Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hope against Hope

The Message of Christmas Amidst Human Rights Violations

The ongoing episodes of violence in India, where violence on account of terrorism, violence in the name of religion, violence in the name of caste and violence in the name of patriarchy, have been on the rise. Due to which, the secular ethos of our country and unity among people of different faiths has been at stake. Against the canvas of this scenario, what does it mean to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? What is the relevance of Christmas for our times? When human rights violations are recorded on a higher scale in India, what is the message of Christmas?

Yesterday on the 9th Dec 2008 it was observed by the media that Bakrid the Muslim festival was celebrated on a low key due to the recent bomb blasts. Madam Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Congress Party in India did not celebrate her birthday yesterday, to be in solidarity with the victims of the recent terrorist attacks (this was for a political mileage). In the context of the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai & Assam, in the background of the recent killings and attacks on the Dalit Christians and Tribals in Orissa by the fundamentalist groups, should we as Christians celebrate Christmas?

Generally, Christmas these days is associated with the pleasure and pomp, leaving the significance of it at the back door. Every day there are carol-singing groups that visit every Christian house, door after door to share the joy of Christmas. All through the month of December, there are several celebrations of Christmas, children Christmas, women Christmas, youth Christmas, elders Christmas, pre-Christmas, town Christmas, and united Christmas etc. you name it and you have it, so many celebrations. All of these either end in a good fellowship dinner or exchanging gifts between one another, in which all Christians are satisfied and are self content. We Christians are least bothered of our neighbours who are living in pain and pathos due to the human rights violations in their localities. Can we really think of what is Christmas to such people who are undergoing trauma, fear, and anxiety caused by violence, oppression, discrimination and marginalisation? Particularly in the context of the nun, who was raped in the violence in Orissa, and where such incidents have become rampant, is there hope in Christmas?

The birth of Jesus Christ in a manger in a small town of Bethlehem basically is a challenge to all the human rights violations that are being done during his times. Allow me to present the context of Jesus’ birth, particularly the life of a young woman who had to been the innocent victim of discrimination. The context then had been ruled by human rights violations, and the birth of Jesus gives a hope to all those victims.

Young Woman Mary, the victim of Discrimination:
Young woman Mary had to be conceived even before she got married to Joseph. Imagine the plight of this young woman, the insults she had to face, the criticisms she had to hear to and the amount of depression she had to go during her early trimesters of pregnancy. The whole society looked down upon her and discriminated her on many fronts of her life. Probably she reflects the norm of her society, where many men raped, exploited and spoiled the lives of women. Probably she is one among many women who had been the victims of human rights violations of her day, and she represents those victims. Hearing that young woman Mary is a pregnant, her family would have rejected her, her friends would have rejected her, her society would have thrown insults at her and at every nook and corner of her little town, ‘young Mary & her pregnancy’ was the talk of the town. No one came in rescue of her. Socially she was crushed, it was unbearable for her to take on the discrimination the society had shown to her. Probably no doctor in her town would have preferred to give her the required medical assistance, for she was treated as polluted. The religious leaders of those days would have passed on several sanctions on Mary, for her so called ‘unethical’ and’ illegal’ conception, and would have even banned her to enter their worship places and community gatherings. Probably many of her co-woman and family members would have advised her to go for an abortion, so that not many would come to know about her pregnancy. Mary sorrows knew no bounds that even her betrothed husband Joseph had also made up his mind to divorce her secretly. Even to think still ahead, probably Mary had this tag of stigma of ‘pregnancy from unknown’, and that would have been one of the reasons for no room for Mary to deliver the baby in Bethlehem, for most people in Bethlehem were reluctant to offer their houses and rooms to such ‘illegitimate’ births. Mary had to bear everything to save the saviour Jesus. On the whole, the young woman Mary had to bear the brunt of being the victim of the Human Rights violations of her times.

God, the Hope for Human Rights
In this Christmas story, when young woman Mary become the victim of human right violations, when her right to live, right to enjoy life have been curtailed, the message of hope comes to her from the God of hope. In all through the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy, if at all she had endured to any of the insults and succumbed to the pressure and depression she underwent and imagine if there would have been a miscarriage for her or was forced to abort the baby, baby Jesus would not have born, and there would have been utter hopelessness in their family and to the whole strings of Christian faith. God provided hope to the victimised Mary and stood by her in her times of trouble. When no one came in rescue of her, she replied to the angel o God, “ behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) She realised that it was only from God that she has hope, and no one can really understands her position and pain in her situation. God is a God who gives hope to the victims to overcome their situations of hopelessness. God is the one who journeys along with the victims in their journey of struggles. That’s the message of Christmas, the message of hope to all those in helpless situations and hopelessness. God stood with Mary, and she emerged victorious from all her insults and injuries.

Therefore the role of those believe in the birth of Jesus Christ, is to become the beacon and channel of hope to all those victims of human rights violations today. and I affirm that is the calling of Christmas to all of us. Until we become the carriers of hope in our fragile and volatile situations, our Christian calling has no meaning, message and direction. In the context of violence, let us give hope to this world to become peacemakers. In the context of fundamentalism, let us be the hope in resisting such forces in our communities. In the context of casteism, let us be the hope in liberating all those people that are oppressed. Christmas is the celebration of hope, and in hope, let us all resolve to become the harbingers of peace and hope in our contexts. May the spirit of hope enlighten all our hearts and minds to become the light of hope in our local contexts, and only then Christmas is meaningful.

Wishing you all a very meaningful observance of Human Rights Day, a hope filled celebration of Christmas and a challenging new year with hope as our guide and strength.


gwalker said...

My Dear Son,

My heart is constantly in prayer as I take the pain of the people and shame of the world to the cross of Jesus Christ. Being born an African American woman, I know the struggles you speak of on a two-fold level -- being born black, and being born a woman.

America has made a giant step forward in electing our first African American President. I can still picture him in my mind on election night giving his first speech as our president-elect. But I also still see pictures in my mind of black men hanging from trees, (this country called them strange fruit), of four little girls who were killed when a bomb was thrown into a church while they were at Sunday School, of dogs being unleashed on civil rights activists, of the scars on the backs of women who were beaten, raped, and left for dead, of my people being dragged behind trucks until their heads were detached from the rest of their bodies, and of little boys as young three and four walking with their feet in chains (while their masters rode beside them on horses) through hot dry country roads having been sold as slaves and snatched from their mother's loving arms. Yet, the eternal antidote to eternal hatred is eternal hope and God's eternal love. My people were not given the right to vote, but we fought for it, anyway.

When the Declaration of Independence was written, and it proclaimed that "all men were created equal", that did not include my only included White Americans...we were considered animals and property, but my people still fought for equal rights and freedom, anyway. We used the sharp two-edged swords of courage, dignity, hope and love. We fought through non-violent leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Even Malcom X realized in his last days that violence was not the answer...that the only means to victory was through truth, hope, and love.

So what does this have to do with Christmas, human rights and dignity, and if we should celebrate Christmas? Everything. First of all, during the time that Jesus was born, Herod was King. The Bible said that he was greatly troubled, he and all of Jerusalem. Herod knew when the wisemen came into town looking for the new king that it signaled his demise. And in response and under a thin veil of lies, he told the wisemen to find the child so he could worship the new king, too. We read, however, that when Herod realized the wisemen would not participate in his evil scheme, he had all baby boys age two and under ripped from their mother's arms and murdered.

Father God was aware of Herod's plan...but Christ was born anyway, the star shone brightly anyway, the angels sang anyway, the shepherds went to see Jesus in a manger anyway, and the first Christmas was celebrated anyway. Divine Light came to lead man out of darkness anyway.

We must follow our Father's light of all of the darkness around us, we must pause and celebrate this Christmas-Advent season anyway. We are the Light Of The World, and it is a Divine light that must continue to shine upon this very dark and evil world.

We don't celebrate and rejoice in the Christmas season BECAUSE OF the horrible things that are taking place, but INSPITE OF what's taking sends the message out to the rest of the world and to satan, that we know that we win. The world wants us to shut down this Holy season. They don't want to be reminded that love and hope has come to them in spite of their evil and perverse ways, anyway and inspite of all they have done, they can still become a part of the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ, anyway.

But in the meantime, let us not lose sight that God is very much aware of what has happened to our brothers and sisters who have been tortured and murdered. Just as in the days of King David, let our hope and faith be the catalyst that moves God to action.

Psalm 18:3-17 says:

I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth. There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet. And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire. Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them. Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered at thy rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils. He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me.

Surely, at this moment, God sees. Surely, at this moment, God hears.
Surely because of all who have been martyred before us, God says, Celebrate Christmas, anyway.

We must let the world know we haven't abandoned hope, we are still rooted in courage, and while we like sheep are lead to slaughter, we know that we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus, anyway.

Let us honor the Lord who gave us his Son, those who have given their lives and send an unmistakeable, resounding message throuhout the world that we are the Children of a Mighty, Mighty God who shall always reign, anyway. We know beyond the shadow of a doubt that all things are working together for our good because we love the Lord and because we are called according to His purpose.

This season is a time of unlit candles and brightly burning torches...while we honorably choose not to light human birthday candles, we must in Jesus name light the divine torch...Let us celebrate His birthday, anyway.

timboyle said...

I appreciate both the original post and that of G. Walker. Amen to both, and Merry Christmas.

Tim Boyle
Buraku Liberation Center, Osaka, Japan

raj bharath patta said...

In the light of the human rights violations, reflecting Christmas is surely a challenge, and thank you all for your feed back. Thanks to Pastor Walker for continuing the reflection and adding an Afro-American angle to it, and for taking forward the discussion by mentioning the inhuman brutal killings of the little children by King Herod. I feel its high time, that we cannot avoid reflecting Christmas, when there are violations of human rights in our next door.