What is it that makes Christmas so beautiful, cheerful and such a happy time, especially for children?
It has to be the gift-giving, the time when children look forward to gifts and signs of love, caring and sharing. The children of well-off families receive so many gifts through the years that it has no special impact on them to receive more. There are the children of poor families that a gift at Christmas is a joy they never forget because they have so little in this world. And so that is what Christmas is all about, the change of heart and mind when the rich and the well-off reach out to the poor, to do something to make society more just and equal. It may not be much to ask, but with the millions of displaced children in the world today, hundreds of thousands hungry and starving, it will be our duty, honour and a blessing for us to be able to share with them. To give from our abundance and not to keep it all for ourselves is the spirit of Christmas. This is what should be with us all our lives, helping others not just ourselves. It’s a natural virtue to care and share with our own families, but to help the stranger in need is an act of great goodness and virtue. That is being the good neighbour.
A frugal Christmas is in order and we are challenged to have the courage and the love of neighbours, to stop and ask, “Who is my neighbour?”. Well in case you have forgotten the important teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, I remind you it is the traveler who was beaten and robbed and left for dead.
The rich politician and merchant came, saw him and walked on by. The simple traveler, an outcast, a refugee almost of Jewish society, came by and helped the wounded. He bound their wounds when others would not and would have just left them to die. There are those who look the other way and walk on by. There are as many as six thousand shot dead in the Philippines since June this year. We ask why?
We are challenged by the Christmas spirit to put aside the lavish plans for big spending and parties, to think of the wounded and the dying in the war in Syria. These are victims of the ruthless bombing of civilians, schools and hospitals by Putin of Russia and the war criminal Assad. We must be concerned that the UK has sold 4.2 billion dollars worth of arms to the Saudis for their war in Yemen, killing hundreds of civilians including women and children. Whether they were killed intentionally or not, it’s a war crime. It’s like putting a sword in to the hands of King Herod.
The modern images of the Holy Family fleeing the evil King Herod, seeking safety as refugees, are present in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and South Sudan today. If the family of Jesus fled to Europe today, they would be barred by an iron fence, barbed wire, a concrete wall with the signs “No entry, go away, you are not welcome here”.
If you believe that is right, then you are wrong. Because there are certain values treasured by most of humanity and that is to be treated by others, as we would want them to treat us. That may sound selfish but it is the bottom line. It is the lowest motivation.
The higher value and greatest motivation to help others ought to be because they are human like all of us. They have equal rights, dignity, humanity and God-given value and honour. Christmas has a message for all of us and it is in the image of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the most revered of prophets and the Son of God, as he was born in utter poverty. He grew up, lived and worked in a poor family as a tradesman.
Then there is the evil force of Isis that has captured and tortured many and threatens thousands more with death. Are we going to close our doors and windows and keep them out of a refuge and safety?
If so, we are far from the message of Jesus and Christmas will be just a wild meaningless party. We need to be renewed this Christmas by that message of love and sacrifice. That is what makes this a special time of renewal so we can be happy, sharing and caring for those in great poverty and need. That first Christmas was a hard time for the Holy Family. So make this Christmas a happy time for those fleeing war and dire poverty and are reaching out for peace and survival.
Written by Fr. Shay Cullen.