From behind my glass window on the third floor of the Upasana block at the St Thomas Orthodox Theological Seminary, Nagpur, I can watch a flock of sheep grazing on a little, not so green meadow, decked with neem trees and thorny bushes beyond the campus.
It is a winter morning. Two shepherd-girls, wrapped in cheap, colorful blankets, huddle behind the sheepfold in the hazy winter sun.
There is a small pond and a narrow canal nearby . The water in it reflects the sky, and the passing clouds resemble a flock of white sheep.
In this Christmas season one is naturally reminded of a biblical, Palestinian pastoral scene at the time of the birth of Christ.. At night from behind the same window I gaze at the stars, some brighter than others, and occasionally some shooting stars as well….
Again a reminder of the nativity scene, more than 2000 years ago. It was in these same Advent days that one heard the heart-renting cry of innocent children and the inconsolable wailing of families from Peshawar, Pakistan. Demonic cruelty to the budding life of children again reminded us of biblical times, murder of children as ordered by Herod who was scared by the news of the birth of the Messiah: “A voice was heard in Rama, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she would not be comforted because they are not.” ( Matt. 2:18 citing Prophet Jeremiah).
How does one fit these bits and pieces together in the puzzle of life?? The nature of sheep and the social condition of the shepherds in India probably remain very similar to those of Bethlehem 2000 years ago in spite of the great changes in the world. The sun and stars have not perceptibly changed in this astrologically negligible period. And human nature? Has it changed any bit? War, Violence and human cruelty tragically challenge our tall claims of progress and cultural evolution. Progress seems to be a myth. We have confidently assumed that we in the mid- second decade of the 21st century are better off than our forebears in knowledge, achievement and standard of life. Proudly counting on the developments in science and technology, on the incredible progress in communication and transportation, in global trade and commerce and the flowering of consumerist, libertarian culture of individual freedom, many in the west and those who follow them in the rest of the world simply assumed that this is the ideal condition of life that all nations aspire to. It turns out, however that, a large chunk of humanity is deprived of such “blessings”.
The poor are still the overwhelming majority in our world . They cannot simply aspire to the standard of life considered ideal by the advanced nations for various reasons including depletion of natural resources and the whole ecological crisis. A significant minority in the non-western world deliberately rejects some of what the west considers as civilization, freedom, human rights, justice, democracy, progress, equality, women’s liberation, gender justice, marriage, family, culture and so on. They operate with wholly different concepts and world views. Religion, which was expelled from the western secular civilization, is providing the backbone, albeit in radically different modes and under different names, of this emerging counter force of terrorist and fundamentalist movements. The whole scenario makes us raise questions about the future of humanity as well as about all that has humanity has “achieved” in the recent past centuries. Thus, if the past and the future of human civilization require to be radically questioned at this juncture of history, it spells a very serious crisis for humanity.
We may have to reexamine all the assumptions of our so called global culture, which is really an extension of the modern western civilization. Christmas cannot any longer be taken for granted as a romantic, sentimental festival of lights, gifts, exchange of greetings, family reunion, feasting and holidaying – something many people are used to in certain parts of the world. In fact, nothing in our present mode of life in a profligate consumerist culture can be taken for granted with any certainty for our future if we venture to perceive the other side of world reality. Well, I am not trying to strike a negative and depressing note in this season of festivities. On the contrary, I am full of hope and confidence in the power of God’s love for us as manifested in Jesus Christ.
The gospels proclaim him as the Light of the world. But it is not the external light, similar to the light of the sun. It is the inner light that illumines our path ahead from within us even when there is thick darkness all around. In fact, we are now in a situation where the external world around us is darkening deeper with religious fanaticism, hostility, violence and injustice. This trend may not easily reverse or subside, but might flare up to the point of a new world war unless humanity recognizes the fatal character of the current situation and reorders the present world in a new civilization frame work.
We need to light the interior lamp to see the way out. We need to seek the true Enlightenment. Churches and Christians must turn to the inward eye that can see the future prophetically, critically and with re-ordered hope.
One of the ancient prayers in our Orthodox liturgy of the hours sings: “When the sun sets over the face of earth, O Lord, be our light that shows us the path of truth”. May this season of Christmas be a time of repentance and reordering of our attitudes so that we may all rejoice with all the innocent children, the poor and the oppressed of the whole world, and together celebrate life in all it’s abundance in Jesus Christ our inner Light.
Courtesy: Marthoman TV