Published in the "Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan" Page 12 - Fiji Times, Wednesday 7th December, 2011
As we approach Christmas (which was almost cancelled last year if you remember the furor over the public holidays - http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=162476), it’s always good to spend some time reflecting on the significance of the event.
Of course in Fiji most of us understand that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ Jesus. Born in abject poverty (there was no room in the inn or perhaps Joseph could not afford to take the available but expensive suite, or was it social discrimination against Galileans?) and while still an infant subjected to political persecution and forced to seek refugee status in a foreign land (the future king hunted by the present one and forced to flee to Egypt, from where an adopted prince had once fled with a group of slaves), it wasn’t the happiest or most glorious beginning for the earthly life of the Son of God.
In fact that humble birth does not have much in common with the commercial event that sees billions spent globally on food, decorations, presents etc. With the secularization of Christmas, along with Yule (Pagan) and Hanukkah/Chanukah (Jewish) and the Winter (northern hemisphere)/Summer (southern hemisphere) Solstice all at the same time the reference in most cards and advertisements to “Seasons Greetings” along with a chubby Santa Claus as the mascot for Christmas, the deeper meaning sometimes seems to get lost, even with a quick dash to Christmas Eve Mass or stumble to Christmas Morning Service.
Or maybe not.
Shopping, excesses, preparation stress and partying aside, surely something can be said for the joy of family and friends coming together and sharing their love for one another in the giving of gifts, even small ones, the sharing of a meal – be it a family feast or a simple lunch or dinner with a piece of fruit cake or glass of juice on the side.
It is written in the Christian scriptures that when Jesus was born, angels appeared to shepherds. These shepherds were most likely tending the unblemished lambs for sacrifice in the temple of Jerusalem in special grazing grounds in the valley south and east of Bethlehem. These men, who because of the work they did, were unclean and not permitted to enter the Temple, even though the sheep they tended were pure enough for sacrifice in the Temple.
The message to these defiled men, excluded by religious tradition from having a meaningful encounter with God in the temple (the only place Jews of the 1st century BCE could have expected to really worship) was one of hope and that was to lead, in their visiting of that baby in a stable, to a personal encounter with God.
A huge angelic choir appeared to these lowly shepherds singing God's praises, “Glory to God in the heavenly heights, peace to all men and women on earth who please him.” (Luke 2:13-14 The Message)
The King James Version of the Bible has the phrase “goodwill” instead of peace.
What is good-will?
Goodwill is defined as “a kindly feeling of approval and support : benevolent interest or concern;” or “ a disposition to kindness and compassion; ‘the victor's grace in treating the vanquished’”. It is the opposite of “ill-will”(hostility, animosity, bitterness, aggression).
The message at Christmas is of the presence of goodwill on earth to all humankind. Even the condition of “on whom God’s favour rests,” can be understood to mean all those who do what God asks: “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NIV), or “do what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don't take yourself too seriously— take God seriously” (The Message). This is something that we all can do.
Goodwill is so important in this world that it is even accepted as an “intangible asset” in accounting terms – yes companies have a dollar value to their reputation or their “goodwill”.
How much is your goodwill worth? What good do you do?
Is it fair to be the recipient of goodwill without sharing it with others?
This Christmas, as we write our lists of what to get for whom and plan our budgets, or wonder where on earth we are to find the money for things we wish we could enjoy and give to others; lets place some value on goodwill.
Albert Einstein once said, “Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes - goodwill among men and peace on earth.”
Einstein’s message is echoed in the words of the late Kenyan environmentalist and political activist Wangari Maathai who in 2004 won the Nobel Peace Prize for her "contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace and passed away on what will be exactly three months on Christmas day (25th September, 2011):
“We can work together for a better world with men and women of goodwill, those who radiate the intrinsic goodness of humankind.”
What kindness can you share this Christmas? To whom will you express compassion? Where and how will you enable peace as the world celebrates the birth of the prince of peace?
Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.
Rev. J.S. Bhagwan is a doting husband and father. He is currently a student of the International Graduate School of Theology at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea. Read more by visiting http://thejournalofaspiritualwonderer.blogspot.com/