Friday, December 24, 2010

A theological Christmas card

The celebrated BBC bureau chief in New Delhi for for more than thirty years, Sir Mark Tully, has described the following article by me (already posted here) as "the theological Christmas card"


By P.N.Benjamin

There is more to Christmas than peace and goodwill. The story of the birth of Jesus Christ begins with a revelation to a peasant girl that she would be the mother of the Messiah – the Saviour of the world. She would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God. She was so overpowered by the message that she breaks into poetic utterance:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord/ And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour…/He hath showed strength with his arm/He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts/He hath put down the mighty from their seats/And exalted them of low degree/He hath filled the hungry with good things/And the rich he hath sent empty away…”

This Song of Mary is called the Magnificat. Mary sees a vision of a new order of things where the weak and the poor will throw off their shackles. It is a song of liberation for man as well as for woman.

The Song of Mary reflects the teachings of the prophets of the Old Testament in the Bible. These prophets denounced the oppressors of the people, those who would sell the needy for a pair of shoes. The prophets were constantly exhorting the people to “untie the knots of the yoke, and loose the fetters of justice, to set free those who have been crushed”. And, Mary belonged to this oppressed section of the people.

It might seem strange that in this momentous hour of her life when the angel had cast her in this stupendous role, she should be preoccupied with justice for her people. But one can well imagine that, then as now, this was a burning question. The Jews were under the Roman yoke and longed for the Messiah who would liberate them. Mary’s Song is a song of deliverance not only from foreign domination but the oppressor within the gates.

She did not know then that beginning with the Magnificat the road would end at the Cross where she would stand weeping for her son would show the world an entirely new way. But now it is a cry for justice, liberation from the tyranny of the rich and the exalted. Thus, woven into message of peace and goodwill is also the lesson that these conditions can only come when there is social justice.

It is unfortunate that the Church has sidestepped this problem dispensing charity while ignoring the deeper claims of equality. The Song of Mary is a reminder that charity without justice is an insult, and peace only a graveyard where there is no equality.

Yes, the voice of Christmas cries in the wilderness. It is not a call to violent revolution – for violent revolutions always end in tyranny of one kind or another. Christmas calls for a change of heart, a turning away from oneself to one’s neighbour, and therefore to God. We like to imagine that religion is a love affair between man and God. But the face of the neighbour intrudes.

Christmas reminds us that in a creative relationship there is God, man and always his neighbour – only in such a cooperative partnership can we hope for a restructuring of the social fabric, which will be permanent. In short, Christmas comes to remind us that we are all inextricably bound together in this brief sojourn on this troubled planet – that either we are ALL saved or we are ALL damned for we are all human, all vulnerable, all in need of one another.

With greetings of peace in this Christmas season and happy New Year.

Christmas Day 2010
Dec, 25, 2010

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