The Christmas Feeling May be Missing, but the Spirit of Jesus is Alive and Well
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By Rohit Kumar, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi: Matthew and Luke narrate the moving account of Mary and Joseph’s long and difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, in obedience, as it were, to the arbitrary whims of the tyrannical government of their day.
It’s one of India’s wonderful oddities that more Hindus in the country celebrate Christmas than do Christians, simply because there are so many more Hindus in India than there are Christians. Like many non-Christians around India, I too decorate a Christmas tree every year, give presents to those I care about, and happily sing carols (mostly off-key) with family, friends, and neighbours (mostly non-Christian). I also make it a point every year to read the story of the first Christmas in the New Testament.
This year, though, I am finding it difficult to celebrate. How does one sing “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright” when a heartless and calculatedly divisive Citizenship (Amendment) Act has been passed in parliament, students brutalised on their own campuses, Muslims systematically attacked in Uttar Pradesh, and thousands detained across the country?
All is not calm. All is certainly not bright.
Nevertheless, I pick up a Bible gifted to me long years ago by a Christian friend and start reading the Gospel account of the birth of Jesus in the first chapters of the New Testament. Matthew and Luke narrate the moving account of Mary and Joseph’s long and difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, in obedience, as it were, to the arbitrary whims of the tyrannical government of their day.
“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.” — Luke 2:1, New King James Version.
‘Registered’? How strange to find that word in the Bible at a time like this! And how ironical that our present-day Caesars have also decreed that all the citizens of India be registered! It’s remarkable how little things change over the millennia – tyrants keep trying to exert inordinate control, and the poor keep continuing to suffer because of it.
I continue reading.“Joseph also went to the city of Bethlehem, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” — Luke 2: 4-7
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What a perfect picture of the plight of the poor. A pregnant woman about to give birth to her firstborn, her desperate husband knocking on the doors of the town’s inns trying to find a place to stay for the night, but being turned away by innkeeper after innkeeper, till one of them finally says, ‘There’s no room in the inn but there is a stable next door. Spend the night there if you want.”
This particular innkeeper has been held up in the Christian tradition as a kind and helpful man, but I have often wondered how he could, in all good conscience, let a poor, pregnant woman and her husband take shelter in a place meant for animals. But then perhaps that is the best most ‘haves’ can do for the ‘have-nots’. Just enough to assuage their conscience without disrupting their own lives too much, and then get back to the party.
I continue to read the rest of the Christmas story about the angels who appear to the shepherds, and the wise men from the east who follow a star and who come bearing gifts for the newborn child. But then I do something I don’t remember doing before. I move past the story of birth and start reading about the life of the adult Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.
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And as I do, I start to realise just how much the Jesus of the Gospels has to say to so many of us today….
To those like Harsh Mander who have cast their lot with India’s Muslims and are working day and night to try and bring peace and understanding between communities, he says:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” – Matthew 5:9
To those who have been brave enough to speak the truth, but have been lied about by the ‘godi media’ and attacked viciously by the ruling party’s infamous IT cell, he says:
“Blessed are you when men shall revile you and say all manner of evil against you falsely. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward. For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” – Matthew 5:11,12
(The term ‘prophet’, incidentally, doesn’t just mean ‘predictor of future events’. Here, it means ‘a teller of truth.’)
In times like these, it is easy to seek revenge for wrongdoing, but to those who are tempted to return hate with hate, he says,
“Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”. – Matthew 5:44
To those who wonder about the various godmen and gurus who dispense spiritual instruction to the masses while at the same time aligning themselves openly with the religious right-wing, he says:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Therefore by their fruits, you will know them.” – Matthew 7: 15 – 20
To those who insist that God can only be worshipped in a certain place, he says:
“God is a spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” – John 4: 24
To those who stand with the poor and the persecuted as so many are in India today, he says,
“In that day I will tell you, ‘I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to me.’
And when you will ask me, When did we do all these things?’ I will say to you, “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me.’ – Matthew 25
And to those who are wondering how we will ever be able to build an India where everyone is included, respected and valued, he says:
“Love the other as you love yourself .” — Matthew 22:39
If enough people just did that – treated others the way they wish to be treated – our country would indeed become a kinder and better place.
I think about all those who are standing in support of their fellow citizens across the length and breadth of India. I think about the doctors and lawyers who are offering their services free of cost to those who have been attacked, harassed and persecuted. I think about the activists and journalists who are speaking up on behalf of those who do not have a voice of their own. And I think about those countless students and young people across India who have come out to tell the people of India that they will not be divided by the powers that be.
As I close my Bible and put it away, I realise that while the festive feeling may be missing, the spirit of Jesus is alive and well.
This article was First Published in,” The Wire”.
Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi