Monday, December 26, 2016

The cries of children from Bethlehem: An inspiration to fight for good

St. Matthew 2:16-18
One of the most tragic incidents mentioned in the bible and that too in very few words, is the killing (cold blooded murder) of children two years and below in and around Bethlehem by Herod. The usual reaction to the story is wondering about the cruelty of Herod and about why the birth of Jesus led to the killing of several babies and how justified is such a birth of the savior of the world. It has parallels to the saying “mother killer” when a birth of a baby leads to the death of the mother due to some birth complication.

The association comes for many people and the more one thinks about it, the more one is perplexed by the association of how this can happen. This association is what prevents us from raising our voice and doing good. We think that if we say something and that leads to something happening to someone, that we are responsible for that. It is though a very naïve understanding of the situation. We have to sometimes say things for the common good and for the benefit of society. We are not opposing a person but the evil in a person which even he/she may or may not be aware of.

Herod was a leader and the birth of Jesus needn’t have bothered him too much. Yet he is surprisingly rattled. The birth of a baby upsets him! This also makes us think what kind of a leader he was. But what he ends up doing through the murder of innocent children is that he reiterates that he is inherently evil. So who was the reason of the deaths?  Herod or Jesus? Many a time we think that if not for Jesus the children would not have died.

One must come out of the understanding that Jesus was responsible for the death of the children. There was only one planner and executioner and that was Herod and perhaps his advisors. If we do not accept this, many of us will step back from doing any good because we will think that others will be sacrificed in the process of what we are going to do. The thought is always “I can sacrifice whatever but why should others be affected?” This thinking is not helpful because it will prevent us from doing any good even though we are capable of it. The celebration of Christmas and the time which follows up to new year will be like this. It is a time to not just remember the birth of Christ, but to do what he did. In the process we are bound to ruffle feathers, bring discomfort to others and be a thorn in the flesh to many. This is why we must understand that celebration and dejection go hand in hand. There was wailing and sadness in Ramah and mothers were crying because they had lost their young ones. But we need to cry only if Jesus lead to the death of the children. Contrary to this he did not. It was Herod who had planned and implemented this. Jesus was only a ploy he used.

There are many leaders who do likewise. Someone else is made out to be the reason of a cruel decision. It appears so in the case of the death of the young here as well. But that is where we err and we must know that the birth of Jesus leads to the birth of courage and expression of views and opinions in a culture that cannot express itself. The murder of the babies is the cowardice of Herod and nothing else. The women wailing are made to think that the reason is something/someone else. But as soon as they would have known who the conspirator was, they would have stopped crying because the children died cruelly at the hands of a dictator.

Civil wars rife in Syria and Iraq and international conflicts like in the case of Israel and Palestine and internal conflicts in many parts of the world all lead to genocide and the brutal killing of children. The killers will always say that it happened because of some rebels and external forces. The truth though is that it happens because the regime wants to quell dissent in various forms. The killing of the babies by Herod reminds us of the danger of regimes who will justify their actions and use religious symbolisms to say that they are right. The killing of the children instead should remind us of the birth of Jesus who went against the shrewdness and injustice of repressive regimes and instead stood with the people and fought for life and human dignity.

The birth of Jesus is not a time to cry but a time to raise our heads and question countries and dispensations that are anti people and oppress people. The people of Syria and Palestine among many other countries deserve to have access to their mother land and live a life of dignity there. We must not allow the creation and continuance of Herod like figures who use the birth as an excuse to take life instead of encouraging life and dignity. The innocent children died a violent death due to such sinful characters and this should not continue to happen during the commemoration of Jesus’ birth narrative.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A prayer for Christmas

A baby is born, he is crying in the manger. It is not a cry of fear, but one of life and life in abundance. Christ is born so that the poor may be exalted and the proud may be humbled, he is born for you and me, outside an inn he is born. We may not hear the cry because it is not harmonized to our liking. We may not see the baby because we are used to looking inside swanky buildings and not stench filled streets. Christmas is here and Christ is born.

Loving God, allow us to close our eyes and listen to the cry of the baby and be inspired to be what Jesus stands for on earth and in heaven. Jesus, hold our hand and walk us through places we avoid and allow us to feel your birth in every step we take and in everything we see. Holy Spirit, help us overcome the fear of the unknown and as we be a part of the service of nativity may our sins be absolved as we try to reach out, smile, help and be with those around us. Amen.
Wishing you a blessed Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The birth of Jesus: How Fr. Shibu and Kairunnissa are outing the inn (in)

St. Luke 2:6-7

The birth of Jesus is important not for cakes, decorations and celebrations but to be assured that humans are created in the image of God and will therefore live life loving and helping all that God has created. This is God saying that God has created human beings to reflect God’s self on earth. The birth of Jesus is indeed a happy event because it reminds and inspires us to do good even when everyone and everything around us does not. It is not to follow the world but to follow the voice and will of God.

The birth in unusual circumstances shows that the people of God cannot be limited to buildings and walls but should extend everywhere and anywhere because that is the real birth of Christ. The interpretation of no place being there in the inn is a reflection that God lives with the most ordinary of ordinary. Most of the things we have built on earth are an aberration of God's creation. It takes us away from the real birth of Christ. The church by moving into comfortable environs to celebrate the birth of Christ suggests our moving in to comfortable inns while the baby is denied a place inside the inn! The image of God is absent in such acts of celebration of the birth of Jesus. We do not have an affluent baby Jesus because a baby cannot be affluent by herself/himself.

The church has become too affluent for Jesus but all is not lost for the church and the people of the church. One can get rid of the affluence and try and make the birth of Jesus meaningful for everyone. Fr. Shibu K.Y., a Jacobite Christian priest donated one kidney to a Muslim woman Kairunnissa yesterday. By doing that he has challenged the affluent church to shed its affluence. Many were disturbed and uncomfortable with his decision and even suggested it was wrong to give away what God has given us to live a comfortable life. The argument that we need two kidneys because that is what God has given does not go along though with the fact that God was meant to be in heaven but chooses earth, was meant to be in the inn but ended up outside it and did not have to be crucified but was anyway. God gave up so that humans and the world would have and that is the birth of Jesus.
Fr. Shibu K.Y.

Fr. Shibu and Kairunnissa are offering us the opportunity to understand the birth narrative. We have gone far away from the born Jesus. This is an opportunity to come back to the narrative of what the birth of Jesus means. It is God loving and giving us. God need not but God does because that is what God is. The love of God encompasses everything we know. Fr. Shibu by giving and Kairunnissa by suffering and now receiving show us that Christ is born in them. We are getting an invitation to pray with them during Christmas. Of course we are not used to what they have done and so their spiritual invitation will also be difficult to accept and do. Never the less they have woken us up from institutional and individual slumber and we must thank them for that. From my facebook contacts I have also learned that Prof. Sakhi John is doing the same for Shaju Paul and they are following several others who have preceded them. Such individuals are challenging the church and the people in church to live Christmas or the birth of Jesus. The liturgy of their merciful church is not known to us and we haven’t heard the songs they are using. But there is a language of love that they are using and this is something all of us can follow if we take the effort to do so.
Prof. Sakhi John

St. Luke 2: 6-7 tells us that Mary and baby Jesus do not get space in the inn (‘in’). It is also that space in the inn is mostly not available to everyone as the inn has become institutional. It represents all churches which are not welcoming and loving. But Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus do not give up. They make the ‘out’ their home and that then becomes the place which the shepherds and the elders come to and see Jesus. Fr. Shibu and Kairunnissa and Prof. Sakhi and Shaju Paul among many others have not got a place in the inn (‘in’). But they did not give up and made the ‘out’ their inn. We can now join like the shepherds and see the birth that has happened. May the star lead us and the angels rejoice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

This Christmas: Security to vulnerability


St. Matthew 1: 1-17
The genealogy of Jesus has two definite goals. One is the traditional need to show the Davidic succession and two is the more non-traditional goal to show the relationship of vulnerability with spirituality. The passage in St. Mathew is read haltingly and is listened to with not the same eagerness as other passages. Perhaps too many names and difficult names at that put off the congregation. But what is in store is quite a bit when we try to identify what kind of a spirituality we can seek during Christmas.

We are always behind secure things. A news editor who wanted change in his office finally became silent during the critical meeting with the owners of the news channel because he was reminded of the EMI’s he had to pay that month. Security which is of this world is difficult because it asks for compromise and compromise leads to silence and stepping back.  Christmas is one of the times when security is paramount in our mind but should it be like that? What is the message of the genealogy of Jesus? Is it security or is it vulnerability? The Davidic line of Jesus which the writer is trying to portray may suggest security but some of the characters in the genealogy do not suggest that.

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba) and Mary are the women who are mentioned in the genealogy. They were all suspect of doing something which was different from traditional society. One could say that they did something out of marriage and a traditional family setting. At the end it was seen as good but traditional society would have not allowed it and neither will it do so now. These women did not just think about their security but worked around their vulnerability. Tamar is subject to abuse and humiliation and is forced to prove her worth. Rahab is seen as a sex worker and she sticks her neck out in the secure environs she lived in. Ruth is a widow who has to be with her mother in law because she is vulnerable after the death of her husband. She does what no one else would do. Ruth is also abused and she survives in her environment of abuse. Uriah’s wife Bathsheba is loathed and raped by David who then gets Uriah killed in battle. She has to stand David while mourning the loss of her husband and gives birth to Solomon who succeeds David as king. Finally, Mary conceives out of wedlock and gives birth to Jesus. All the women leave a life of security and struggle with their vulnerable lives. The birth of Jesus this way comes out of vulnerability and not the security of an assured line of kingly succession.

It is important for us to identify our vulnerability this Christmas. Being secure is not being close to God but close to societal norms and wrong traditions. Being vulnerable on the other hand is having faith in God even when everything around is bad. Some of us are already living vulnerable lives and Christmas is a time to imagine that Jesus was born out of such vulnerability. How else would we preach and wish Christmas in a place like Aleppo in Syria where there are unimaginable sufferings to the public. All the ordinary people are vulnerable to abuse, bombings, hunger, capture and torture. In effect Christ is born in places like Aleppo because vulnerability is at its peak there. Our houses can only reflect the security of Christmas whereas shelters and non-existent roads in Aleppo and other places reflect a vulnerable Christmas where Christ is born because the birth of Jesus as we see is associated with vulnerability.

Our Christmas symbolism is filled with definite things. The Christmas tree, stars, decorations, carol rounds, Christmas services, cakes, sweets and cards all show a secure and happy Christmas. The birth of Jesus was in a time of fear and insecurity and yet people said yes to a fallible security offered by the ruling dispensation. Those who went to see Jesus tried to associate with the vulnerability of his birth and those associated with it. The interpretation of vulnerability does not seek to discount and do away with the spirit of celebration during Christmas. It rather looks at the hope that the birth of Jesus offers in the midst of our vulnerable lives. There is no secure life, secure password, secure spirituality or secure Christmas. We are vulnerable always and we do not need to forget that during Christmas. Rather like the five women in the genealogy of Jesus, we must pull on and move forward finding ways to live and survive. The birth of Jesus signifies life in the midst of death and suffering. The women in St. Mathew show us just that.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Joseph: A shadow of blessing

The birth narrative involves the angel visiting and talking to Mary and Joseph among others. Even though Joseph is let in on the secret of how Mary has conceived, he does two things in secret. Our culture and many other cultures see black, dark and even shadows as something bad and despicable. Joseph who in most part is a silent partner in the narrative has something to offer us in the form of secrets and shadows.

It is interesting to note that we do or we are forced to do bad things in the dark or in secret. Perhaps the usage “his/her/my darkest hour” places “dark” in bad light. Joseph wanted to secretly send away Mary when he learned that she was carrying a baby. He was going to do something bad and yet he was trying to be a nice person by doing that. This is when an intervention by the angel sets things right. But Joseph again secretly supports Mary without others knowing how she has conceived. It is challenging to see that we do bad and worse things in secret and once it is dark the real us comes out. Joseph does something different in being more considerate towards Mary both in secret and in the dark. He must have swallowed a large male ego to do so and in doing that he challenges the very notion of darkness and sin. He shows us that we can after all do good things in the dark and in secret. This is a good lesson when we think of and meditate upon the birth narrative.

Even though Joseph plays second fiddle to Mary he does not wait in secret to seek his revenge but rather does so to behave well with her. The birth narrative this way definitely has Mary in the forefront as a young girl who bears Jesus but it also shows through Joseph the supporting role which should be played by men in a society which is clearly anti-women. This supporting role may not always be played out in the public but in more private spaces. Families have problems which are seen in private and may never come to light. The man in the family who is good outside in the light will be someone else in secret.

The birth narrative offers men especially an opportunity to travel to our deepest darkness inside and choose to do good instead of surrendering to the notion that men can and should only do evil things in private. Joseph is silent but is trying to do something in his silence as well. He is present when the shepherds and elders come to meet baby Jesus but it is not a pronounced presence like Mary. It is almost like a shadow. The shadow is also seen as something which can be done away with because it also has darkness as a part of it. But Joseph invites us to witness a shadow of blessing which he turns out to be. He does not limit himself to the darkest and most evil of thoughts but rather becomes a shadow of blessing to the child and Mary.

The birth narrative should make us think different about how darkness and shadows have been seen as something bad and avoidable just like the birth of a child out of wed lock. Mary is inspired by the Holy Spirit but she could have been dragged into the darkness of male egoism and a patriarchal society and yet Joseph decides to do otherwise. Can we also during the birth of Christ become a shadow of blessing to someone? There are many in society who are outcasts because of their choice or the community they belong to. Wouldn’t it be nice to use the shadow and secret initiatives to offer justice to people who have suffered under shadows and secret decisions?

Joseph defies the thought process of his time and he denies tradition. He feels that Mary needs his presence and he should offer whatever he can even though he may not be able to comprehend what he is doing. Our shadow is something we do not control largely. It is also something we do not notice always. And yet imagine it becoming a blessing to others? Our shadow can be our inner most thoughts and desires. It is there and yet we forget it is there. Joseph realizes his shadow and the strength of his shadow without actually planning his response to the predicament he found himself under. 

We must realize that we are not in the manger or the rock opening where the baby is wrapped in bands of cloth. Yet our shadow could be there either when we face it or when we have our backs to it. This shadow of blessing is a realization that the birth of Christ is indeed not just an event but also a controversy. It is a controversy of a woman who has conceived of the Holy Spirit. We can deny it and secretly dismiss Mary or we can go into the most innermost darkness of our thoughts and become a shadow of blessing.