Christmas holds a different meaning for everyone. Some view it as an expression of gratitude for the birth of the Savior, the joy of being able to gather with family, enjoying a long holiday until the beginning of a new year, or even loneliness with no family to celebrate. For me, Christmas brings forth deep memories of reveling in the Christmas spirit far away from bright lights, cypress trees, Santa and gifts.
Two years ago, I was shocked to see a church in Gagemba village of Intan Jaya, Papua: a simple wooden structure with animals strolling in and out, accompanied by an obvious aroma. Early last year, I was also surprised to see a church in Mappi, Papua, which was not much more than a wooden platform. The congregation had to be careful in climbing a fragile ladder and then bending over to enter it. The shouts of children always accompanied the pastor’s voice.
“God is the owner of our life,” said the pastor, “then we should not be afraid of life.” In simple clothing, some barefoot, the congregation tried to listen to the sermon solemnly. Mothers carried children inside noken (traditional Papuan woven bags) on their backs while breastfeeding others. There were no instruments, but music flowed from the bottom of the hearts of the most beautiful choir I had ever heard.
In this village, people often lack clean water for drinking and cooking. Public services such as education and health are also limited. The pastor is directly involved in helping his people, although his own condition is not much different from theirs.
I also think of Christmas regarding the courage to be critical of those who oppress or marginalize. Jesus had a very clear critical principle toward those involved in oppression, against the clerical groups who felt themselves to be holy that oppressed others with their knowledge. The basis of his action was not hatred or proving himself more powerful, but a strong desire to introduce love in God’s eyes, without judgment.
This brings to mind the struggle of Christian Indonesians who displayed courage against oppression. There is the figure of John Lie, a national hero known as “the great smuggler armed with a Bible”, for always carrying a Bible during his missions at sea. He supplied various needs to Indonesians suffering under colonial rule, miraculously escaping death several times. His faith was manifested through real action.
There are also figures such as Toedoeng Goenong Moelia, Johannes Latuharhary, Wolter Monginsidi, Yos Sudarso, Sam Ratulangie and others, who were critical about the colonial government. Others that come to mind are the late Romo (Father) Mangun (YB Mangunwidjaja), Romo Magnis Suseno, the late Mgr. Albertus Soegijapranata, national hero Ignatius Joseph Kasimo, Romo Shindunata, and many more.
Today we know of people like Agus Sutikno, a pastor who spreads love among neglected people. He chooses to work in the slums, providing assistance to sex workers, transgender people and people living with HIV/AIDS, regardless of their faith. Many others fight a similarly lonely path.
Jesus Christ is an example of how we should share love regardless of our differences. His presence was clear proof of his unconditional love. His love does not recognize religious differences, because God does not have a religion. Christ was born not to create a new religion, but to love all. This is the importance of spreading Christ’s love in everyday life, not just on Christmas Day, especially for those who are marginalized.
Thus, the main essence of Christmas has nothing to do with Christmas trees or Christmas gifts. The birth of Christ also has nothing to do with Dec. 25, the exact date a matter of speculation among many scholars. Christmas is not a religious ritual that comes once a year, because the love of Christ is new every morning, as said in Lamentations 3:22-23.
Christmas is about love in action. Whether we celebrate at home, at a friend’s, at restaurants, hotels, apartments, or at the National Monument, is of no importance at all.
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This article published on The Jakarta Post (Saturday, December 23, 2017)