The Christmas story is one that affirms accessibility and availability of God to everyone. Unfortunately, this year alone accessibility of many to God’s basic gifts of life and securities, even God, was challenging. Many have lost loved ones to the Covid19 pandemic. Many who are sole breadwinners of families lost their jobs. Some who couldn’t feed their families resorted to committing suicide than to face the humiliation of not being able to provide. Many children became orphans overnight due to the pandemic and wars. Women were constantly abused and violated in their family homes where they should be safer. Many families were dispossessed who didn’t have clean water and basic food. Individuals were overwhelmed by loneliness. And while the pandemic is at its peak, centres of power continue to invade lands and violated peoples’ basic rights in the name of profit.
For this Season to bring hope to the ordinary people in the dirt communities, we need to reclaim the original spirit of Christmas found in the Manger. More markedly, Christmas needs to be reborn again ‘into’ the way of the Manger. Thus, we need to re–Mangerize Christmas. A Manger always smells. It is full of dirt. It is a neglected space. However, it is where God decides to be. It is a symbol of divine accessibility and availability. It demonstrates divine beauty in what is neglected. Like a coconut when it falls and rolls to the lowest possible level of the dirt, so is God’s decision to take the Manger as a sign of God’s easy accessibility and availability to those at the lowest level of society. The coconut is not God. But its movement demonstrates a Mangerized movement to reach the lowermost end of society. In fact, Emmanuel means God with us ‘in’ the lowest possible level of life. Where the dirt is. Where the smell comes from. This is God’s mangerized love promised to us during Jesus birth.
But to re-Mangerize Christmas, we also need to reclaim the ways of the Manger that have been replaced by ways of the Centre. We need to reclaim the Emmanuel God who promised to be with us, which was replaced by the God of the philosophers who exists above us. We need to reclaim the ordinariness of the birth story of an indigenous infant, wrapped in cultural cloths, who went through cultural and religious rituals to reaffirm his identity, replaced by a white universal saviour. We need to reclaim the simplicity of the birth narrative that happened in the dirt community of Bethlehem, which was replaced by heavy doctrinal language of virgin birth and begotten sonship. We need to reclaim the political and social justice significance of Jesus’ birth narrative that addresses the struggles of the poor and the marginalized such as Joseph and Mary, replaced by a struggle-less grand majestic narrative that focuses only on heavenly hosts. We need to reclaim the power of the birth narrative that shook and disturbed Herold’s palace, the centre of power, which was replaced by a Christmas story of imperial peace and tranquility, the so-called ‘Pax Romana.’ Finally, we need to reclaim the birth narrative appropriated by the business community and replaced with the story of Santa Claus from the North pole whose gift giving is available only to a few selected children and countries with heavy snowfall.
The person who re-Mangerizes Christmas, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds, is one who “finally lays down all power, all honour, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism, besides the Manger.” As we enjoy Christmas this year, let us be reminded that many do not have accessibility to basic food, water, happiness, and even God. The way of the Manger is to be in deep solidarity with them. It is about coming down from the high horse of privilege, taking a walk alongside the struggled community, and looking at things from the perspective of those who struggle in the dirt.
I take this opportunity on behalf of the Pacific Theological College to wish our member churches, partners, former students, friends, and families, a Mangerized Christmas. Thank you all for your support and prayers during this very difficult year.
Manuia le Kerisimasi male Tausaga Fou!
Upolu Luma Vaai
PACIFIC THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE