The birth of Jesus occurred at a time of great political uncertainty and religious intrigue. Palestine had been colonised by the Romans and the Jews were once again a captive people. In these circumstances some Jewish religious sects were vying for favour and power with their oppressors and some others were planning to overthrow the Romans through insurrection.
We keep Christmas under not quite different circumstances this year. The serious tensions between political personalities and groups that have caused uncertainty do little to ease the burdens of the people and threaten whatever little stability remains. Growing religious discord, manifested sadly through acts of violence against some Christian communities have surprisingly not yet led to adequate measures of protective and preventive action or denunciation by the State and other Civil society groups.
Quality of our Relationships
At the first Christmas God made an unprecedented intervention on behalf of all humankind by becoming a human. For this God was compelled to abandon His legitimate divine status and privilege and become vulnerable. In the form of the human Jesus, God lived amongst humans, showed the way to right relationships and this way offered abundant truth and life. In the face of opposition Jesus remained faithful and died and rose from the dead to complete His task. In this unique life we all receive abundant truth and life. The only requirement is however that we must continue the intervention He initiated in the same spirit. Consequently Christmas calls us to examine all relationships and to work towards dignified, just, integrated human community for all.
This call to reconciliation that Christmas highlights is then a call to end enmity and strife. The Angels sang 'Peace on earth and good will to all persons". The birth of the Saviour in a cattle shed amongst animals and persons of different backgrounds, cultures, classes and aspirations announced that God was playing a decisive part in a new intervention towards a radical change in relationships. This intervention reminds us that while our separate cultural identities matter, require repeated re-definition and cannot be lightly dismissed, the test and quest of any peace loving and dignified people must be our ability to be different, talk about our differences and yet share and indeed celebrate a common interactive and interdependent life.
The Church has through the years been called upon to practice and proclaim this new intervention of God through Christ. "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of Reconciliation ;" (2.Cor.5;11)
Consequently I call upon all Christians to examine the quality of our relationships and to relentlessly pursue trust and good will within the Churches and with people of other faiths. The way we engage in mission and witness in particular must come under the Judgement of Christ our model in reconciliation. We know only too well how we have competed against and hurt each other, lacked sensitivity by our neighbours of other faiths, and dishonoured Christ. To co-operate with Christ as agents of reconciliation requires us to be generous in our judgements, forgiving in our disputes, self critical in our arrogance and endowed with consistent loving kindness as agents of the gospel of reconciliation. This is Christmas.
I also call upon our political leaders to make a deliberate and visible shift from enmity and strife and to ensure collaborative consensual governance so urgent at this time in our history. Our leaders do not have an option. They are elected to govern and provide economic stability, political security and dignity and harmony for all our people. With this in mind they must take on the role of national catalysts. The people are tired of excuses and explanations and theories of blaming and counter blaming. The plus point however is that the present leadership does not lack the experience to do so. They need
however to be able to manage and monitor their respective constituencies and their own political agendas and subject these to the mandate received from the people. This is surely the test of political prowess and maturity without which the people will languish and die. This is also Christmas.
I also call upon all people of all faiths and goodwill to discern right from wrong and to live and spread trust and just, anti-violent life styles. While recognising that Christians have made a valuable contribution to the life of our nation, we must also acknowledge that we have made serious mistakes and repeatedly hurt the sensitivities of our brothers and sisters of other faiths and I regret this. But I must also confess that I am deeply hurt that the violence against small vulnerable Christian communities has gone on unabated and without protest and denunciation from saner voices. No matter the cause of provocation, and there must be some provocation, conversation and dialogue is the way to deal with dispute. I consequently call upon all Christians to review our activities and change those methods that dishonour Christ and that are unnecessarily provocative. Some measures already taking effect in this regard are most welcome and must continue. I also call upon all those engaged in acts of counter violence to desist from the same and to engage in dialogue. I call upon recognised leaders of all faiths to speak and intervene on behalf of such a dialogue. All of us have a part to play in such a dialogue. But please the aggression, violence and intimidation from all sides must stop. This too is Christmas.
And finally but by no means of least importance I call upon the President, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the LTTE and leaders of all recognised political parties to give the highest priority to the continuing travails of all our people, very specially the poor and marginalized whom they must represent with compassion, and to return with determination to the peace table. We give thanks to God for the growth of a peace culture, regardless of its many set backs and cynics. The momentum must not be hindered. Whether or not the Norwegians return, peace in Sri Lanka is the task and business of all Sri Lankans. The symbolism when Christians gather at Christ's peace table to restore right relationships through participation in His death and resurrection, offers passionate pointers for us all in this difficult task of peace making. The one cup that is used signifies we are all equal before God. The bread that is broken so that it may be shared signifies that no matter how little each gets there is always enough for all. None goes away empty. Similarly the task at hand for those who lead the peace
talks is to ensure just sharing simply because we are all equal. Awareness of the presence and status of the other, the willingness to give up something, however legitimate, so that another who lacks may now have a little and a growing trust that we are on a common journey in which we stand to enhance or destroy ourselves will no doubt create the necessary political space for all. This too is Christmas.
The challenge of Christmas and our recurring human lapse and sin remind us there is much to be done. In these tasks may the faithfulness and responsibility of Joseph the Carpenter and Mary the young village woman, the accommodating spirit of the Inn Keeper, the courage of the Wise travellers, and the trust and expectation of the Shepherds be our encouragement. But above all may the love of God in Jesus the Man for others embrace us and lead us into ever widening circles of discernment, humility and understanding this Christmas and always.
With peace and blessings to all.