Christmas is universally celebrated as a festival of Peace. In fact, it is the birth anniversary commemoration of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. With the gift of Peace that He alone can give, he had brought to us with his historical birth, the blessings of unity and reconciliation, freedom from all bondage and liberation from all forms of slavery.
Freedom and Joy are blessings that mankind had always been in hunger for and sought in a manner that is ardent and relentless. In fact, one of the most unfortunate things today is that despite our highly advanced scientific achievements and unbelievable technological feats, we keep failing in the all-important task and duty of uniting nations and binding the hearts in close rapport. Long are the journeys we make to the distant planets in rockets of incredible speed, distant are the voyages we undertake across rivers, oceans and continents, and yet incapable are we to live with and love the one next door.
There is much domestic violence which wreaks the joy, peace and concord of the inner and sacred family circle. Divorce, marital infidelities and rebellious youth from within the domestic milieu are bringing untold suffering and pain to this fundamental human and social institution that is so essential to stabilize society.
The Christmas Phenomenon
At Christmas time, we all look forward generally to strengthen the bonds of unity, to enjoy fellowship and diffuse much good-will and generosity. It is a time to exchange gifts, sometimes very costly ones, with others as a mark of friendship and honouring others. It is only people of peace and compassion who have the capacity and good fortune to meaningfully celebrate Christmas and its seasonal joys. The entire world seems to begin this festive season very early in time. In many foreign lands, lights and décor come up in the streets, shops, shopping malls and public places already by September. Sales are advertised and get-togethers in institutions are planned well ahead to usher in and celebrate Christmas. It is the time when all workers are counting days in expectation of their bonuses.
On the religious sides, there are the exotic renderings of traditional and ancient Christmas carols, rendered immortal by the fuelling they generate and the message they convey. Yet, little is done to mend misunderstandings, heal ill-feelings and wrongs done, stolen goods returned and forgiveness asked and bestowed. These are difficult values in healing the social wounds and stigma that usually stain justice and healthy relations among people in society.
In our own land, where Christianity has thrived for the last 500 years, we are confronted with the challenge and historical task of the moment to work hard at the task of peace and reconciliation. Since independence 70 years ago, this dear motherland of our, the Isle of serendipity had been torn by many a conflict. Unfortunately, these catastrophes have emerged from the hotbed of ethnic, religious and racial tensions that ever since independence had been breeding multiple forms of extremism. These unfortunate phenomena had nothing to do with wholesome and rightly disposed patriotism and authentic nationalism.
On the contrary, these short-sighted ideologies became a real danger to patriotism and for the peace and progress of our dear country, the pearl of the Indies. On the one hand, patriotic movements for liberty and national identity were naturally to emerge from the moment of independence. After being muzzled under the yoke of colonial rule for better or worse for nearly five centuries under various colonial masters, Portuguese, Dutch and the British, there were bound to be such outburst of clamour for sovereignty and liberty among those who took the first ranks in the struggle to establish a free Sri Lanka. But, it was disastrous to see this movement going astray in many ways.
This unfortunate situation was made more complicated with economic problems made worse by our gradual dependence on international monetary agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We became a much to be pitied and helpless national of beggars with our debt costing every newborn baby Lankan today to up to Rs. 200,000.00. Our dear country is sunk in a miserable debt trap from which it would not be easy to escape for a long time.
In the meanwhile, the assets of the nation have been squandered by unscrupulous elements who found themselves in seats of power and influence. Till justice is meted out to those guilty of gross injustice to the people, peace concord and prosperity would be a distant dream for many, especially for the farmer, the daily labourer, those of the lower middle-class economic group and many in the lower ranks of the government sector. We need not only a grandiose plan for the future, but ad-hoc strategies to find solutions to alleviate the sufferings and insecurity of the common man, the man in the field and in the street.
Peace, Reconciliation & Development
Pope Paul VI had once said that the new word for peace is development, but that of the total man and of all men. This is a gigantic task facing us today. Social justice in matters of economic concerns and minority rights has become a crucial issue to deal with great prudence and tactfulness.
Christ was the Good Samaritan who cared for the Jew and fed the hundreds out in the mountains and forgave even from the cross giving hope even to the abandoned robber. He hated sin and hypocrisy but loved the sinner and the humble, which came to him for consolation and succour.
Are we ready to celebrate Christmas as a time for Peace and Reconciliation
The hundred-year span following the industrial revolution which brought in the machine whilst displacing the worker wreaked chaos in the world of labour. The labour-capital question still haunts us today. Purely profit-laden gross capitalism has failed in as much as the crude forms of socialistic economies. As far as man is not the centre of our efforts and commodity is allowed to be the ultimate measure and base of economies, this perennial question will never be solved and would persist as an agonizing issue at our crossroads. One must not become a victim of economic determinism or imperialism.
We must drink from our own wells and never let them go dry. Extravagance at all levels have to be avoided and the standard of living brought to a manageable level. It is the duty of those in government to care for the weak, the marginalized and the poor. The areas of concern embrace education, health care, employment opportunities and pension benefits. The foreign reserves are to be ensured with the local assets of the country and the skills of its native peoples, the human resources, invested to their full capacity. It must be a win-win process in all sectors and to the degree possible, contentment for all.
Religions bring in to human progress and civilization the spiritual resources of enlightenment and wisdom. It can help guide our choices, options and decision-making. This land is blessed with four of the major world religions that can prove a fountain of wisdom and level-headedness to our people. Religious leadership today has to be involved in political, social and cultural issues, though be distant from party politics. Really, religions come alive only in human activities where basically it is the religious values that are in question and peril: respect for life and human dignity, justice at all levels that lead to sharing and caring of the marginalized with assets put at the service of the entire country.
At Christmas time, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ who was the Prince of Peace bringing in the era when enemies can forgive and embrace each other in humility and forgiveness. He battled again sin in all its forms, personal, social and structural. Unless sinful and unjust structures are radically changed no justice, peace or order can take place. St. Augustine, the 4th century African Christian luminary said: “Peace is tranquillity of order”. It is a target that has to be attained by pain-staking effort and sincere commitment. Leaders both political to whom the nation hands over responsibilities of governance and religious leaders who hold the religious truths have to partner the task of leading the people towards progress and contentment.
Christ was the Good Samaritan who cared for the Jew and fed the hundreds out in the mountains and forgave even from the cross giving hope even to the abandoned robber. He hated sin and hypocrisy but loved the sinner and the humble, which came to him for consolation and succour. Christmas is the time to mend differences, clear misunderstandings, break barriers, cross borders, reach out to new frontiers and find fresher openings to meander the paths of peace and reconciliation, especially in a country where right now, all of us are torn apart by the pain of ethnic tensions, political instability and cultural alienation.