Christmas greetings to you all from a warm day in Johannesburg. We who live in the Southern hemisphere have Christmas during our summer season. And when we look at some of the Christmas cards and we see snow, we realize that in other parts of the world Christmas occurs during winter when it's snowing. So there are different experiences of Christmas.
I remember growing up and Christmas was a day when my sisters and I and many of my friends in our communities wore new clothes. And so we would wait in anticipation for Christmas Day, when our parents would give us new our new clothes and would get dressed. And then we knew that the friends in the same neighborhood would also be having the same experience. And in our new clothes, we would go to mass, come back and dance in the streets and visit different homes. Homes would be open for us to come in and eat all sorts of treats. And it was really a community celebration.
Unfortunately, that communal spirit has been lost, I think, through the commercialization of Christmas, which is affecting us even in the Southern hemisphere.
So the reason for giving this background is that in the gospel reading from John, the evangelist presents Christmas in a different way. He doesn't take us to the manger as we are used to: where we would see baby Jesus surrounded by shepherds with his parents; and kings coming from the east offering presents. That is the normal way in which we have understood, at least I have understood, Christmas. But in today's readings, John takes us behind the scenes and to the origin of Christmas. And that is understanding who Jesus is. Jesus is not just the baby in the manger. We know that when the angel Gabriel made the annunciation, he told Mary that the son to be born of her, will be called the son of the most high God.
And John begins his Christmas story with Jesus behind the scenes as the Son of God, as the one through whom creation was brought about. And so he takes us to places that we had never bee in order to deepen our understanding of Christmas. The text is very rich and to go through every verse would take us the whole day. But I just wanted to pick up on three aspects from the gospel reading - and we find that the divine status of Jesus is also emphasized the reading from the letter to the Hebrews, which is also part of the lectionary for today. And so John takes us, as I said, behind the scenes where we see Jesus as the son of God. We see him as God as well.
And what we read in this passage is that Jesus became one with humanity. We call this the incarnation - which means God breaking into the reality of human experience and taking fully that identity. And in doing that Jesus offers an invitation to humanity, to those who believe, to take on a new identity as the daughters and sons of God.
And so the whole message of Christ - of Christmas - is God, through Jesus, taking on the human form so that human beings could have direct and immediate contact with God wherever they find themselves. And this is astonishing! that God could take the form of a human person in order to be able to communicate and to draw humanity back to God. When we are called the daughters and sons of God, it is assumed from the text that - just as Jesus came to reveal God so that those who came to him could encounter the love, the generosity, and the justice of God - we are called to do the same. Through us people will encounter God. And whether we like it or not, many people look to us to reveal who God is. And so we have a responsibility to bring those who come to us, to a moment where they encounter the love and justice of God through our actions, through the way we treat them.
So Christmas is not a once-off event that happens on the 25th of December, but it is a calling at the very core of our identity to be a Christmas people. Just as Jesus brought the first Christmas as the revelation of God, so that those who encountered him encountered God - Jesus leaves the same mission to us to be a Christmas people, in whom those who encounter us in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces... Encounter God.
I know it may feel overwhelming, but Jesus gives us that commission to be those who take the Christmas message of joy and liberation and good news to all people: to a world that is polarized, to a world that is fragmented, where people at the very core of their being are feeling this kind of fragmentation - this sense of loss, particularly after Covid. We are called to become those through whom they encounter the love and the acceptance of God, regardless of any aspect of their identity.
So to celebrate Christmas means that we cannot celebrate Christmas without taking the core of Christmas to become a Christmas people. And that means to make God's love and justice tangible and experienced in the world so that the presence of God through us can become the celebration. The celebration of Christmas, Christmas cannot be celebrated without people experiencing the mercy and the love of God in tangible ways. And the only way they can do that is through us. We are Christmas. Christmas is waiting to happen through us. We must be a Christmas people. God bless you.
Dr. Nontando Hadebe is a lay woman theologian and International Coordinator for Side by Side, a faith movement for gender justice. She was previously senior lecturer at St. Augustine College in South Africa, specializing in African Theology, Pastoral & Contextual Theology, Feminist & Womanist Theology, Liberation Theology and Pastoral Psychology.
She is a member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians as well as the TCCRSA Women's Caucus comprising Catholic women theologians in Africa.
She was Visiting Fellow at the Jesuit School of Theology, Santa Clara University (August-December 2014) and Fulbright scholar in residence at Emmanuel College, Boston (January-May 2015). She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of South Africa, where she participated in groundbreaking research with Professor Marilyn Naidoo on gender and theological education in South African institutions.
She co-edited a book published in August 2021 titled A time like no other: Covid 19 in Women's voices which is a collection of women's stories and theologies during covid-19 in South Africa.
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