Tuesday, December 15, 2009

12 Days to Christmas

It will be 12 days to Christmas. Well, almost. If I had posted this note yesterday, I would have been able to say so with much more confidence. However, since I've been gloriously not-so-prompt with my blog postings, I guess, it would be very much in character to be slightly late.

The number 12 has been rather significant biblically speaking: the ancient tribes of Israel and the apostles were all 12 in number. I'm not sure if this number figures elsewhere in the Book, but it does offer a springboard for this new series of blog posts I'll be working on. The real inspiration, however, came from an unlikely source. I was listening to that silly old Christmas song, Twelve Days of Christmas and thought, why not start blogging again?

Of course, the idea of a countdown proved to be not only appealing but also downright irresitible.

Just to set the record straight, I am not into numbers in the way some people are obsessed with the cosmic significance that numbers may -- or may not -- have. To me, numbers are just numbers: a simple methodology to quantify the world around us in a measurable form. At the same time, one cannot totally dismiss the idea that numbers can be profoundly symbolic, too. They can set structures for abstract notions, provide framework for understanding depth and help us in making sense of the collective.

So what has all this got to do with that silly Christmas song?

Well, I've done this before. A couple of years ago, the song was the inspiration for a 12 part series on social, political and economic issues that have a bearing on the Christmas story. This year makes a re-examination of those issues much more necessary and even urgent because the global economic crisis has become a sad reality for people across countries and across economic groups.

Christ's birth in a lowly manger in an obscure town of Bethlehem ought to mean something in such an environment. And I dont mean, the cute images that Hallmark produces or the delightful nativity scenes that little children enjoy to their hearts content. I'm more interested in looking at the stinking stable in which He was born, an insignificant town of Bethlehem that He chose for His birth, the unconventional method He picked for His family life, the social outcasts He selected as His disciples, and the radical message that turned the world upside down with its promise of deliverance and freedom.

Of course, this message does not sit well with current perceptions of what Christmas is all about. Consumerism, capitalism and materialism have set the tone for the season, and the truth of the manger is pushed to the sidelines. After all, Christ may have reached out to the marginalised millions and shown that God finds His home amongst the lowly and the obscure, but to the world at large, the marginalised will always be pushed to the invisible spaces, and remain marginalised.

However, the thing about the 'marginalised' is that they are rarely easy to categorise. They could be rich or poor, suave or artless, wise or foolish, busy or lazy. They are simply those who are not wanted and thus kept away. The reasons for them being marginalised may differ but the pain they experience remains the same. The resultant despair and rejection becomes the narrative for the ones who are not wanted, so they slip away aching and looking for some sort of redemption.

Into this world, Christ came, suffered the same fate and was 'despised and rejected by men' prior to His triumphant resurrection. Hence, the focus for our Christmas celebration, too, can involve imitating Christ's journey to an obscure landscape where hope was given to a broken-hearted world. Salvation became a gift as a result of sacrifice. And brokenness paved the way towards reconciliation.

The only problem is, this journey also involves denying of our 'selves', which is something that our consumerist societies find hard to swallow.

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