The festival isn’t like the ones Collin Wanñiang used to know
THE BING Crosby version of the nostalgic Christmas carol song of the 1940’s ‘White Christmas’ of Irving Berlin reminiscing about the old-fashioned Christmas setting, is said, according to the Guinness Book of Records 2009, to be the best-selling single of all time, with an estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide. In December 2009 an article written by Roy J Harris Jr. commenting on ‘White Christmas’ appeared in the Wall Street Journal: “It was a peaceful song that became a wartime classic. Its unorthodox, melancholy melody – and mere 54 words, expressing the simple yearning for a return to happier times – sounded instantly familiar when sung by America’s favourite crooner…”
I used to know!
‘WHITE CHRISTMAS’ begins: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas just like the ones I used to know.”
A Christmas just like the ones I used to know, in flesh and blood, cannot be realised, except in a dream as the song says. Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535-475 BC) uttered more than 500 years before the Christian era: “You can never step into the same river twice.” His river paradox is featured in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux of 2001 in the newly added French plantation scene in a dialogue between Captain Willard and French colonist Roxanne in which Roxanne said: “Do you know why you can never step into the same river twice?” Willard replied: “Yeah, because it’s always moving.” This river quotation is also featured in Disney’s Pocahontas, during the song “Colours of the Wind”, in which Pocahontas sings “What I love most about rivers is you can’t step in the same river twice; the water’s always changing, always flowing.” Moreover, a variation of this river paradox exists also in the Japanese Manga and Anime, Ghost in the Shell.
Chronos and kairos
AN ENGLISH idiom “time and tide wait for no one” and the German phrase “zeit ist geld” (time is money) remind of another famous maxim “A stitch in time saves nine”. Thus, Christmas is a message: “But when the fullness of time arrived, God sent forth his Son” (Gal 4.4). So, it is a message about the right time, the fullness of time, the appointed time, the Greek “chronos” from which “chronology” in the English language is derived. However, Christmas for the Youth of Today is not merely acting according to “chronos” but according to “kairos” – the right or opportune moment, the supreme moment, “the appointed time in the purpose of God”, the time when God acts: “The time is fulfilled” (Mk. 1.15) – for “chronos” in the ancient Greek would refer to chronological or sequential time, while “kairos” would signify a time “in between”, a moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens; not quantitative “chronos” but qualitative “kairos”.
The historical Jesus that matters
LEAVE ALONE the arguments of different scholars with regards to the exact date of Christmas. What is important for the youth of today is the historicity of the historical Jesus of Nazareth who came “according to chronos” but acted “according to kairos” – A Jesus who challenged his society with his upside-down values – A Jesus who has experienced hunger and thirst – A Jesus who was being tempted – A Jesus who was ready to pay the prize for his conviction with his death at his prime youthful age. Concentrating on the exact date would oblige us to deal also with the various names and sobriquets given to Christmas which are differently coined in various language groups. For instance, the word “Christmas” in the neo-Latin languages has a connection to the Latin root “Natalis”; thus “Natale” in Italian, “Navidad” in Spanish, “Noël” in French, “Natal” in Portuguese and “Nadal” in Catalan. While in the various Germanic languages there is no link to “Natalis” – “Weihnachten” in the German language, the root “Jul, Joul or Yule” in the Danish-Finnish-Norwegian languages, “Kerstmis” in the Dutch language and “Christmas” in the English language.
The rain falls up
WE SAY that the rain falls down. What if someone comes and says “the rain falls up”? He will surely be considered crazy by the so-called enlightened ones. However, looking from the moon or other planets, “the rain falls up” cannot be considered illogical, as our planet Earth is also seen hanging in the sky. Actually, we speak or judge only with reference to ourselves. However, the greatness of any person is his/her ability to look from the viewpoint or standpoint of the other – the ability to put his/her feet in the other person’s shoes. Commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas is not only remembering that fragile helpless babe of Bethlehem but having an attitude of awe towards this great personality who had such an emphatic understanding of our human frailty – restoring back our lost glory; so, imbibing us with a deep sense of gratitude towards God for His birth into our world. Jesus’ attitude towards life was so different – He hated sin but loved the sinner when he said to the woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, sin no more.”(Jn.8:11). He saw great potentiality in the so-called public sinner, Zacchaeus: “Hurry and come down Zacchaeus! I must stay at your house today.”(Lk.19:5)
Attitude that counts
IN THE ladder of success, one of the personal traits that plays a major role is attitude. In fact, if we mathematically calculate the English alphabets putting A,B,C,D,E… = 1,2,3,4,5… So, the letter A=1, T=20, T=20, I=9, T=20, U=21, D=4, E=5 the sum total of the word attitude is 1+ 20+ 20+ 9+ 20+ 21+ 4+ 5= 100. Thus, it can be mathematically said that Attitude makes 100% contribution to success. The Bible narrates about David and Goliath in 1Samuel 17. This event can be aptly rephrased and applied for the youth’s attitude of today; there was such a huge giant who was bullying and harassing the children in the village. One day, a 17-year-old shepherd boy named David came to visit his brothers and asked, “Why don’t you stand up and fight against this bullying giant?” The brothers were terrified and they replied, “Don’t you see he is too big to hit?” But David said, “No, he is not too big to hit, rather he is too big to miss a hit.” The rest of the story tells us how David killed Goliath with a sling. Goliath is the same giant but David had a perception, an attitude different from his brothers. People with a positive attitude find always something to appreciate while those with a negative attitude find always something to criticise – such happened at a time when Robert Fulton invented the steamboat. It seems that among those who had come to witness the maiden display were the pessimists and the sceptics. So, they commented that it would never start. However, it did start. As it made its way down the river, the pessimists began saying that it would never stop. However, it did stop. That’s an attitude of a pessimist!
We don’t improve even if we know
WHY, AFTER knowing the tactics of Success, many don’t act on them? The answer to this can be the story of a jailer who had spent his youthful years in the dungeon who, when he was given freedom, felt insecure to live without chains and so, requested to be brought back to the dungeon; or the story about an eagle growing up with the chicks who, when he was told of his being an eagle, could not believe this reality and chose to remain in the company of the chicks. Jesus Christ did give a hint to this type of character: “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.” (Mt.12.43-45). There are things in life that we don’t like but we ought to do – a mother constantly caring for the baby may find it not that easy but she has to learn to like. So the impossible becomes possible. Saint Francis of Assisi once said to his brothers: “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you will find yourselves doing the impossible.”
Patience is bitter
JESUS CHRIST whose Birthday is commemorated every Christmas said: “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the road is spacious that leads to destruction, and many people are entering by it.” (Mt.7.13). This entering involves hardships but exiting from it entails a life-time experience. As the maxim goes “patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” Moreover, patience has to be rightly understood as not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good and right attitude while waiting. Bringing the students to the laboratory, the biology teacher told them: “in the next couple of hours, you will see the butterfly struggling to come out of the cocoon. But no one should help the butterfly.” Then he left the room. The students saw how the butterfly struggled to get out of the cocoon, and one of the students took pity on it and decided to help the butterfly out of the cocoon against the advice of his teacher. He broke the cocoon to help the butterfly so it didn’t have to struggle anymore. But shortly afterwards the butterfly died. When the teacher returned to the room, he was told what had happened. So, the teacher explained that by helping the butterfly, the student had actually killed it because it is a law of nature that the struggle to come out of the cocoon actually helps the butterfly to develop and strengthen its wings. The student had deprived the butterfly of its struggle and so the butterfly died. Similarly, broiler chickens are weaker in comparison to country chickens because they have been brought up in such a condition. This story carries a lesson that nothing worthwhile in life comes without a struggle. Christmas is a celebration of that struggle. The Gospels narrate how Mary and Joseph struggled to find an inn in Bethlehem and the infant narrative is full of ups and downs (Lk.2). After Jesus’ Birth they struggled over night to flee to Egypt from Herod’s wrath. (Mt.2.13-23)
CHRISTMAS IS also a message of letting go. Christians believe that Christmas is actually an incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Thus, Jesus, letting go of his heavenly throne, came down to earth in the form of a man to redeem humankind: “Though his nature was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” (Phil.2.6-7). Successful Youths of today in any field are those that learn to adjust with others, are those that are ready to let go of their self-consciousness for the sake of others’ consciousness. The story about the Monkey-hunters in some parts of India throws some light on how a person who is not ready to let go is in fact, putting a trap for oneself. Monkey-hunters put some nuts inside a box with an opening at the top, just big enough for the monkey to slide its hand in. The monkey grabs the nuts and now its hand becomes a fist. The monkey tries to get its hand out but the opening is big enough for the hand to slide in, but too small for the fist to come out. Now the monkey needs to make a choice, either to let go off the nuts and be free forever or cling on to the nuts and get caught. A wild guess! What will the monkey do next? He is not ready to let go off the nuts – he hangs on to the nuts and so gets caught.
CHRISTMAS IS also a reminder that the Child Jesus, though he was in the nature of God, placed himself under the authority of human parents – “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Lk.2.51). A popular saying today is “freedom with responsibility”. A child who has been inculcating this practice at Home or in School ought to grow up into a responsible Youth. However, this demands a great sacrifice from both the parents and the child as giving choices to children is good, but choices without parental direction leads to disaster. Unregulated freedom is equal to driving a car without a brake or riding a horse without a bridle or flying a kite without a string. Once a boy who was flying a kite asked his father “Dad what kept the kite up?” Dad replied, “The string.” The boy countered, “Dad, how is that possible? Isn’t the string that is holding the kite down?” The father, instead of answering, asked his son to watch as he cut the string. What happened to the kite?
Today’s difficulty, tomorrow’s facility
THE HISTORICAL Jesus and our present-day generation may be too far a distance with regards to space and time. However, there had been personalities in our own centuries that have turned a negative into a positive, a pessimistic into an optimistic, adversity into advantage, frailty to integrity, stumbling blocks into stepping stones. All this is made possible because they refuse to let disappointment, hardships and failures pull them down. They refuse to believe in destiny, they only believe that they are the ones who make their own destiny. They refuse to believe in chance and chose to believe only in choice. Some of the best music was composed by Beethoven. What was his challenge? He was deaf. The person who introduced Braille alphabet was a teenager, Louis Braille. What was his challenge? He was himself blind following a childhood accident. Some of the best poetry on nature was written by Milton. What was his challenge? He was a blind poet. One of the greatest world leaders was US President Franklin D Roosevelt. What was his physical challenge? He served from a wheelchair. One of the best Khasi Poet laureates was U Soso Tham. What was his challenge? He hailed from a poor family. Surprisingly, a revelation was made recently by the St. Edmund College Principal Dr. Sylvanus Lamare during the prize distribution ceremony of the 3rd Meghalaya Poetry Competition, 2012 organised by the All India Poetess Conference, Meghalaya Chapter on the theme “cultural heritage of Meghalaya – legends and myths” at the Arts and Culture hall, on how U Soso Tham and not John F Kennedy who has first uttered the famous passage “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” way back in 1931, twenty-seven years before Kennedy utters the famous passage immediately after taking presidential oath of office in January 20, 1961.
THE FAMOUS song “Last Christmas” of the British pop duo Wham, written by George Michael may be an appealing melody for the Youths bruised in the game of ‘Love’ (Eros). All of us are bruised in one way or other. However, the real message of Christmas is ‘Love’ (Agape) of God shown in Jesus Christ. If ‘Agape’ may be too wide a gap between us and God, then ‘friendship love’ (Philia) ought to be attainable as it is common and mutual, just as seen in the relationship between Jesus and his Apostles, especially Peter. (Jn.21, 15-17) (1) Jesus: “Simon… do you love (agape) me more than these?” Peter: “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (philia) you.” (2) Jesus: “Simon… do you… love (agape) me?” Peter: “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (philia) you.” (3) Jesus: “Simon… do you love (philia) me?” Peter: [Grieved] “Lord… you know that I love (philia) you.”
Whatever may be, the song “Last Christmas” carries with it a new decision: “Last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away; This year to save me from tears, I’ll give it to someone special.” As Christmas is a year-ending celebration culminating in the New Year, it is an apt feast for making new decisions and plans. Let not the past unkept resolutions haunt us to despair and discouragement for it is always “better to light a candle than cursing the darkness” and the tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it. We can make a choice to be either an optimist or a pessimist just as Einstein said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle and the other is as though everything is a miracle.” We have such a power to become what we think. We can complain “Oh the ship doesn’t come near the shore or swim out to it”, for “those who wish to sing, always find a song”. At the end of our life, as Abraham Lincoln said, “It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” The Khasi Poet Laureate, U Soso Tham in his poem “U Dieng Bilat” talked of an unshaken will-power: “Dei ha u Rangbah keiñ, ka shong ka Mon bajwat; Ïa u phi lah ban beiñ, hynrei kumno phin rat.” (It’s in a mature person that unshaken will-power abides; you can mock him, but how can you uproot him). The Lord Jesus whose birthday is commemorated on Christmas Day believed in the power of one’s decision and faith: “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it would obey you!” (Lk17.6).
Merry Christmas 2012 and New Year 2013!