DO WE NEED A SAVIOUR?
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 9:1-7; PS 96:1-3, 11-13; TITUS 2:11-14; LK 2:1-14 ]
Why are we rejoicing on this day? Why is Christmas so well celebrated all over the world, especially in the West and even in some parts of Asia? The simple answer is that Christ our Saviour has been born. This is what the bible says. This is what the responsorial psalm says, “Today a saviour has been born to us: he is Christ the Lord. O sing a new song to the Lord, sing to the Lord all the earth. O sing to the Lord, bless his name. Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad, let the sea and all within it thunder praise, let the land and all it bears rejoice, all the trees of the wood shout for joy at the presence of the Lord for he comes, he comes to rule the earth.” This is what the Church says. This is what all Christians are saying. Repeatedly and consistently, this is the reason given in the Christian tradition as to why we celebrate Christmas.
But are the Church’s sentiments our personal feelings as well? Or are we rejoicing because it is so to speak, the best time of the year? It is cool and cold and cozy. Businesses have slowed down. Work has slowed down. It is the holiday season. We can take a break. We have received our year-end bonuses. It is time to celebrate. There are parties held in many places. It is a time of merry making. It is a time to receive presents, which gives us a good reason to shop and spend lavishly. It is a time of fun and joy.
But I am afraid that Christmas is celebrated all over the world without the birthday boy in whose honour we are celebrating. Ironically, in many parts of the world, in the name of religious freedom, we are no longer free to wish each other Merry Christmas. We wish each other ‘Happy Holidays’ or simply “Compliments of the Season”, presumably winter! What the world is celebrating at most perhaps are the effects and outcomes of the birth of our Lord. They are enjoying the peace and love that our Lord brings, but failing to recognize Him as their savior. It is like many people in the world who have many talents and gifts and blessings, but they take them for granted. They fail to consider where their health, talents, beauty, resources and blessings come from. They never ask where their intellectual capacity and the many opportunities in life come from. They simply enjoy them without asking the source, like the wedding guests at Cana.
The truth is that we cannot enter into the true and lasting joy of Christmas unless we see the need of a Saviour. The real problem is that modern man does not see the need of a Saviour. He can do all things by himself. He is his own savior. He thinks that he is able to solve all the problems in the world by himself, using his own ingenuity. He thinks mightily of himself. Today, no one speaks about God and the grace of God in the world. It is a taboo for political and corporate leaders to mention about God in their work or that we need His grace. There is a common agreement that this world is dependent on our hard work and ingenuity alone. Beyond ourselves, there is nothing else.
Secondly, the contemporary lives only for this world. There is no thought of the world to come. Either they cannot be bothered or are agnostic about it. In a word, many of us live as if this is the only life and world we have. After death, we disappear into nothingness. That is why many just live only for this life and this world. We try to enjoy as much as we can and take out of this world as much as we could because after death, it is the end of everything. Why should we therefore care about tomorrow when there is no tomorrow? Why should we sacrifice our happiness today for the sake of the future generations? Nay, since there is no life beyond death, we should take care only of ourselves, do all we can, enjoy all that we could for after that, it will be no more. It would be so silly to miss this great opportunity by sacrificing for the next generation.
Thirdly, the situation has changed. In the days of old, most people were poor. Life was very simple and spartan. They did not have the luxuries that we are now enjoying. Many suffered from all kinds of illnesses and diseases which had no cure. Life was tough. Many lived in tents and were nomads, fighting the cold and the heat throughout the year. Above all, each tribe or nation had to protect themselves from other tribes and nations. Enemies were all around them. The powerful nation was always waiting to seize the lands of other nations and dominate them. Within the nation, there were so much injustice, corruption and manipulation of the poor by the rich, and those in power. The poor did not have proper recourse to justice.
Today, the world has become a much better place. More countries are developed. Of course, there are still many peoples in some parts of the world that are impoverished or living in inhumane conditions. But for those who live in modern cities like ours, our lives are very comfortable. We have jobs and are able to have a decent lifestyle. We might not all be rich and live in beautiful bungalows and palaces, but even our two-room flats are very comfortable. We have modern amenities and easy access to communication. With science and technology, many things can be resolved without the help of God. Man thinks he can solve every problem using his brains and knowledge. There is a judicial system that ensures a certain level of justice and impartiality, much better than the olden days where the powerful controlled even the judges. Today, we speak of the sovereignty of the nations and we do not have another nation seizing another nation without condemnation from the rest of the world.
Consequently, it is not difficult to understand why man has become so arrogant. This world does not need God. This is what secularism is saying. There is no God; only us. So there is no need for anyone to have a savior. In fact, it is a novelty to tell someone that you are a freethinker or an agnostic or an atheist. It shows that you are in control of your own life. To believe in God is a form of escapism. It is a sign of weakness and folly. Only people who are weak and helpless seek refuge in God. Indeed, many seek God only when they are desperate; such as when they are struck with an incurable or terminal illness, or faced with bankruptcy, or at risk of losing their jobs or a failed relationship.
So, do you think there is a savior? This is the question you need to answer sincerely if you are to celebrate Christmas. In the first reading, the Israelites felt the need for a savior because they were living in darkness. They were in exile. All hopes were gone. They lost their land, their kingdom and their temple. They lost everything. They were under the captivity of their enemy. Hence they were looking for a savior. “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase; they rejoice in your presence as men rejoice at harvest time, as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils. For the yoke that was weighing on him, the barb across his shoulders, the rod of his oppressor, these you break as on the day of Midian. For all the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood, is burnt, and consumed by fire.” It was their hope that the savior would set them free and bring joy to their lives again by giving them land, wealth, peace and freedom. The psalmist says, “With justice he will rule the world, he will judge the peoples with his truth.” What they sought for was peace, wealth and justice in their lives.
In the gospel, the people during the time of Jesus too were living in poverty because of the political and religious institutions that kept them poor. The people sought freedom from the Romans. But they were also living in sin, in hypocrisy, especially the religious leaders. That was why Jesus saw His mission as one of liberation of the people from their sins and oppression by changing the social and religious structures. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Lk 4:18)
The Gentiles too felt the need of a saviour to teach them how to live life purposefully and meaningfully. The Gentiles were living sinful lives under the bondage of the flesh. Not only were they engaging in idolatry but they were living sensual lives, a life of promiscuity, pleasure and greed. The people were ambitious and the cities were thriving, but their affluence also led to all kinds of sin. Life was meaningless like ours, working, eating, drinking and carousing. Life was empty. It was only for this world. And so Jesus the Saviour came to teach them how to live an authentic life of joy and love in this world for the world to come. This is what the second reading says, “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus.”
What about us? Why do you need a saviour? To the extent you need a saviour, to that extent you will be glad and rejoice because Christ is our saviour. If we are humble enough to know that all we have come from God and that this life is not everything, then we will recognize our nothingness before God. If we come to realize our sinfulness and that without His example and His wisdom we can never overcome our sin that separates us from God and our fellowmen, then we need a saviour. Indeed, “He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good.” If we are aware that our life is not here on earth but in heaven, then we need a saviour. So Christ is our Saviour because He teaches us the way to peace through truth and love. Jesus reveals to us our origin and our destiny. So we can rejoice because as the angel assured us, “Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” So with the angels, we sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men who enjoy his favour.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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