by T.V. Philip
T. V. Philip, born in India and a lay member of the Mar Thoma Church, has worked and taught in India, Europe, USA and Australia. He is a church historian, and a former Professor at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India.
The following appeared in The Kingdom of God is Like This, by T.V. Philip, jointly published by the Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Christava Sahitya Samithy (CSS), Cross Junction, M.C. Road, Tiruvalla-689 101, Kerela, India. The material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Christ is born in a manger and not in a palace. This is why the religious leaders, the rich and powerful of his as well as our day failed and fail to recognize him. Only the poor shepherds could recognize him, and only to the poor and the frightened does Christmas comes as a message of good news.
Do nor be afraid I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord This will be a sign to you: You wilt find a baby wrapped in strips of cloths and lying in a manger.
This was the message of the angels to the shepherds. The shepherds went with all speed and found their way to Mary and Joseph; and the baby was lying in the manger.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the message which the angels spoke to the shepherds two thousand years ago is also spoken to us today. Our ears should be open and attentive to what the angel of the Lord is telling us. To celebrate Christmas is to hear the angel speaking to us: ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you tidings of great joy that will be for all people; a Saviour has been born to you’. It is a very simple message.
It is good news of great joy. The angel told the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid’. This message has come to a frightened world. Like the shepherds we are frightened people. We are perplexed and anxious and afraid of many things.
• We are afraid of other people, other nations, other races and other religious groups.
• We are afraid for the security of our lives, of our jobs and positions.
• Theft, vandalism, violence and crime are on the increase in our society and make us frightened.
• We are anxious about the future, the future of our children, our jobs and our health. As we grow older, health becomes a continuous cause of anxiety.
We live in a world of fear and anxiety. It is at this point that Christmas brings good news of great joy. ‘Fear not’ -- this was the message of Jesus throughout his ministry. He told his hearers, Fear not, do not be anxious about your life, what you should eat or what you should drink, nor what you should wear. He told them to look at the birds of the air; they neither sowed nor reaped nor gathered into barns, and yet without fail they were fed. Or again he said, ‘Fear not little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’. Jesus came to deliver us from fear and anxiety, from the fear of the unknown.
We are afraid and anxious because of our pre-occupation with our selfish concerns. As we listen to the political and economic debates in our society relating to competition and privatization, we realize that the major driving force of our social life is selfishness. Jesus Christ liberates us from this self-seeking and selfishness. It is at this point that Jesus Christ is our Saviour. The Christmas message is good news for a perplexed world.
Secondly, this good news is for all people. It is good news for all the peoples of the world -- for all nations and all races. Unfortunately the Christmas message has not become a message of joy for the majority of people in the world. It is a public event and not a private affair. But the Christian churches and Christian people have treated it as a private affair and the joy of Christmas is only shown among themselves. The Christmas message, fundamentally and centrally, is that the Christian life is a life of sharing. Jesus Christ takes us out of ourselves, from our pre-occupation with our selfish interests, so that we can relate ourselves to the peoples of the world and their sufferings and needs; so that we can share in the sufferings of others.
The good gifts of God are meant for all the people and not to be enjoyed by a few. It is not limited to sharing the material things but also sharing the good news that the Saviour of the world has come.
Christians and Christian churches do many things during Christmas time. But does the world around us, in the grip of fear and anxiety, hear the good news. ‘Do not be afraid, your Saviour has come.’ The shepherds spread the word told by the angels about the baby, and those who heard were all amazed. The shepherds were the first evangelists. To celebrate Christmas is to share the good news of great joy with the people who have no joy in their lives.
Thirdly, the angels told the shepherds: ‘This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloths and lying in a manger’. How do we recognize the Saviour of the world? When the Saviour of the world was born, he was born in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. When God wanted to announce the great news of the birth of the Saviour of the world, he announced it to a group of poor shepherds in the field watching over their flocks.
When God became man he was born in a manger. He has come down to the level of the poorest of human beings, where people are dispossessed, alienated, where people struggle and suffer for daily existence, where people are in the grip of fear and anxiety.
The message of Christmas is that God has come down to us in our lowliness, in our poverty and in our misery. He is born in a manger and not in a palace. This is why the religious leaders of his day failed to recognize him. This is why the rich and the powerful of our day cannot recognize him. Only the poor shepherds could recognize him. Only the poor in the world could understand Jesus and the meaning of Christmas. Only to the poor and the frightened Christmas comes as a message of good news.
God has met us in our lowliness and misery. Matthew records that the angel told Joseph that the child would be called Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus is God with us. In the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul asks: If God is for us, who can be against us. If so, why should we be afraid. ‘Fear not.’
The Christmas message is that God is with us in our lowliness, in our depravity and the Christian life is a life of sharing, sharing in the poverty, lowliness, and depravity of others.