Bangkok, 19 December 2012 — With the arrival of the Christmas season, our experience of the holiday in Asia Pacific cannot help but be framed by the most recent humanitarian disasters.
In early December, Typhoon Bopha swept over southern Philippines, claiming more than 1,000 lives and leaving many others homeless. Nearly 3,000km away, in Burma’s Arakan state, the ethnic conflict between the Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine populations exploded only months ago, leaving residual tension and scars on communities.
As we witness the loss and battering of human lives by natural disasters, ethnic conflicts, and unjust political structures and policies, envisioning a better world seems daunting.
But each year marks a new start, and each Christmas provides us with the opportunity to think about what the holiday commemorates, and how Jesus’ teachings can encourage and inspire us to persist in our quest.
The images of biblical Christmas in the times of Jesus envision a peaceful atmosphere with a sweet new born child — all of which is far from our current reality and further yet from the daily lives of those suffering in situations of displacement and violence.
But Jesus, the central figure of Christmas, experienced real suffering: His parents were not welcome to stay at the inn, He was forced to flee to Egypt because of Herod’s fear of competition, and in the end died in the most violent way of His time.
Yet, the central message of His life remains consistent and clear: all human beings are capable of giving and worthy of receiving unconditional love. This message was perfectly understood by the simple and open heart and mind of the shepherd.
The baby Jesus is a message from God that love and compassion are present in human history. Despite the vulnerability inherent in human beings, the incarnation reinforces the continuous revelation of human love. It is worth believing in, hoping for, and spreading— especially in the midst of hostility.
In Christmas 2012, we may experience the harsh reality of human inhospitality. It easily discourages our motivation to work for acceptance and peace by provoking pessimism, cynicism and despondency — all of which can quickly extinguish our dreams.
And yet, this Christmas provides a moment to reflect back, to drink from the source of all our hope, and re-inspire our effort to seize daily opportunities where we can create a welcoming, generous space for every human being in our midst.
This Christmas invites us to open ourselves up to God; to remember the truth of who we are, in whose name we were born, and in whose name we continue to live. His eternal love has been bestowed upon us through the gift of life. This Christmas we have an opportunity to share that love with all those around us.