Most of us grew up with Christmas celebrations filled with abundance and merriment: glittering Christmas decor; feasting and reunions on the eve and on Christmas day; lavish gifts which may even surpass our wish-lists; a liturgical mass made more touching and joyful by children dressed as Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men, and even as sheep or whatever animal they imagine would visit Jesus, and a peaceful Baby Jesus who embodied hope. These celebrations are a direct inversion of the Christmas story we find in Matthew and Luke: a manger covered with hay for a newborn child; visits from angels, shepherds and wise men who were all strangers; gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh which are unfit for children; and the survival of one child and the massacre of children two years old and below, in and around Bethlehem, because King Herod felt that he was tricked by the wise men.
Today, after the warring in Zamboanga, the earthquake in Bohol and the devastation and death caused by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, we are confronted with the sad and painful reality that many children continue to be born and raised in vulnerable situations like Jesus. Today, like Mary, women and mothers bear the burden of conceiving, birthing and raising children in communities where the powerful must be brought down from their thrones to be able to fill the hungry with good things. Today, like Joseph, men and fathers cannot ensure the life and dignity of their children because the empire demands their sacrifice in the name of power and greed. Then and now, Christmas was not about divinity. It was about humanity. Jesus’ humanity. Our humanity. Until we fully understand that Jesus was poor, marginalized, oppressed, homeless and vulnerable, as many of our Filipino sisters and brothers are, we cannot truly embrace the hope that Jesus brings. Jesus did not come to be a prince or a king, he was born poor and powerless. Jesus’ birth did not usher in peace, but like in any child’s birth, we are made to seek the peace we all want for all our children. Jesus birth does not even strengthen our faith in God because I would like to believe that Jesus birth, life and struggles until his death should strengthen our faith in the human spirit. Jesus did not come as God, Jesus came down at Christmas to be like one of us – a vulnerable human being.
This Christmas, more than ever, we are challenged to value the life of every child like we honor the infant Jesus. They are the most vulnerable among us, and they, like us, must be given a safe home, a nurturing community, the opportunity to experience fullness and wholeness as human beings. Faith, hope and joy is Christ’s gift to us, but we can only truly receive it when we live our life so that our fellow human beings, in the Visayas, in the poor urban communities, and in the most broken places renew their faith in God and humanity, encounter hope in relevant and life-changing ways, and experience joy and the giftedness of life, through and with us.
Written by Lizette Galima Tapia-Raquel
Assistant Professor, Union Theological Seminary