HomeChurch & AsiaThe power of the manger: living the Christmas message of hope

The power of the manger: living the Christmas message of hope

"Let the message of the manger win over all the darkness. Let the stars of peace shine over this land of great promise."

Greetings of the Holy Season, the Season of Hope, the season of Healing.

The Gospel of today, speaks of the beautiful message of God’s incarnate love, expressed through a powerless Jesus, born to a poor family. On that night of hope, Mary held her Son in her hands as the Angels sang the song of hope, peace and reconciliation.

“Glory to God in the highest; peace to all men and women of good will.”

We as a nation (Myanmar) urgently need that message today. Never did we have such a great struggle to preach a message of hope and peace of the Christmas as we confront today. Yet never is the greater need for hope of peace and justice than in this 2021 Christmas. With prayer in our lips and hope in our hearts, we gather today to contemplate peace and reconciliation in this nation.

My heart goes to those who are away from their homes, those who are in the jungle camps, in places of violence and darkness, in starvation and fear and anxiety. My prayers are that this country can hear the voice of angels for peace and reconcile and we can all can come back home.

How do we redeem the message of the Peace on Earth on this land, which has seen so much suffering? The Bible calls Jesus the Prince of Peace. How do we welcome this prince of peace in this land? How do we convert the powerlessness of the Manger into the power of love and reconciliation? We face great challenges but, as the pope says. We can turn our challenges into opportunities.

Can we convert our suffering into redemptive suffering of hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation?

- Newsletter -

The first Christmas speaks of a simple family — Joseph, the carpenter, and his pregnant wife. The situation forced them to relocate, be displaced and ultimately become refugees. We relive that simple family’s powerlessness, its flight in the merciless winter to Bethlehem, their struggle to find a place for the birth of the child.

In the last two years, we have seen so much suffering, so much of human brokenness. Human nature is to retaliate, seek vengeance. Palestine at the time of Jesus birth was a theatre of human suffering. Like that Palestine, today thousands have become victims of man made disasters and wounds.

We need healing.

This Christmas, we need to start the process of reconciliation in this nation. I appeal to all, that this nation can survive only through the message of the first Christmas. To those who are powerful I appeal, Christ’s show of power is in service, the power of reconciliation. You can never win with arms.

The Magi informed Herod, “We have come to worship the King of Jews.”

While Herod thought of a competitor to his throne, Jesus was a different kind of king, a king who did not believe in the power of weapons, but the power of reconciliation. In today’s first reading, Isaiah talks of this child as a king, a king whose only mandate is: Prince of Peace who brings Justice to all.

A child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this! (Is 9:5-6)

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A file image of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo. (Photo supplied)

Once again, I reiterate to friends who could be offended by the Christmas message of love, peace, and reconciliation, these are not qualities of the cowards. Let me quote Gandhi again:

A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave. Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct.

Seeking vengeance and shedding blood started already in the first family, Cain vs Abel. Killing seems to come naturally in human beings in history. Every century saw millions dying in vengeance and war. Can this nation afford to take that path once again?

Every age saw prophets rising to cleanse humanity of this aberration. Fittingly today, St Paul proclaims in the second reading in the letter to Titus that message of Christ coming to deliver us from all lawlessness and turn all into agents of good.

The appearance of the glory of our great God and saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:13-14)

Yes, in this Christmas Apostle Paul calls us to “do good by healing.” Healing takes courage. Healing makes us human. That is the message of incarnation. That is the message of Christmas. Human beings seek freedom. No one on earth can subdued that. Because human dignity and freedom belong to God and his Kingdom. The struggle today is to affirm that we belong to God who has endowed each human being with immense dignity. No man, however powerful, can deny that grace. How to achieve that without hatred but with peaceful means is the challenge we face today.

When a nation and people think weapons are the ultimate arbiters of our destiny, the message of the First Christmas dries out in the sterile deserts of despair. Hope as virtue has an audacity, unmatched by any force. This Christmas we are called to celebrate that audacity of hope that came through a poor Jewish family on that grateful Christmas night of God’s intervention in history.

We live the first Christmas. Amidst our suffering, despair, we realize how close we are to the family of Jesus and the first Christmas: pushed to the margins, impoverished, living in anxiety, fleeing homes, becoming internally displaced people and refugees. We see a Mary in the women who bore children away from homes, we see Joseph who flees danger to life, we see the manger in the plight of thousands in need of shelter.

Yet we need to speak more of peace, as the Angels sang that night. Over that suffocating gloom, the Angels sang the song of hope. Stars shone over that manager. While the entitled rich and the elite of Jerusalem waited in their guarded palace for the arrival of Messiah, it was the impoverished, illiterate shepherds who were given a message that has a contemporary resonance

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

Residents of Myanmar’s Lay Kay Kaw township wait to cross the Moei River on the border with Thailand, Dec. 19, 2021. (Citizen journalist photo via Radio Free Asia)

What this wounded nation needs healing, not more arms and weapons. This country has more men with arms and weapons than doctors. This a repugnant aberration. Let us become a nation of healers — for Jesus is the eternal healer.

The angels, the Bible says, sang over the manger, over the child born in a cattle shed, to a family of internally displaced people. The Angels did not sing over the palaces, never sang over the palace of the rich and the powerful. The Bible is candid: They sang over the manger. That power of empty hands of manger started an epoch of peace. Simple people: Let us take that first step this Christmas. Let us seek peaceful solutions. This is the appeal to all in this country. Let the guns fall silent. Let the song of peace fill our hearts.

In many ways, the Christmas of 2021 takes us closer to that humble manger of Bethlehem. The commercial Christmas is mercilessly gone. The malls, the manufactured stars, and the cartoonish Santa Claus are replaced by the struggle of thousands for safety and security. The same struggle Joseph and Mary underwent. It is to all of us the infant Jesus says: Peace on Earth.

The present pain of millions in this country is not denied. The message of Incarnation is “God who emptied himself and took the form of a slave.” And that God tells us from the manger: I know your pain, your anxious fleeing, your fear of death, your silent cries over the child born in the jungles. I know your pain, my dear people.

God says “I” am not an empty word, I became flesh and dwelt among you. Once you sought me in the churches and celebrations. Now I am the God who emptied myself and took the form of a frightened slave. I am Emmanuel, the God in you. I am in every drop of blood spilt in violence, I am in every silent tear of mothers, I am in the starving child’s cry and I am in the silent burial of the innocent in the unknown graves. Know that I am Emmanuel. (Is 7:14; Mt : 1:23) I loved you so much, that I have not spared even my son of all the suffering you undergo. (Jn 3:16)

Dear brothers and Sisters in Myanmar: The first Christmas, despite all the suffering of poor families like Joseph, Mary and Child Jesus, was not only of chaos and anxiety. It was the starting of the journey of hope. We pray that in this Christmas, all the visceral suffering we underwent through the multidimensional crisis, do not throw us into the bottomless pit of despair and vengeance.

If that happens the enemy has won, the devil has destroyed the Christmas spirit. Because our Emmanuel dirtied his feet in the mud of humanity and bloodied his hands on the supreme sacrifice of the Cross, and proved evil has an expiry date and the good will triumph, let us turn our steps towards hope.

A new Jesus is waiting to be born in each one of us. A Jesus who never compromises with the evil yet can preach peace, a Jesus who took on the powers to be and yet showed power comes from service, a Jesus who castigated hypocrites and yet preached forgiveness. Compassion was the common religion of this country, and Christ preached compassion as the way, the truth and the light. Let a new Christmas of hope and joy and justice be born in this land.

A new world is possible. We can live in peace. Today’s Gospel speaks of thousands of our countrymen and women, victims of violence, especially women. In the poignant words, Luke speaks of the conditions of fear in the first Christmas.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

And yet the song of hope that beckons us:

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David, a saviour has been born. (Luke 2:6-14)

Yes, this is our hope in this country, and I strongly believe those songs will be sung in this land sooner. Let the message of the manger win over all the darkness. Let the stars of peace shine over this land of great promise.

Prayerful Wishes on this Christmas Day.

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