By Fr. Shay Cullen
A little child named Maria once asked, “Mama, why do we have Christmas?” Each of us should have an answer to that but many do not. Maria was told, “It is a time when we learn from Jesus to help others who have less than us.” Later that day, her mother saw Maria giving her lunch and her toy to a beggar child at their gate. She knew Christmas was not only about receiving gifts but giving them and learning important truths that would last for life.
Many people experience Christmas as a holiday, a break from work, it’s a tradition, they say, a time for visiting relatives and family. For many, except the very poor, it is a holiday with lots of food, drink and gift-giving. For others, it is just a fiesta, a time to enjoy and celebrate. However, Christ has been largely taken out of Christ-mas. He is rarely seen in the dancing lights and has been replaced by the images of reindeer and Santa Claus. If seen at all, he is hanging on a crucifix, cruelly executed for speaking the truth and being a champion for the poor and the oppressed people.
That is because in the capitalistic modern world, Christmas is an orgy of materialistic spending and over-indulging. It has become an extravaganza of excess and possessiveness. Billions of people do not know about Jesus of Nazareth and neither do many so-called “Christians.” They don’t believe or live his values or even know or read his words or follow his example. Yet, they benefit in many ways from his positive influence in making society more human and teaching us to love and help each other.
For the enlightened people, Christmas has purpose and meaning and is a time for reflection and doing good for others. For them, it is a special time to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth as the greatest person who ever lived and walked the face of the earth. He is largely forgotten and ignored by many yet the values and truths he taught live on and have come to influence and guide civilization and have inspired millions of people for more than two thousand years: to live with integrity and value and create humane, more caring societies.
Jesus was born in dire poverty into a very unequal society. He did not create materialistic wealth and he made no great inventions that changed mankind. He brought spiritual truths and experiences. Jesus shared with mankind the power of belief. He gives people a deep powerful conviction about what is right and just, good and truthful, that forms their minds and hearts and personalities and motivates and inspires them to live lives of integrity and goodness helping others.
The power of belief in goodness and truth drives people to sacrifice their lives for others, working to make goodness and truth triumph over evil. This is having faith and love for your neighbor and living out an ideal. He said, “No one has greater love than this, that a person will lay down their life for their friends.”
The Christmas story is not just about a child born two thousand years ago in dire poverty, to poor parents in a dirty stable with animals for company. It was a new beginning of the great struggle of good against evil, right against wrong, truth against lies. That struggle goes on everywhere today evident between the rich and the poor.
Excessive, un-shared, (likely stolen) surplus wealth of the irresponsible and greedy rich people is mostly spent on pleasure and vice by the powerful oppressive rulers. Millions suffer hunger and dire poverty as a result and that makes the gross inequality unjust and evil and it must be challenged peacefully and truthfully. Family dynasties stifle freedoms and oppress the poor and keep them in the slavery of grinding poverty. This is the source of social evil and injustice.
The downtrodden cannot ever rise up from the hunger and suffering caused by jack-boot tyranny unless they come to know and believe with an unshakable faith that they are children of God with exalted human dignity and constitutional rights and must act to win their own freedom. Who will help them? These are the challenges and truths inspired by the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, truths about their rights and dignity that are not shared with them. That deprivation of truth is part of their poverty.
The Philippines is close to suffering the greatest inequality in the world. It ranks at 102nd place out of 160 nations and it is number 19 out of 25 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. It is sixth place from rock bottom on the poverty table, all the while the rich grow richer. Corruption and evil doing is the reason for this inequality.
It will be a bleak hungry Christmas for 25 million Filipinos and totally miserable for 16 million in dire poverty. While the one percent of the Asian rich own 25 percent of all the wealth, the number of poor in Asia has increased by eight percent to 1.4 billion hungry people. In the Philippines, it is estimated that the rich make up just one percent of the population yet they own 45 percent of the total wealth of the Philippines.
The life, teaching and message of Jesus of Nazareth is that human dignity, social justice and a life free of hunger and want is what the Kingdom of God on earth is supposed to be. He taught freedom, friendship and love is for all persons, living with integrity as good Samaritans. All can choose to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and believe with him and act for justice so that goodness and truth will eventually overcome evil. That is what Christmas is all about and that little girl was one who understood it.