Jesus born in a manger can be likened to Jesus born in front of a shop front (kada thinna in Malayalam) or Jesus born on the street. This season we reconstruct the manger in our homes and churches with baby Jesus surrounded by his mother, father, the shepherds and the wise men. Our construction betrays the very concept of the manger and the manner of the birth of Jesus. In a country where the aam aadmi (common (wo)man) is more an election slogan than a sincere move, it may help to go back to why the most powerful man in the world would be born in the most common (now despicable) of circumstances.
Was Jesus an aam aadmi? Was his power reflected in his commonness with the ordinary people around him and his identification with them? Why would God choose to be attached with the ordinary rather than have a royal and luxurious birth? Jesus’ birth and life can be said to be the rise of an ordinary man from the manger to the cross. In this way he chooses his entry and exit in the comfort of what we would call ordinary and powerless.
Our faith in these times is being symbolised with the huge churches and big homes that we build rather than the truth of the manger. Our march and expansive drives to our churches is crisscrossed by the images of the homeless sleeping on the streets, covering themselves with old rags and pieces of plastic stitched together. One can’t help thinking that we are maybe congregating to the wrong places. Our association to money and luxury simply goes against our Lord on the streets. In this sense does a king need a luxurious palace? A king is rather a king by what he does and how he lives. A true king in this sense will have people congregating to where he is. We obviously want that to be in the churches we build. But this season we should meditate on whether our churches should be more broad and expansive and not just limited to the boundaries of our church walls.
Jesus as an aam aadmi remains a slogan for us as well. We preach about the poor Jesus in our rich sermons in the confines of our rich churches. This is just as the politicians talk about the aam aadmi from within the confines of their political offices and election rallies. Rahul Gandhi tried to define the aam aadmi during the Congress Party plenary session on Sunday. He said “Aam aadmi in India is that person who does not have a connection to the system. Whether he is poor or rich, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or Christian, educated or uneducated, if he is not connected to the system, he is an aam aadmi.” He further explained citing examples of a “tribal boy in Niyamgiri who is thrown out of his land without justice, the Dalit boy in Jhansi who is forced to sit at the back of the classroom; the young professional in Bangalore who cannot get her child into a good school; the university topper in Shillong who cannot get a job because he does not know the right people.” There are problems with his definition but what he tried to say I feel is the lack of opportunity that arises because of the lack of connect with a power system within India.
Jesus as an aam aadmi lacked this political ‘connect’ with people in power and yet he manages to inspire many and continues to do so. His lack of connect with the powerful becomes his connect with the poor. This is the truth which lies hidden in the manger. This is the truth of Christmas.