Nativity Wrapt in Myths?
Comfort the Afflicted as Jesus did!
Borne as a cast out, if Jesus carpenter of Nazareth could build his Kingdom of God in minds and hearts of all humans with just 12 men of goodwill, mostly fisher folk, without any worldly know-how & resources where are such humans to be found today?
Christmas instantly unravels the fanciful world of children dominated by Santa Claus distributing gifts to each one’s licking.
On the side lines it is also about singing and chanting, angels in heaven, shepherds in the field, wise men with precious gifts all converging in search of the manger borne in silent night amidst sheep, cattle and donkeys but kept warm in swaddling clothes by Mary and Joseph with no other humans to assist.
But for saner sections this helpless babe Jesus, is God omnipotent made man for delivering a sinful humanity from their miseries, to lead them on to heavenly bliss. So all this common folk’s commotion fanned by fanciful, childlike unquestioning blind faith in the divine.
“Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom doest thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!
“He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and the path maker is breaking hard stones. He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put off your holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!
“Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all for ever.
“Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense! What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained? Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow,” wrote Rabindranath Tagore.
It looks Tagore was thinking of a Christian worshiping community with “singing and telling of beads”, cut ‘flowers and incense” led by a team dressed in “holy mantle” behind closed doors trying to communion with God away from the dust and din and sweat of the toiling lot. This is going to be repeated verbatim during coming Christmas also.
People will be flocking to fancifully decorated churches and posh cathedrals to pay respects to Jesus who volunteered to be born in a manger away from normal human habitations (Inns in Bethlehem) since they shut him out. But what about going beyond to pay respects to his poor and homeless in our midst who live in slums and foot paths, not voluntarily but because they are shut out from decent human habitations due also to our unconcern for them?
No matter how people look upon him -- God? Saviour? Prophet? Man unrivalled? Just a carpenter? -- He is not where you look for him, definitely not among the so-called comfortable class. You are fooling yourself by creating a crib in a dust-free, sweat-free cool comfort of a Cathedral. He is with the suffering lot who needs deliverance most, with the needy who needs your service most.
Pope Rubbishes Nativity Myths
To crown it all now comes Pope Benedict XVI who rubbished recently some of nativity myths saying, no angels sang to shepherd, nor were there any donkeys or beasts in the manger and the present crib scene is the figment of pious imagination trying to find biblical links in the 7th century BC Habakkuk 3:2, saying: 'In the midst of the two beasts wilt thou be known' and Isaiah 1:3: 'The ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger'.
The Pope 85 is very certain about it and said St Peter's Square crib was wrong displaying ox or donkeysince gospels don’t mention animals, according to email@example.com, Nov.22/12. But he is equally convinced this baseless tradition is here to stay. For he said: “No nativity scene will give up its ox and donkey.” A similar instance was the story of saints George and Philomina whose names were cut from that the official list of saints in heaven, But that could not get them deleted from the list on earth where they continue to get due respects.
What about 'Virgin Birth - Myth or Historical Truth? On it the Pope is certain as it is based on gospels, even if secularists for whom gospels are writings by the already converted and convinced about Jesus’ divinity and not by unattached historical observers, may differ. The fact is, the person of Jesus is riddled with mysteries from birth to death, except for the many things he said and did during three years of his incontestable and unparalleled public life recorded by believers, critics and historians.
Those curious about his private life till 30 ask: Where was he after he played truant and got lost to his parents while going to Jerusalem temple? What was he doing: Studying in some reputed seat of learning? There are stories and rumours that he studied at Takshasila in India. Otherwise how could he acquire such wisdom and knowledge? There are other stories that crucifixion didn’t kill him. Instead he was brought back to life with proper medication, lived to grow to a very old age incognito in different places and finally died and got buried in Kashmir.
Comforter of the Afflicted?
All these may be dismissed as improvable like his virgin birth without doing any damage to his shining life and message and his towering personality on which there is universal unanimity. What is it? In his own words, it is that he was and continues to be the ideal “Son of Man” – 85 times against 38 times as “Son of God” in the Gospels. When paraphrased it could or should mean, he was presenting himself as the IDEAL MAN for all seasons, places and peoples, a MAN fired like a rocket with the sole mission of COMFORTING the afflicted and afflicting the CONFORTABLE who -- no matter religious or political, friend or foe -- stood in his way and his mode of comforting his little ones -- the helpless and down trodden.
“Get behind me Satan” he would tell Peter his friend and team captain; “that Fox” he would call Herod the king; “you brood of vipers” he would call the religious top brass ganged up against him. He thus went forward afflicting the comfortable class but showering instead compassion, mercy, pardon, kindness and love even on the unlovable, finally saying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” before ending his life with “It is ended (consumatum est)” only to live endlessly in the minds and hearts of all humans to the ends of the earth.
To comfort the afflicted he did not raise funds, build hospitals, schools or churches but went trudging rugged, dusty roads of Palestine in search of those seeking deliverance from hunger, sickness and physical disabilities; ignorance and mental darkness; guilt and spiritual void afflicting soul. He thus started to feed the hungry multiplying loaves, heal the sick and disabled (blind, deaf, lame, leprous), enlighten the ignorant preaching good news, befriend and pardon the guilty (prostitutes and criminals), caress and hug innocent kids and appealed to the working class crushed like squeezed lemon to come to his side to get their burden light.
Worship God in Man
To those caught between the contradictions of the passing and the permanent, temporal and eternal, material and spiritual, the short lived changing glory of the earthly and the imagined unending otherworldly heavenly bliss, he promoted a vision of a life in God and of God in one’s own life, not as two disconnected realities but as one mutually complimenting aspects of the one and the same. He did it when he enthroned God right in the heart of all humans the living temple, not outside, to be sought, found, adored and served.
Recall his words to “worship God not in this or that temple but in the heart of humans in spirit and truth” to the woman at the well, or “when you did it to these little ones you did it to me” in the last judgement narrative, or “Thy Kingdome come here on earth as in heaven” in the prayer he taught, or “one who sees me, sees the Father” to Philip, or the observation of John: “one who says he loves God invisible, but does not love his visible neighbour is a liar” since man is created in God’s own image.
Add to it the vision of Vivekananda: “Never dare to call Man, the crown and glory of God’s creation a sinner.” If Jesus is the human face of God, all humans are different faces of God to be worshiped and served. As if drawing inspiration from it all Sri Naryana Guru spoke of “one race, one religion, one God for humans,” for all manmade castes. Religion being the cord binding humanity with God should also be only one without a second to have universal relevance.
Religions or Humane Humanity?
Call that cord Humane Humanity, since various groups today are projecting and promoting religions with different qualifications like Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh etc., to promote their divisive and conflicting visions of God. It is here that Jesus’ vision of God as Father and Son (first born, a mystery unsolved) and all of us his brothers and sisters in a world wide family imposes itself for universal acceptance for unity, service, harmony and cooperation – not conflict – for peace and prosperity.
And work is worship when it is done to build “Thy kingdom come here on earth” under the Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of all humans by eliminating the yawning gap between rich and poor, haves and have-nots, powerful and powerless through caring, sharing and serving. Jesus didn't come as a high priest to found a new religion with a new creed, rituals, cultic practices or sacrificial offerings. He never went to any temple to pray or offer sacrifice, but to teach and chase out buyers and sellers of sacrificial offerings. Yet he spent whole nights in silent prayer on mountain tops practising what he preached. In contrast think of the churches making an exhibition and entertainment of their public prayers to the accompaniment of music, ignoring the Lord’s instruction, “you are God’s temple”, that is, your heart where God is enthroned to be adored in secret.
Mercy, Pardon, not Sacrifice!
He even admonished those busy with offering sacrifices, to leave their sacrifice at the altar to go and get reconciled to their neighbours first. It looks his vociferous followers today do what he forbad and forbid what he commanded to do like the “foot washing ministry” saying “do this in memory of me”. Equally recommended is breaking of the bread ministry. Only it is twisted to look like a sacrifice, to suit a well-fed priestly class while foot-washing being the assigned task of the ill-fed slavish class is down played or avoided for that very reason, according to critics.
Unlike Buddha who said he knew nothing of the mysteries of God but knew a whole lot about the miseries of man, Jesus waxed eloquent on both God and man. But he devoted the lion’s share of his public life to wipe out the miseries of man starting with his self emptying in the manger to become one with the lowliest, the miserable, the poor of Yahweh or the “Aam aadmi” or “mango people” in today’s political parlance.
Like Buddha we too may have to say, we know nothing for certain about the mysteries of God or even about myths surrounding Jesus’ hidden life from womb to tomb. So it is futile to waste time on them. But his well documented three years of public life beckons us to shed our different or conflicting religious views as so much garbage and to rise above all manmade religious differences in order to become humane human beings comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable who treat defenceless poor like dumb sheep led to slaughter in religious and political domains. Christmas is the time to renew this yearly commitment and do whatever it demands of each one of us.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
With Warm Regards,
Dr. James Kottoor,
Dr. James Kottoor,