, the farmers, the small entrepreneurs, the tribal and the aboriginals have no place in the neoliberal sphere of modern markets, economy and public square of Christmas celebration. The oddity is that this money-changing, profit-making and strangely competitive version opposite to the spirt of the Child at Bethlehem and contradict Jesus of the Gospel.
According to a study of the Pew Research in 2017, 90% of total Americans and 95% of Christians there celebrate Christmas. For many younger generations, it is a cultural holiday than the religious celebration. However, 56% of the Americans have the opinion that the religious dimension of Christmas is declining. Majority i.e. 52% of them do not bother about the greetings in the shops for many shop keepers greet it either as seasonal greetings or happy holiday instead of merry Christmas. It is also true that among the American non-Christians almost 80% celebrates Christmas. Many also would argue that the religious symbols are not to be placed publicly on government property during Christmas, the secular holiday display, like the Christmas tree, Santa Claus have a much better chance. Though many practices of Christmas like gathering, common rituals, exchanging gifts etc are part of the celebration they prefer to see it as a cultural fest than a religious feast.
The market’s idea of competition, success and advertisement is also creeping into the spheres of the church, especially in its Christmas celebrations! The competition to make the biggest Christmas tree or crib and cake or to frame the mega gathering of Santa Claus, in order to get into the Limca Book of Records or the Guinness World Records are the sheer marketing methods of the modern neoliberal economic traits. In the name of such big events, an enormous money is mobilised, utilised and squandered even without proper accounting. In fact, this materialistic and hedonistic celebrations can be irritating or stressful and it seems like the holidays revolve around spending money. But it has become so omnipresent out of a sense of caring for the people in our lives. Here we have the most important questions. Who benefits from these kinds of corporate Christmas celebrations? How does the most vulnerable and the poor get the benefit of human becoming of Jesus? How should we value the authenticity of God becoming human?
The admonitions of Pope Francis against hoarding wealth, worshipping mammon and going after the splendour of the materialism are relevant and thought provoking in this context. During the Holy Mass in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta on 29 November 2018, interpreting Rev18:1-2; 21-23, he commented on the destruction of the city of Babylon – a city “of luxury, of self-sufficiency, of the power of this world,” “dwelling place of demons, haunt of all impure spirits.” The beautiful celebrations of richness, promptness, etc will not last long. He compares the modern neoliberal marketing world as a city, a city of corruption, perhaps “an enlightened city, but without light, not luminous; it is a corrupted civilization.” He strongly warns that there will be an end for the world’s appearances. According to him the sin of Jerusalem was the corruption and infidelity to love, it was not able to recognise the love of God in His son. Holy city trampled by pagans. In fact, it is the crisis of a civilisation that believes itself proud, sufficient, dictatorial will end.
According to Pope Francis, Advent has “three dimensions,” past, present and future. It is first of all “the purification of the memory… It isn’t the Christmas tree that is born” but “Jesus Christ… the Lord… the Redeemer who came to save us… We always have the danger, we will always have in us the temptation to make Christmas worldly — when the feast ceases to be contemplation — a beautiful family celebration with Jesus at the centre — and begins to be a worldly celebration: shopping, presents, this and that… and the Lord remains there, forgotten.” Christmas is a time to seek God in human, seeing the image of God portrayed on the face of fellow human beings. In the modern world, we are passionate about finding signs of the existence of living and intelligent beings on other planets. But we fail to seek and study the signs of the ‘living being’ who created the universe, who entered in it, who entered into its history and who lives here as well as being ‘the divine image’ in our fellow beings. In order to be the true friends of God one must open himself to his/her neighbour and see the face of the Child in the manger in his/her lowliness, discomfort, miseries and struggles.