(Fr. Shay's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)
The truly amazing thing about the birth of Jesus Christ, called the Messiah, Son of David, Son of Man, Son of God, Saviour, Teacher, Rabbi, Master, healer, as he is named throughout the gospels, is that he never claimed those titles for himself other than the simplest thing of all, "Son of Man" which means "ordinary human being". He used it 70 times of himself as written in all the four gospels.
He never claimed to be the Messiah, the gospel writers interpreted his mission as that. The Messiah was supposed to be a fiery warrior-leader come into the world to arouse the patriotic spirit of Israel and throw out the occupiers, bring back the kingdom of the ancient King David and right all wrongs. But Jesus was born as a non-violent peace-maker calling all to repent, of their own free choice and help create a spiritual and socially just way of life, where justice, fairness, and respect for all would be the rule. The other commandment of that spiritual kingdom is to love God and others as one's self.
He was born poor, in the humblest place imaginable – a smelly animal shelter his birth witnessed by animals. Let's respect them too and save them from cruelty and extinction.
What is it then that caught and held the world's attention for 2000 years? To the non-believer he was a homeless itinerant preacher that ran afoul of the authorities in a corner of the vast Roman Empire and was a dismal failure in his time.
He was a champion of the poor and questioned the unequal system and irresponsible rich that neglects the hungry and the sick and used money and power to exploit them. Today he would strongly reprimand the greedy bankers, politicians and medical merchants who treat the old and the sick as exploitable commodities. He had no forgiveness for child abusers and said a stone should be tied around their neck and they be thrown into the ocean. For exploiters of the poor he challenged them to repent and make restitution and do penance.
Christmas is also about Mary, the mother of Jesus and Joseph who guided them as they fled Herod's death squads. Mary's prayer "The Magnificat" is about trust and hope for freedom from hunger and oppression. God, Mary says, planned a world where justice, equality and truth would overcome evil and kings and tyrants would be thrown down from their thrones and the rich would be sent away empty, while the hungry would have their fill and the downtrodden would be lifted up. That powerful prophecy delivered by a woman became the mission of Jesus. It is a message that inspires millions from then until now.
Women were to have their rightful equal place in the Kingdom but sadly generations denied it to them and today women are still struggling to establish more and more their true position of dignity and equality. This is our mission too.
Jesus gave us an extraordinary example of unselfish sacrificial love. He inspired the poor and questioned and challenged the rulers of his time and their unfair ways. They judged him a heretic, a serious political threat, a subversive and blasphemer no less, and they executed him with the ironic mocking sign over his head "King of the Jews".
They feared they would lose their status, wealth and entitlements because of him. They were driven by the same materialistic madness loose in the world today and all people of good will are challenged to share and use money in a responsible way to build a more just world. A Christmas gift for the poor is great but what about the rest of the year?
As the wise say a shroud has no pockets, we can't take it with us. So we can donate money wisely to a trust fund to help the abused children, exploited women and all the victims of human rights violations for years to come. The Preda Foundation Trust Fund is doing this.
Working for justice and freedom of children and women from slavery can help change unjust and corrupt system and bring about a happier society based on the love and care of our neighbors. That's what Christmas is all about.