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"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will!"
  Christmas 2005
(Address on Christmas Eve at Ramamkrishna Mission Institute, Gol Park, Kolkata)
By Fr. John Felix Raj. S.J.


Christmas means Christ among the masses. Christ + Mass. Christ born as one among us. John the beloved apostle of Jesus begins his gospel in the following words:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were created by him. In him was life, and the life was the light of humankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it… He is the true light, who gives light to everyone. The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory - full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1: 1-14).

St. Ignatius of Loyola has a beautiful contemplation on the Incarnation. “Three Divine Persons look down upon the whole expanse of all the earth, filled with human beings (in great diversity in dress and acting, some are white, some black, some at peace and some at war; some weeping, some laughing; some well, some sick; some coming into the world and some dying; etc. Since They see all nations in great blindness and that people are descending into hell, They decree in Their eternity that the Second Person should become man to save the human race. So when the fullness of time came, They sent the Angel Gabriel to Mary in Nazareth” (Spiritual Exercises, Week Two, First Contemplation, Nos: 102-109).

God so loved the world, he sent his son into the world as one among human beings so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life (John 3:16-18). It is said in the Bible: “The Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel which means “God with us” (IS 7:14).

“Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus, traveled from Nazareth in Galilee to King David’s town, Bethlehem in Judea to be enrolled in the census. While they were there, Mary gave birth to a son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger since there was no accommodation in the inn. On the eighth day they named him Jesus” (Luke 2:1-7). In the manger one encounters the power of simplicity, the depth of humility, the richness of spiritual poverty and the wonder of divine communion with the human.

The birth of Jesus was miraculous. It is God’s own revelation. Nothing is impossible to God. Jesus is born of a virgin, overshadowed by the Spirit of God. Birth of Jesus is an even heralding universal peace and joy. As the Narada Bhakti-Sutra (V.5) rightly says, “at the birth of a divine person, the ancestors rejoice, the gods dance in joy, and the world gets a saviour”.

The purpose of Incarnation was redemption of people. In Christ’s birth God revealed His love as He revealed it in creation. Christmas reminds us of the truth that God loves us. The Baby in Bethlehem’s manger was a gift, a gift from Loving God who is Father of all. This gift brought good tidings of great joy to all. Despite the considerable and increasing commercialization of Christmas, when celebrated meaningfully, Christmas becomes an event in our lives and gives birth to love, peace, joy and fellowship.

The first ones to hear the news of Jesus’ birth are the shepherds who were guarding over their sheep during the night. An angel of God appeared to them and said: “I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David, a Saviour is born for you”. As they were struck with wonder, they heard a choir of angels praising God: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to all good people (Luke 2:9-14). God chose first the humble and the poor to receive the good news. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs; blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God” (Jesus’ sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:3-10).

“There came some wise men to Jerusalem from the East to do homage to the divine child.. They rejoiced with exceeding great joy. Falling down they adored him and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh…” (Matthew 2:1-12). Jesus is for all. His birth takes place in every human heart that is pure. His message of love and service is universal. That is why he told his disciples: ‘Go out into all nations and preach the good news… I am with you till the end of time’.

Christmas is closely connected to Sri Ramakrishna, his disciples and to the Ramakrishna Mission. He spent his whole life seeking God in many different paths. He enables us to see Christ in a new way. “In 1873, Ramakrishna met Shambhu Charan Mallik, who read the Bible to him and spoke to him of Jesus. One day Ramakrishna visited Mallik’s garden house, which was adjacent to the Dakshineswar temple. In his living room there was a picture of the Madonna and the Child Jesus sitting on her lap. While Ramakrishna was gazing at the picture, he saw that the figures of the mother and child were shining and rays of light were coming forth from them and entering his heart.

For the next three days Ramakrishna was absorbed in the thought of Jesus, and at the end of the third day, while walking in the Panchavati, he had a vision of a extraordinary looking person with a beautiful face and large eyes of uncommon brilliance with his gaze intently fixed on him. As he pondered who this stranger could be, the Person drew near and a voice from within said: “This is Jesus Christ, the great yogi, the loving Son of God, who was one with his Father and who shed his blood and suffered for the salvation of humankind!” Jesus then embraced Ramakrishna and merged into his body” (God Lived with Them, p.15). Sri Ramakrishna was convinced that Jesus Christ was the Incarnation of God.

On 23 December 1885, when Sashi (Swami Ramakrishnananda) and Sarat (Swami Saradananda) met Sri Ramakrishna, the Master answered their queries with passages from the New Testament and recognized them as his own who belonged to his inner circle. He revealed that Sashi and Sarat were among the followers of Jesus in their previous birth.

After Sri Ramakrishna’s departure, his disciples continued to cultivate the “Jesus State”. Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) and eight other disciples visited Antpur, the birthplace of Swami Premananda, on 24 December 1886. One night, around an open fire, Narendra narrated the life of Jesus to all beginning from the Immaculate Conception to the resurrection, emphasizing at every turn the life of renunciation that Jesus lived. He spoke about Christ’s love and self-sacrifice for the good of humanity. He introduced them to the apostolic mission of St. Paul and other apostles of Jesus. And in an inspired voice he exhorted them to be apostles themselves to carry out the mission of love and renunciation. When they came out of their recollection, they realized that it was the eve of Christmas.

On 24 December 1892, Swami Vivekananda went to Kanyakumari and meditated in Mother Kumari’s temple. During his prayer he hit upon a plan for the future, a plan to give back to the nation its lost individuality and raise the masses… For Swami Vivekananda, Christ dons the earthly cloak. He bodies forth the creation of His own time, and casts a far-flung glance into the yet unborn to bring it into existence. He reveals Himself to each one according to his or her power of receptivity. The words of Jesus, “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world and losses his life?” (Matthew 16:26) echoes in everyone’s heart.

In his younger days, Swami Ramakrishnanada sought higher knowledge from the Bible. He had a tremendous love for Christ. During his last days, he became inspired whenever he spoke of Christ. He would often relate how Sri Ramakrishna had regarded him as Christ’s disciple in his previous life.

Gurudeb Rabindranath has touchingly and beautifully brought out this aspect divine encounter in human life in his song: “This is my delight, thus to wait and watch at the wayside where shadow chases light and the rain comes in the wake of the summer. Messengers, with tidings from unknown skies, greet me and speed along the road. My heart is glad within, and the breath of the passing breeze is sweet”.

“From dawn till dusk I sit here before my door, and I know that of a sudden the happy moment will arrive when I shall see. In the meanwhile I smile and I sing all alone. The air is filling with the perfume of promise”.

“Have you not heard his silent steps? He comes, comes, ever comes. Every moment and every age, every day and every night he comes, comes, ever comes. I surrendered my mind without struggle to the maze of shadows and songs”.

“At last, when I woke from my slumber and opened my eyes, I saw thee standing by me, flooding my sleep with thy smile. How I had feared that the path was long and wearisome, and the struggle to reach thee was hard! You came down from your throne and stood at my cottage door”.

I was singing all alone in a corner, and the melody caught your ear. You came down and stood at my cottage door. Masters are many in your hall, and songs are sung there at all hours. But the simple carol of this novice struck at your love. One plaintive little strain mingled with the great music of the world, and with a flower for a prize you came down and stopped at my cottage door”.

We, Christians believe in a Trinitarian, in other words, communitarian God. Trinitarianism is the theory of the nature of God that one divine essence exists in three divine persons (personae). When one reads that there are three persons in the Godhead the word "person" should be understood in its archaic sense and not in the contemporary sense of a center or core of personality. There are not three separate personalities in the Godhead. God is neither a person nor three persons. For us, a person is an individual agent, a conscious centre of memory and choice, of action, reflection and decision. But when we say there are, in God, 'three persons', we do not mean that God has, as it were, three minds, three memories, three wills" (Nicholas Lash 1993:32).

Brahmabhanda Upadyay has explained the Trinitarian dimension very well. Jesus is divine and human. He is the Logos, the divine word, the eternal Image of the Father, who by his incarnation revealed the humanity of God and divinity of man.

“The infinite, eternal God who cognizes his own Self reproduced in thought, is the Father; and the same God who is the begotten Image of divinity, who acknowledges the Father in reason, is the Logos, the Son. This is the mystery of the timeless Word-colloquy, which sweetens the divine bosom and fills it with joy ineffable. The eternal, intellectual act of divine generation and the correspondence which binds the Father and his Logos Image in the Spirit of Love completes the life of God and makes it self-sufficient…”

Upadhyay adopted the vision of Saccidananda as expressive of the Christian doctrine of God as Trinity. God the Father is the Sat – Being, the Son is the Cit – Consciousness or intelligence, and the Spirit is Ananda – Joy, fulfillment. This vision comes through a beautiful Sanskrit hymn, Vande Saccidanandam Vande, which he composed and is today widely sung in Christian Churches all over India.

According to Upadhyay, Jesus Christ has certain claims to attention:

  1. He is a universal Teacher. He is in St. Paul’s words “all things to all people”. He commissioned his apostles to “go and teach all nations to observe all things he had commanded them".

  2. Jesus Christ has given to humankind by his Incarnation the most complete possible revelation of the nature and character of God.

  3. He unfolds the mystery of God’s inner life.

  4. The last but the foremost is his divinity. He claims to be the incarnate divinity suffering in his union with human nature.

An important message of Christmas is that of joyous giving. The Story of Santa Claus explains this dimension of Christmas. It is centered on the message of love and giving. The more we give the more we receive. God loves those who love not themselves but others. The spirit of Christmas makes every person other-centered, that is people centered. Jesus said: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his fellow being” (John 15:13).

Sixteen hundred years ago, there was a man called Nicholas in Patara, a town on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. Because he was very fond of children and was kind and generous to them, they came to think of him as their dear friend and their beloved saint. So it was that after a time the wonderful things he did were woven into a beautiful legend. Santa means Saint and Claus stands for Nicholas, and that is how he came to be known as Santa Claus.

In Santa Claus's own town, Patara, lived a nobleman who had three daughters. He was very poor, so poor that one day he was on the point of sending his daughters out to beg for food from his neighbors. Nicholas heard of the trouble the poor man was in, and made up his mind to help him secretly. So he went to the man's house at night, and as the moon shone out from behind a cloud, he saw an open window into which he threw a bag of gold, and with this timely gift the father was able to provide for his eldest daughter so that she could be married. On another night Santa Claus set off with another bag of gold, and threw it in at the window, so the second daughter was provided for. But by this time, the father had grown eager to discover who the mysterious visitor could be, and next night he kept on the lookout. Then for the third time Santa Claus came with a bag of gold upon his back and pitched it in at the window. The old man at once recognized his fellow townsman, and falling on his knees, cried out "Oh! Nicholas, servant of God, why seek to hide yourself?"

I wish you all a Joy filled Christmas and the Blessings of the Infant Jesus to extend your love and life to others in service.

24 December 2005

 

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