Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas: Feast of God's humanity and human commensality

By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl) (em português)
December 19, 2014

Christmas is full of meaningful things. One of them has been hijacked by the consumer culture that instead of the Child Jesus, prefers the figure of the good old man, Santa Claus, because he is more appealing to business. The Child Jesus, on the other hand, speaks of the inner child we carry within us who feels the need to be cared for and when fully grown, has the impulse to care. It's that piece of paradise that wasn't totally lost, made of innocence, spontaneity, charm, playfulness and coexistence with others without discrimination.

For Christians, it's the celebration of the "proximity and humanity" of our God, as it says in the Epistle to Titus (3:4). God allowed Himself to fall in love with human beings so He wanted to be one of them. As Fernando Pessoa says beautifully in his poem about Christmas: "He is the eternal Child, the God that was missing. He is the Divine that laughs and plays. He's a child as human as he is divine."

Now we have a child God and not a God who's a stern judge of our actions and of human history. What inner joy we feel when we think that we will be judged by a child God! Rather than condemn us, He wants to live and be entertained with us forever.

His birth caused a cosmic upheaval. A text of the Christian liturgy says it in a symbolic way: "Then the leaves that were rustling stopped as though dead; then the wind that was whispering stood still in the air; then the rooster that was singing stopped in the middle of his song; then the waters of the creek that were running became still; then the sheep that were grazing, froze; then the shepherd who raised his staff, remained as if turned to stone; so in that moment everything stopped, all was silent, everything suspended its course -- Jesus was born, the Savior of the people and the universe."

Christmas is a feast of life, of universal brotherhood, a feast of the family gathered around one table. More than eating, we share each other's lives and the generous fruits of our Mother Earth and the culinary art of human hands.

For a moment, we forget the daily chores, the burden of laborious existence, the tensions between family and friends and we become brothers and sisters in joyful commensality. Commensality means eating together around the same table (mensa) as used to be done -- all the family gathered together, talked, ate and drank at the table, parents, sons and daughters.

Commensality is so central that it is linked to the very emergence of human beings as human. Seven million years ago, the slow and progressive separation between the great apes and human beings, from a common ancestor, began. What's unique about human beings -- as distinct from animals -- is gathering food, distributing it among all, starting with the youngest and the elderly and then among the rest.

Commensality assumes cooperation and solidarity toward each other. It is what propitiated the leap from animality to humanity. What was true yesterday remains true today. That's why it grieves us so much to know that millions and millions have nothing to share and are hungry.

On September 21st, 2001, a known atrocity occurred: the planes crashed against the Twin Towers. About three thousand people died in the event.

On the same day exactly, 16,400 children under the age of five died of hunger and malnutrition. On the next day and throughout the year, twelve million children were victims of hunger. And no one was or is appalled by this human catastrophe.

On this Christmas of joy and brotherhood, we can not forget those who Jesus called "the least of my brothers and sisters" (Mt. 25:40) who can not receive presents or eat anything.

But despite this dejection, let us celebrate and sing, sing and rejoice because we will never be alone. The little boy is named Jesus, Emmanuel which means "God with us". This little verse that makes us think about our understanding of God, revealed at Christmas, is worthwhile:

"Todo menino quer ser homem.
Todo homem quer ser rei.
Todo rei quer ser ‘deus’.
Só Deus quis ser menino”.

Every little boy wants to be a man.
Every man wants to be king.
Every king wants to be God.
Only God wants to be a little boy.

Merry Christmas in this year of grace, 2014.

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