There is a lot about Christmas that the world doesn't know, doesn't want to know or conveniently forgets in its pursuit of pleasure, possessions and power. And that is, that the "Christ" in Christmas was a person, fully human and Son of God, demanding an end to greed and exploitation.
That sweet baby Jesus in the Christmas manger, born in poverty among peasants and while still in swaddling clothes faced death threats and assassins sent by the corrupt and lust-filled King Herod. Jesus and his parents were refugees and asylum- seekers in a foreign land fleeing certain death. Good his mother Mary and Joseph didn't apply to a nation with strict anti-immigration laws and racists attitudes, they would have been deported, expelled, kicked out and then caught and executed with the hundreds of innocents in Herod's slaughter, a horrific crime against children and humanity.
The baby from Bethlehem, became the man from Nazareth who grew up to be the fiery prophet, the calm peace-maker, the loving friend, the healer of the sick, the hope of the hopeless and the shepherd of the lost. He was the bane of the rich and powerful too. He is the young man that was kicked out of his home synagogue in Nazareth and was almost killed for quoting the Prophet Isaiah and taking on his mission as his own. He was a real trouble maker and rebel to some in his home town.
He read the lesson quoting Isaiah (Luke.4;4 -30) from the scripture and he made it his life's work to bring good news to the poor, telling them in effect that they, the poor, are blessed, precious and the kingdom of God is for them. As if saying: "You are the true children of the father, the inheritance of the land is yours". To the religious authorities this was heresy, subversion, and close to blasphemy, a crime that carried the death penalty.
In today's world defending the poor and the environment from the loggers, land-grabbers and the ruling elite also carries the unofficial death penalty. Human rights advocates, environmentalists, journalists, priests and pastors are branded as communists and subversives for speaking out for the poor and they are killed as was my friend Father Fausto Tentorio, last 17 October 2011, for standing with the poor. His friends and fellow priests are still threatened and harassed.
In the time of Jesus of Nazareth, the elite claimed they had the divine blessing and the right to the Kingdom. They constantly thanked God for their elite status, ascendancy, wealth and for being the chosen ones. They felt that the carpenter's son, born of a peasant girl, was challenging them and their system by taking the side of the poor and they were angry when he scolded them as hypocrites.
Yet, he didn't end there. He continued quoting Isaiah declaring an end to the captive status of the poor and the oppressed, an end to injustice, slavery of all kinds, freedom for the women and children, a new life for the exploited and those unjustly accused, imprisoned, persecuted and harassed. And he declared the freedom of Christmas so the poor can escape from the clutches of commercial consumerism.
Christmas is about transforming a materialistic world, not joining in the wasteful extravagance. It's a time for family togetherness and peace-making and making commitments to work for a more just society and continuing the work of Jesus, born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, but very much alive today.
It's a time to renew friendship and the values that keep us human and spiritual, united, sane and secure. It's not enough to admire the child in the manger; we have to imitate him as a man of action.
Jesus was an agent of change, a revolutionary of the spirit that loved as no man had so loved his friends, his people, the poor, the outcasts and downtrodden and died for them. That's what Christmas keeps alive in us the living spirit of self-giving and caring for others. What we learn from the child in the manger, the man on the cross is that following Christ is to be a washer of feet and an advocate of human rights.
Rev. Shay Cullen is a Catholic priest who serves the people of the Philippines. He is a founder of PREDA.org, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the exploitation of children.