11 December, 2017

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Reflections On Christmas (As Per Isaiah, Ch 58)

By Malinda Seneviratne –

Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

I am writing this on the 24th of December.  You will be reading this, hopefully, tomorrow, Christmas Day.  So Merry Christmas to all of you, especially those of the Christian faith and all those who are inspired by the life and words of the exceptional earth-resident, Jesus of Nazareth.

There’s a passage in the bible that I return to frequently. It prompts deep self-reflection and also gives perspective to a lot of things in our society.  Isaiah (Chapter 58) always sobers me up during Christmas and here I am thinking about Christmas as ‘event’, as commercial moment, advertising hook and business convenience and not what it was supposed to mean; the celebration of the saviour, what he advocated, lived and died for, the spirit of giving and forgiving etc.

The relevant passages focus on the notion of ‘fasting’ and like most parts of the Bible, are heavy on metaphor (and therefore open to multiple interpretation; inevitably and unfortunately). I like to think that it is about what could be called ‘the true work of the Lord’, that which could be described as performing the will of the Father in heaven.

Too often the Bible is read in a strictly literary manner and that always empowers zealotry and not the kind of humility that made Jesus Christ utter the words ‘Father why have you forsaken me?’  Believing fervently that they are indeed doing the work of the Lord, people slip to the by-any-means-necessary mode of operation.  From there it is a short distance to engendering strife and contention, embracing malicious talk and finger-pointing and striking with the fist of wickedness.  That’s not the ‘fast’ that Jesus advocated, Isaiah points out.

What is advocated is a different frame of being, a ‘fasting’ that is of a liberating, giving, sharing kind, one that is about loosening the chains of injustice, untying the cords of the yoke, setting the oppressed free, sharing food with the hungry, providing the hapless wanderer with shelter, clothing the unclothed.  Such an approach will obtain for one the Lord’s guidance, we are told and those who live in this manner would be called ‘Repairers of Broken Walls’ and ‘Restorers of Streets with Dwellings’; in short, they would be healers, architects of those nurturing edifices called community and solidarity.

But the Christmases of our experience is one of decoration and pomp, glitter and festivity, conspicuous consumption and vulgar consumerism, all accompanied by a manifest disavowal and frequent foot-noting of the fast and Sabbath as described by the prophets.

And this is not just on the 25th day of December, but throughout the year.  Even the ‘giving’ is considered in terms smacking of ‘return on investment’, i.e. with an eye on the ‘receiving’ at some later date. This is even true in the ‘work’ of those who have taken on the task of spreading the word of God.

I am not against festivity, don’t get me wrong.  My concern is that in the rush to ‘celebrate’ there is a clear flushing down the tube of the most salient words of the man from Galilee and the essence of what his life on earth was all about.

It is this ‘absence’ that has made Christmas a farce and a moment that draws ridicule and even anger from even the most sensitive and tender-hearted among us;  like Langston Hughes, whose poem ‘Merry Christmas’, published in ‘New Masses’ in December 1930, found its way to my email inbox a few minutes ago.

Merry Christmas

By Langston Hughes

Merry Christmas, China

From the gun-boats in the river,

Ten-inch shells for Christmas gifts,

And peace on earth forever.

 

Merry Christmas, India,

To Gandhi in his cell,

From righteous Christian England,

Ring out, bright Christmas bell!

 

Ring Merry Christmas, Africa,

From Cairo to the Cape!

Ring Hallehuiah! Praise the Lord!

(For murder and rape.)

 

Ring Merry Christmas, Haiti!

(And drown the voodoo drums –

We’ll rob you to the Christian hymns

Until the next Christ comes.)

 

Ring Merry Christmas, Cuba!

(While Yankee domination

Keeps a nice fat president

In a little half-starved nation.)

 

And to you down-and-outers,

(“Due to economic laws”)

Oh, eat, drink, and be merry

With a bread-line Santa Claus –

 

While all the world hails Christmas,

While all the church bells sway!

While, better still, the Christian guns

Proclaim this joyous day!

 

While holy steel that makes us strong

Spits forth a mighty Yuletide song:

SHOOT Merry Christmas everywhere!

Let Merry Christmas GAS the air!

The point is clear.  Christmas is not Christmas and perhaps never was. And yet it need not be this way.  There can be a move towards considering what chains and yokes exist around us and ask ourselves what we do about these.  This ‘usual’ Christmas does not forbid the faithful (and even the ‘faithless’) from sharing, from sheltering and clothing, literally and metaphorically.  Gifting, for example, is a good thing. Wholesome.  It is a bringing-together exercise.  But there are gifts and gifts, those which cost the earth (literally) and those which constitute a blessing to giver, receiver and the entire earth. And there are gifts to the most needy and gifts to those not in want.

Christmas, then, is a moment where ‘choice’ is exercised. Decisions are made. At every point, this question is being asked of the Christian, baptized or otherwise: ‘are you really doing the work of the Lord, are you really fasting in the way that “fast” has been described in the Bible’.  The way this question is being answered, the answers and their collective thrust is what makes Christmas.  It is what can break Christmas too.

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    Eh?….well yes, in any event, Merry Christmas Malinda!

  • 0
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    Malinda
    It’s rather a shame you did not seek guidance from your daughters who attend a well known Christian school in Colombo the true meaning of Christmas instead of choosing a passage that does not reflect the spirit of the season/festivities.

    • 0
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      It seems Malinda doesn’t need ‘guidance’ about what the arrival of the Messiah means. In fact the book of Isaiah is about prophesies in the Old Testament of what Jesus would teach. Significantly the words in Isaiah 61; 1-2 were used by Jesus as a summary of his mission.

    • 0
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      He is worried to do so in case he is ‘unethically converted’!!!!

  • 0
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    Please some let me know what this meer cat trying to say….

    • 2
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      He is practising on his new laptop Muthu.

  • 0
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    The article is indeed an insight into what Christmas should be and what it has become. We do forget that the Christmas message was given by the angels not to the highest and wealthy but to the lowest in Jewish society – the shepeards. Jesus moved with the ‘outcasts’ of that era – tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, representatives of Rome and so on. Have we forgotten the unconditional forgiveness from God? Do we remember the charge to be peacemakers? Do we follow the call to be like Jesus – the servant King?

    • 0
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      OK, ok this is all true, but it is the kind of homily (Malinda’s and Spotlight’s)that has become like water on a duck’s back today.

      Anyway good Christmas cheer gentleman, and for the record here are the relevant verses from Isiah: 58 (King James Version – The best, don’t bother with the others!).

      v1. Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.

      v10. And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day.

      v14. Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

  • 1
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    Malinda, you missed a beat!

    Here is how that silly ditty should have run:

    Merry Christmas, Sri Lanka

    From the gun-boats in Nandikadal & Vavuniya,

    Ten-inch shells for Christmas gifts,

    And piss on earth forever.

    Merry Christmas, Sri Lanka,

    To Fonseka in his cell,

    From righteous Buddhist BBS,

    Ring out, bright Temple bell!

    Ring Merry Christmas, Sri Lanka,

    From Point Pedro to Dondra Head!

    Ring Hallehuiah! Praise our King!

    (For we are waiting to be fed!)

    Ring Merry Christmas, Sr Lanka!

    (And drown the “Kattadi” drums –

    We’ll rob you of your faith and heritage

    Until the next Galaboda comes.)

    Ring Merry Christmas, Sri Lanka!

    While Rajapaksa domination

    Keeps a nice fat president

    In a little half-starved nation

    And to you down-and-outers,

    (“Due to economic laws”)

    Oh, eat, drink, and be merry

    In a bread-line you Silvas & Pereras

    While all the world hails Christmas,

    While all the church bells sway!

    While, better still, JHU & BBS guns

    Proclaim this joyous day!

    While holy steelrhetoric makes us strong

    Spit forth a mighty Yuletide song:

    SHOOT Merry Christmas everywhere!

    Let BBS and Malinda GAS the air!!!

  • 0
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    ‘And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father,Prince of Peace.

    Of the increase of His government and peace

    there will be no end…

    He will reign with justice and righteousness..’

    (Isaiah.9 )

    Merry christmas , peace and goodwill to all!

  • 0
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    Nice Smile of yours Mahinda;

    You all may enjoy the Christmas and new year with Gifts of CHOG-GOM, Tax relaxed DOG FOODs and 12 cylinder Lamborghinis with the personal Protection of Government paid Security forces.

    TOPs of laps also.

    With the blessings from POOR SRI LANKANS,
    Merry Christmas and RICH new year for you and Your Bosses Too,

  • 0
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    To get a true reflection you need a mirror that is clear and true plain. A crooked cloudy one always gives a distorted image. If you dont have that there is no need to reflect, just switch of off the lights and have a good sleep. That is the greatest help you can do to the world in this festive season. When you wake up littering will start. Have a good 2014 with less nonsense and less lies.

  • 0
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    Jesus moved with the ‘outcasts’ of that era – tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, representatives of Rome and so on. Have we forgotten the unconditional forgiveness from God? Do we remember the charge to be peacemakers? Do we follow the call to be like Jesus – the servant King?…………….Spotlight

    His diciples, Rayappu, Deogopillai, Singarayer, Savundranayakam, S.J.EMMANUEL, and the Sinhala clergy moves with TERRORISTS who did not give a damn to the Northern Youth & Children.

    v10. And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day. …. from Kumar D

    Send thy souls of the babes to be cannon fodder with false promises of eelam with weapons provided by Diaspora money ON OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN AND YOUTH……… HALLEHUIAH.

  • 0
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    Who said Justus was born on this day? Where is the evidence? Who said Justus is God? He never claimed that? How a mortal man become divine? What if he died ? He is gone ? He is finished once he died ? When people die then their life is over ? Why this fuss about it? Of course he was one of prophets ? He lived like all other prophets and died as you believed like a man: story ends there

  • 0
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    Mark.ch.2. ” Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic..

    Jesus said to the paralytic, ” Son, your sins are forgiven.”

    Now some teachers of the law were sitting there thinking to themselves,

    “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive

    sins but God alone?”

    Immediately Jesus knew… what they were thinking in their hearts and

    he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?

    ….But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority

    on earth to forgive sins..”

    (If you wish to find out more about Jesus, please read the Gospels.)

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