By Malinda Seneviratne –
It is Christmas time; the time for good cheer, merriment and fun. That’s what the signs say. Christmas is ‘Christian’, officially. In reality though, it can be argued that it belongs to business. This says something about its appropriation by profit-seekers.
In another reality, Christmas, in Sri Lanka, belongs to all Sri Lankans, regardless of faith. Children of all faiths eagerly await the arrival of Santa Claus. This says a lot about the meaning of Christmas. In Sri Lanka, Christians (of all denominations) are just 7% of the population, making them the 4th largest religious group. The embrace of Christmas, then, says a lot of the tolerance and accommodation of other faiths, especially Buddhists.
What is most important however is not compositions and cultural predilection spawned by philosophical preferences and upbringing, but message. Christmas is about Jesus Christ, the celebration of his birth. Given the significance to the fundamentals of the faith, Easter is more important to Christians spiritually, but this does not mean that Jesus Christ, what he said, what he did and the relevant lessons should be forgotten. It is a celebration, sure, but it can also be a time for sharing, giving and reflection.
When one thinks back on Christmases of the past, no Christmas time comes close to affirming the endearing qualities of Jesus (which indeed constitute the bedrock of the faith, some might claim) than the year 2004. Although the giving and sharing, the sympathy and empathy, following the Tsunami did not come decked in red and green of holly leaves and berries, or dusted with something to indicate snowflake, the effort can be described as embodying what Christmas ought to be.
That monumental ‘giving’ sits well with many biblical passages contained in the Book of Deuteronomy, the Psalms, the Proverbs, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Micah in the Old Testament, as well as the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the Letters of Paul in the New Testament. It doesn’t matter if Buddhists were urged by the teachings of the Buddha and Muslims by those of the Prophet or Hindus by the words sacred to them. For all this, there was an affirmation of Christmas in ways not seen before or since.
Today, in 2012, we are not in a post-Tsunami moment, but are nevertheless in the midst of a natural calamity where hundreds of thousands of people have been rendered homeless, dozens of lives lost and untold damage caused to livelihoods. Today we remember and salute the thousands of public servants who have gone beyond the call of duty to bring relief to the distressed and note with dismay that some have deliberately failed to respond as per their contractual obligations. Today, we celebrate those citizens who individually and collectively reached out to help. Today we ask ourselves, ‘have we done enough?’
This is Christmas time. It is a time when goodwill and cheer come in buckets. It is, right now, a time when the heavens have opened and the floodgates of misery have burst. There are many ways to celebrate Christmas, which as was observed above, belongs to all. We can choose. We can choose poorly. We must not.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loosen the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Isaiah 58:6-7;10