Emmanuel: But is He still with us?

December 20, 2022 in Guest blogger

SUNNY JACOB SJ (Assistant Secretary of Global Jesuit Education) :: In my childhood, I lived in a Catholic village in Kerala. Our church was the centre of existence for around 1500 families in the parish, spread at least 5 KM around. Today there are many parishes carved out of the parent parish.

Christmas was a much-awaited event for all of us, especially children. December was very cold, and dark. Yet at Christmas, play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year.

Pope John XXIII said, “mankind is a great, an immense family. This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas”. For Christmas is tradition time, traditions that recall the precious memories down the years,
the sameness of them all! Let me walk down memory lane…

Every house used to have a wonderful Christmas crib, and the people decorated their houses, displayed handmade stars, cooked good food and shared them with neighbours and friends. They prepared everything possible internally and externally to invite Jesus in.

Our parish church was decorated by all. The crib there was a weeklong effort by hundreds of youths. We made the entire month a festive season…Stars were seen everywhere. Bethlehem was there in our front yards!

Those days there were carol singing. Lots of people with all sorts of gadgets played carols, some sang loudly, some trumpeted, others danced, while some used kitchen utensils to make jingle bells! Occasionally there were fancy crackers too…

The team leader used to carry a beautiful statue of baby Jesus, blessed by the parish priest, and upon entering a house he prayed first, and members of the family knelt before the Baby Jesus and did homage to him like the magi of old.

Of course, people wished happy Christmas, and they meant it, shared hot coffee or tea, and at some houses they prepared special soup for the entire team of carols….They warmed up to move to the next house… Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to all whom we meet.

Yes, children were thrilled, while shivering in cold, yet kept awake to hear the carol singing from far away…..playing instruments and drumming traditional Christmas carols. When the carol reaches my neighbourhood, we, children, used to run towards all such houses in the freezing cold and intense darkness.

My God! what a joy…! I still vividly recall such a joyful, lively Christmas days… Those were real Christmases for us. The entire parish was active and alive, sharing joys and experiencing the bliss of Christmas! I really miss it. And I’ve missed it for decades!! How sad that we deny such experience to our children today.

Christmas for me is about celebrating joy, sharing happiness, loudly singing the carols, telling the world that a Saviour is born for all. It is a season of incredible joy, a season of Emmanuel experience – an affective, even a tangible, feeling.

In my village, there were very few Hindu families those days. Only two or three Muslim families were there, if I am correct in recalling. They too used to help us making the crib, sharing food, singing carols, going to Night Mass on Christmas night, enjoying the festivity all around.

Memorable Christmas… fabulous days and nights…. real ‘Christ born among us experience’ everywhere! Freshly cut Christmas trees smelling of stars and chilly winter night – breathe in deeply and fill your soul with frosty night! Today how much we have changed!

Our celebrations lack depth…. There is no genuine approach towards Christmas… We are divided in the name of religion…. Separated by castes and colours…. ethnicity and language… regions and ideologies…People seems to be too busy for others….

No singing….. No Christmas carols….. People are more worried about their own affairs…. No sacrifice and service… While millions are homeless and refugees..!

Today we sadly hear: carol songs are not allowed in some places… Selfishness has crept into every sphere…. Hatred and hostility in the air… Parishes are only worried about collections…. Priests and nuns lost the missionary thrust…. People are taught that spirituality is mere ‘external show’… Ritual nuances are replacing genuine faith actions… Rites are ‘rights’ for many… Seems to me that bad politics adds to the pharisaic structures!

Powers think that Midnight Masses are a cause of worry… They say there is security threat, even in a manger! That is strange, but true… No one knows true Christmas joy…. But all say like parrots; happy Christmas…!! Social media is full of Santa caps! Power corridors are busy with Christmas parties for those who matter for votes…!

Look, the refugees and migrants are fleeing like Mary, Joseph and Jesus to Egypt, to save the lives of their kids! As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”

Wars and violence are normal, it seems…. Poverty and exploitation are natural, they say… Concerns are for market and business… Nexus of corporate, fanatics, and a senseless fake news ruling the roost!

Where is Emmanuel?

Perhaps I am old… Our world is new…. it is ‘modern’, they say! It not only does not know God, but it tries to protect Him!

But I cannot resist, I try to steer through the noisy superficial world of our ‘globalised village’, to my childhood Christmas days…. In silence I walk back through memories that still have deep force in me…

Yes, to be with Emmanuel, to enjoy the God with us experience, I travel this Christmas season! From the past through the present to the future I walk… It’s a pilgrimage through plains, valleys, and hills…. Like the Magis of the old… Memories are alive, so also is my Christ, God made human!

Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard, or too sad when you’ve got Christmas right! Let us have music for Christmas… Sound the trumpet of joy and peace; Let each of us try, with a song in our hearts. Stop wars and violence, hatred and disharmony… Instead, bring peace to all on earth…

Take a journey to your childhood days, and walk towards the future…. I am sure you too will find the Baby Jesus there!!

Happy Christmas!
God bless you!!