Thursday, December 29, 2011

A New Year and Challenges for Christians

As Christians, we tend to agree with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus that “no one bathes twice in the same river”. As believers in Christ we live as pilgrims on our way to our Father’s house, according to a historical conception that is neither cyclical nor spiral. Nor do we live as if in a permanent reiterative happening, in a boring eternal return to things of the past, monotonous and meaningless. Rather, we understand that history is linear: as a successive and uninterrupted series of occurrences, not repetitive, leading us to the “eternal mansions” (Jn 14,2).

The conclusion of another year of the Christian era presents a unique opportunity for evaluation, and such an evaluation, for Christian disciples, has fundamentally two aspects:

  • Thanksgiving for life, for all that we are and have, for all that has happened. This includes gratitude for all that is good, for all that we enjoyed and appreciated and, at the same time, gratitude for that which was not so good, for what could have been better, for all that brought with it suffering and pain. This is the case because, thanks to our unfortunate experiences and conflicts, we had the opportunity to learn, to overcome, to struggle and advance… In addition to identifying with the Crucified One, his passion and surrender, we become his disciples in the measure that we interpret and experience our pain in the light of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • An occasion for projecting our future, of the way we will live the new year of 2012 that is upon us. Projection and planning, which for the Christian always involves the need for conversion, that is, of being transformed so that our life is like the life of Christ, with his principles, criteria and values of the gospel. Conversion and adaptation that not only involve our individual life, but —beginning with that— also include the transformation of the structures and institutions that make up our society.

A quick look at our present reality challenges us, and involves us. This particular historical, social and cultural moment calls upon all of us who make up the Church of Jesus Christ to commit ourselves to the criteria of the Kingdom as opposed to the worldly realities. A commitment to make possible, visible, livable and believable the realities of justice through peace, peace through forgiveness, solidarity through fraternity and life in all its forms and manifestations as opposed to a culture of materialism, consumerism, individualism, egotism and immediate gratification.

The great problems of individuals (living without meaning) and of humanity at large (inequity and injustice, corruption, hunger, violence and conflicts, hate and wars, as well as mistreatment of the planet) call believers in Christ to a life style and authentic experience of what it means to be Christians, a religious experience more centered in right practice than in right ideas, less pietistic and individualistic and more interested in those who are poor (“whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” Mt 25,40), a religion that is less individualistic and habitual and more social and public, less sacramentalist or ritualistic and more pastoral…

Over these days and in all corners of the earth we desire for each other a happy new year. May it be so. But as believers in Christ we know that it will not be prosperous without our involvement. The God of Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and hope, requires the work, effort, support, intelligence, honesty, generosity, and commitment of us all. May the year 2012 be full of blessings!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

“I bring you good tidings of great joy..."

Christians always live in the season of advent because they live in expectation of an encounter with the Lord. Christians expect, beyond biological death, a personal and definitive encounter with God. Yet even more, they live in the expectation of permanent, daily and surprising encounters with his presence, which the Lord reveals in a thousand ways and in the most diverse circumstances. In joy, in sadness, through an accomplishment or a failure, in health or in sickness, with a friend, in personal prayer, in worship, with a book, a counsel, in all that we are and have… we are able to discover God’s presence in our life. We also expect and prepare ourselves every year for an encounter with the Lord through the liturgical season of advent which in turn prepares us for the liturgical season of the nativity: Three advents that are summarized in a unique advent: that of the entire life of the Christian Community awaiting the soon-coming Lord, who approaches us, makes himself available, is with us… a presence whose timing we cannot determine, for which Jesus urges us in the gospel to be alert, awake, prepared…

Christmas, then, is an encounter with God who, in the birth and life of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, wants to be with humans, with us, throughout the year and always… Precisely Emanuel, which means God with us, is the name that the Old Testament prophets gave to the Messiah, the one who would finally restore in the world God’s reign.

For believers in Christ, for those of us who recognize in the person of the “infant wrapped in swaddling clothes… in a manger” (Lk 2,12) the long-expected One, the Son of God, the one who was to “come into the world” (Jn 6,14), his birth is remembered every year at Christmas. This constitutes the best, the greatest news that has ever been heard or known in human history: “Fear not for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: for this day, is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2,10-11).

That good news that was first given to some shepherds is still good news for all men and women of good will, for everyone. This is because all human beings seek happiness, that is, they are seeking salvation, eternal life, a full and abundant life: precisely the kind of life that Jesus lives and teaches us to live.

This is so in spite of the social structures of sin and evil that generate inequity and unfairness. Although there are personal and social sins that vilify human togetherness and sadden our hearts, although there are walls, selfishness, anger, rancor, envy and divisions of all kinds, although hunger abounds, as well as loneliness and suffering, although efforts are continually made and in a thousand ways to conclude with peace, agreement and life, although there are desperate and hopeless people who wander without meaning… Christmas is the festivity of those who “hope against hope” (Rom 4,18) because God is with us and because all the life, deeds and words of Jesus encourage us and involve us in the construction of a present and a future where right conduct causes peace to reign, peace that comes through forgiveness, life that springs out of love, respect and solidarity because —taught now by Jesus himself— we come to know that all of us are brothers and sisters, children of the same Father.

This good news is the foundation of the joy of believers always, but in a special way, at Christmas. Thus, there are those of us that rejoice in this time of the Nativity for all that the birth of Jesus means to us: God’s plan of salvation for us through his Son. But there are also those who are happy without knowing or celebrating the true sense of the Nativity.

During the Christmas season we make more purchases, give more gifts, we share, we travel, we relax, we send messages, we reunite with loved ones, we adorn our homes and streets, make more music and hang more lights… How great it would be of all these social manifestations had as their background joy over the birth of Christ; otherwise, everything is reduced to the profane and pagan manifestation of a consuming and materialistic society in which the meaning of this season is diluted and distorted; like an empty purse the season winds up empty, without heart.

Yet, thanks to Christmas, hope does not die; it comes to life again every year, and should be born every day. Against all our errors and selfishness, against all evil and pessimism, at Christmas every year, always, even stubbornly, Hope is born, our Hope: our Lord Jesus Christ.