The Christmas story, though widely preached and normalised, hardly gives the real message of justice. The world circumvents the birth story with a message of salvation that becomes reduced to blissful ‘heavenly hosts’, idyllic ‘peace on earth’, and a calm Mary and Joseph who produce a humble yet a prophesied King wrapped in cloths, lying in a ‘humble manger’. This festive take, what we called in Samoa ‘aso fiafia’, despite its own standing in the wider birth narrative, highjacks salvation to suit today’s commercial activities. Multinational corporations for example are gaining from this festive time by doubling the production of goods and items that for them represent this so-called ‘festive season’. Compared to any other time of the year, Christmas is contributing to the wounding of the earth through the extraction culture to meet the lavish lifestyle for such a season. Adding to this is the replacement of the birth story with a Santa Claus culture that promotes gift buying afforded only by a few rich families. In other words, Jesus’ birth is today manipulated and framed by corporations to suit the commercialisation agenda of a few. Justice is lost in this celebration!
As we move towards celebrating the birth of Jesus, we must remember that it is not a pleasant or normal birth story that most of us had. It is a story set underneath the dark shadows of Herod’s imperial structure. Matthew’s account of the birth in chapter two provides multiple evidence to show that Jesus’ birth was seen as a threat to the power that had always persecuted others. It is a story highlighting a clash between God’s vision of justice and a human vision of power. In the story, the great King Herod suddenly feared a newborn baby. This led to an unnecessary genocide of young innocent children, killed just to protect his hegemony of power (v16). Such an act resurfaced as an old prophesy where a mother refuses to be comforted because of the great pain of her loss of her child (v18). ‘They are no more’ (v18b), represents the cry of the people, an indication that even the most painful weeping cannot bring back life ‘once more’. The imperial tendency to ‘tape le ola’ (less life) is in direct conflict with God’s vision in Jesus of ‘faaola’ (more life). The political disturbance and unrest led to secret meetings to design a plan to annihilate life, starting with the one who was sent as ‘LIFE’. Part of the plan is to ‘find him’, ‘report him’, so that the leader of the empire could also “come and worship him” (v8). But while the empire was busy to ‘find him’ in order to ‘kill him’ (v13), the Spirit of justice was also busy to ‘save him’ (Jesus). The Spirit told Mary and Joseph to seek asylum in another country to escape the ‘less life’ agenda of Herold, even to the extent of warning the visitors from the East ‘to find an alternative route’ from that of the suggested ‘imperial route’. Because of the emotional darkness characterizing the birth event, the star was seen and recognised from other places but not by that underneath. A star that was supposed to be recognised became unrecognized because of the looming shadows of death. Later when called ‘out of Egypt’, instead of this prophesied King returning to Judea, the seat of political power, he went to Nazareth, the seat of grassroots life. He lived with the grassroots people, learned from them, served them, and became a life within the wider household of life. This is supposed to be who we are in the light of the God of life during this time of the year.
Approaching Christmas this year reminds us that at the heart of the salvation story, drawn closer to us by Jesus’ birth, is God’s vision of life and justice for all. It is a time when we are reminded that issues such as genocide, violence, rejection of asylum for those seeking a peaceful life, and militarism, to name a few, are issues of life and justice that surround the birth story. If we miss all of these, including the many lives, households, and mothers, who were destroyed because of the hegemony of power so long ago, yet ever present in our world, then we miss what God is trying to say to us through the birth of his Son. Christmas should allow us to reset the tone of our commitment to a mission for life and justice for all in what seems to be a very dark and cruel world.
I take this opportunity to wish all our member churches, partners, families and friends, and the PTC community a celebration of Christmas that brings back healing and restoration, and a New Year built on the God of hope. Soifua!
Rev Prof. Dr Upolu Luma Vaai