A CHRISTMAS REFLECTION FOR A WOUNDED WORLD
One of the catchphrases that describe Christmas is “God with us”. Take a close look at the world today, is God really with us? The breakthroughs in technology, medicine, and science have caused many people to regard faith in God today as redundant. It is not uncommon to hear people, especially in Western Europe and America, say “we don’t need God to be with us, we have science and medicine to look after us”. On the South side of the globe, especially in Africa and Asia, poverty, violence, injustice, abuse, and war, have dispossessed and continue to rob many people of their fundamental dignity to life and basic human rights. It is true that we cannot undermine the beauty and many blessings we have received from God through the goodness and generosity of others, but how do we possibly tell parents, like mothers, such as those in the horn of Africa (the Somali Peninsular) who lose babies to famine and hunger every day, that God is with them? This is just one example of the many tragedies that ravage our world today. So, what is really good about this news that today a saviour has been born to us and that a Word has become Flesh and is now living among us? What difference does it make? Do people not go about their daily lives, handling their situations and dealing with their own struggles all by themselves? Do we not do the same? If there is something special about Christmas, then what is it exactly?
Jesus was born in a world that was not so different from ours. Sickness, suffering, conspiracy, violence, wars and rumours of war were also the typical realities of his world. At the same time, there were also concrete experiences of peace, sincere love, and strong family and friendly relationships as it is in our time. Jesus’ birth was not particularly special. It could have been special and dramatic to a few like Joseph and Mary, but not to many others. In fact, Jesus was regarded by his society as an ordinary person, the son of a carpenter (see Mt 13:55). It would seem most probable to conclude that Jesus was not particularly significant because he was born in a spectacular way, with angels descending from heaven with instructions to ensure that God’s only son was born safely. We could push our imagination further. Does the birth of Jesus, in itself, have any special significance or fundamental relevance? Did it change anything in the world or in the way people lived and understood themselves? To put in another way, if Jesus had died as a baby, just as soon as he was born, would his birth have been of any importance to the history of the world and to human beings?
Jesus became a prominent figure and adopted central stage in world history not simply because he was born, but because he grew up to achieve something important. Jesus grew up to establish an important edifice that is commonly known, to many who take Christianity seriously, as the Kingdom. The inauguration of the Kingdom of God introduced a ‘new order’ that was to radically change the understanding of the world and the history of humanity. It is precisely on account of this Kingdom of God that Jesus came to be revered and celebrated as a King. What then is this Kingdom of God?
There is no single concept that can define the Kingdom of God. Jesus himself did not define the Kingdom of God but talked about it through stories and metaphors. In all these stories and metaphors about the Kingdom of God, there is a single thread that ties them up together, namely, that, for Jesus, the Kingdom of God is not merely an idea, but a concrete visible reality that is with us here and now. However, this Kingdom of God is not a fixed structure or an establishment that has been constructed once and for all. The Kingdom of God is a ‘world order’ a new way of life that is brought about through the joint effort of divine and human action – of divine action in the sense that God’s initiative to incarnate God’s self in world history is the condition of the possibility for which the Kingdom of God exists – of human action in the sense that even though the Kingdom of God is only possible on account of God’s initiative, its reality is always a ‘potential’ that must be actualised as a human response God’s initiative.
In Jesus Christ, we see that ‘divine action’ does not contradict ‘human action’. In Jesus, divine action is always accomplished in relation to human action. Jesus built the Kingdom of God as a joint interaction between divine and human love, with the emphasis that the love of God is always concretely expressed and lived out as the love of neighbour. In other words, our love for God can only be truly seen in the love we have for one another (see Mt 25:31-46) . In this purview, the Kingdom of God is always to be seen as a dynamic and ‘living reality’ founded ultimately on how we respond to God’s love in the way we relate with one another. In the simplest understanding, the Kingdom of God is God’s vision of general well-being made available to each and every one of us in this world [and the next] as a reality that can be actualised in the concrete love of neighbour.
The Kingdom of God is a reality that has always been with us from the beginning of creation. Jesus inaugurated this Kingdom in a special way by raising our consciousness to its presence through the concrete example of his own life and love. He stood in solidarity with the poor, the sick, and the oppressed: giving food to the hungry, health to the sick, voice to the voiceless, comfort to the broken hearted, welcome to the rejected, forgiveness to the sinner, and dignity to the underdog or the nobodies in society. At Christmas, we celebrate a child who grew up believing that the world can only become a better place when divine and human love unite together as one. Jesus believed that when human beings work together with God’s plan of general well-being for all, life and society will be transformed into something beautiful: the blind will see, the lame will walk, the sick will be healed, the hungry will be fed, the immigrant will be welcomed, the stranger will be given a home, the sinner will be forgiven, ‘the dead’ will have new life.
We continue to experience, even today, the living presence of the Kingdom of God on earth in the examples of many people who lived and died, expressing their love for God as service to their neighbour. One of the most recent examples in history is Mother Theresa of Calcutta who committed her entire life to the love and service of the poor and the sick. She contributed to building the Kingdom of God on earth in her time. Many others can be added to her list, but it is most appropriate to talk about ourselves, now, because this is our time! Where do we situate ourselves in this ongoing construction process of the Kingdom of God on earth? Are we buildering or demolishing? Are we reconciling or dividing? Are we participating or observing? Are giving back or just receiving? The Kingdom of God is, in the language of the theologian, “already and not yet.” It has begun, in fact it is already with us, but it is not yet complete. It will only be completed in an unknown future at the end of time.
Today we celebrate the birth of a King who has left us with an unfinished Kingdom –a life-giving Kingdom, in progress, that will only be completed as a joint effort between human and divine action – a ‘potential’ Kingdom of general wellbeing that will ultimately be actualised in the love of God, lived and expressed as the love of neighbour. Love is a ‘mystery’ that cannot be measured or quantified. There is no particular way to define or express love, but we can borrow a helpful insight from Thomas Oord. He writes: “to love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others; to promote overall [and equal] well-being [for ourselves and for every other person]”.
I cannot tell anyone how to love their neighbour (especially those very worrisome neighbours), it is up to us to figure that out. But one thing I am sure about is that although it might be difficult to love others (especially those who do not really care about us) it is never impossible to love all the same. In becoming human, at Christmas, God showed us that it is possible for human beings to love one another and make the world a better place. At Christmas God became human so that human beings in loving one another can transform the world and live together in peace, equality, and harmony as children of God. We do not experience pain and suffering in the world today because God is not with us. We are hurt because we have chosen not to be with God – we have chosen against love. Love alone will restore the world to God’s vision of general well-being for everyone. God has come, God is here, and God has done God’s part. We need to do our part – to love one another as God has loved us. “As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love (1Cor. 13:13).”
Bawe Philip Shube MHM