Christmas is often a time for families to gather together. Emotions often run high, from everything from joyous love to stressed annoyance!
Christmas has become many things to many people. For some, it is a time for family, giving, and fun traditions such as putting up a Christmas tree, hanging stockings on the fireplace, and looking at Christmas lights. For others, it is a stressful holiday where they feel compelled to spend more money than they should on gifts, food, cards, and events in order to fulfill what is "expected."
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it may interest you to know the story behind CHRISTMAS. There are various theories about the accuracy of the date, where some traditions come from, and whether certain practices actually celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. But many would agree that Christmas is due to the birth of Jesus Christ.
The story of the birth of Christ is found in the Bible. In the book of Luke, chapter two, there are several details given. Jesus was born on Earth to Mary and Joseph and that God sent Jesus to be the Savior of the world. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, where Mary and Joseph had gone to participate in a census. When they got to the crowded city, they had a hard time finding a room. At one inn, the owner offered shelter in the barn with the animals. Jesus was born that night, and Mary laid him in a manger, which is a feeding trough for animals.
They were not "kings" from the east and there weren't three of them. And when they arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary and Baby Jesus were not still in the stable, but in a house, contrary to half the Christmas cards that will be arriving at your house. And there's no indication there were cattle in that stable or anywhere nearby. In fact, the only thing that leads us to believe Jesus was born in a stable is that Luke 2:7 tell us Mary laid the Baby in a manger, a feeding trough
If you understand everything from the beginning you get a great story. If you make no effort you will probably only see and hear variant Santa stories this Christmas like this one - Hundreds of years ago in Lapland, a little boy named Nikolas loses his family in an accident. The villagers decide to look after the orphaned boy together. Once a year - at Christmas - Nikolas moves to a new home. To show his gratitude, Nikolas decides to make toys for the children of the families as good-bye presents. Over the years, Nikolas's former adoptive families become many, and soon almost every house has presents on its doorstep on Christmas morning. At thirteen, Nikolas is sent to live and work with Iisakki, a grumpy old carpenter, who forbids Nikolas to continue making presents for Christmas. Gradually, however, Nikolas wins Iisakki's trust. Together they begin to look after the Christmas traditional that Nikolas has begun. When the aged Iisakki has to leave Nikolas and move away, the tradition of Christmas presents is once again at risk. Thankfully, Nikolas comes up with a solution that brings children joy every Christmas, even continuing to today.
Christmas has traditionally been about celebrating the birth of Jesus. The Gospel accounts of a virgin birth, angels appearing to shepherds, and wise men traveling from afar to see the baby Jesus in a manger. Our great-grandparents generation added symbols such as manger scenes, Christmas trees, lights, music and drama (ex. Dickens’ Christmas Carol) to give Christmas the festive foundation so it would become the juggernaut of celebrations that it is today.
In Mathew 2:3, all Jerusalem was abuzz with talk about the foreign visitors who had arrived in town, naively inquiring at every service station and convenience store, "Well? Where is He? Where is the One born King of the Jews?"
They figured that this wonderful news would be the talk of the city. Instead, no one else seemed to know anything about it. Then, when Herod called the religious leaders to ask where the Messiah was to be born (Mathew 2:4), these doctors of theology informed him that the Old Testament prophet Micah had said Bethlehem was the place.
What we wonder is why they didn't go to Bethlehem. It's not like it was in the next hemisphere. Bethlehem lies some 5 miles south of Jerusalem, an easy walk for a healthy person. The clear conclusion is that these religious leaders had the Bible knowledge but no real interest in God or the promise of Scripture.
People knew that all of this was predicted through the centuries by God's prophets. We particularly treasure the promises of Isaiah 7:14 ("Behold a virgin shall conceive....") and 9:6-7 ("For unto us a child is born...."), as well as Micah 5;2 ("Bethlehem...out of you shall come forth One to be Ruler over Israel..."). And people knew that, contrary to the Christmas hymn "The First Noel," the shepherds in Bethlehem's fields did not "looked up and saw a star shining in the East beyond them far" (modern hymnals have revised that line to read "For all to see there was a star....").
Notice the crossing of human lines and barriers in the story of the birth of Jesus. We have the young and the old (Mary, Joseph, the Baby, and Simeon and Anna in the temple. Luke 2). We have the rich and the poor (the Magi and the young family. Matthew 2). We have the Jews and the Gentiles (the Magi were the non-Jews). We have the highest (angels) and the lowest (shepherds). This wonderful story of the birth of Jesus is clearly for "whosoever" and "the entire world," as John 3:16 inform us.
But since then, perhaps because of our increasing secularization and modern doubt over the story of the birth of Jesus, we have culturally swapped that story for Santa and his mission to give gifts to boys and girls who have managed to stay off the naughty list. It is a great story for kids, and it can safely be discarded when we get older since it never claims to be true – just safely fun. It seems a better story in our modern world when we can take a needed break from the harsh realities of real life and experience, with our kids, a fun story. So Santa dominates our radio and television and ‘Happy Holidays’ is becoming the Christmas greeting of choice. It is safer for a modern world steeped in doubt, anxious to avoid offending, and happy to have a season to pretend.
It was when I looked again; to before the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth that I started to see that it was a great story, with a plot and a depth that rival all classics. Even taken purely as story, it beats the Santa replacement story just about any way you look at it. But to see this, you need to grasp this great story as it was meant to be understood – as one chapter in a long epic, spanning the entire universe and enveloping the entire human race.
There is plenty of evidence that this is a facts-on-the-ground true story. Unlike Santa Claus, for whom we do not even try to seek verification in the North Pole, or on his sleigh in the sky, or find witnesses who have seen him stuck in a chimney, there is historical Corroboration for Jesus – even the virgin birth part of the story. Roman and Jewish historians outside of the Bible refer to him. The places where all the riddles were spelled out and where Jesus walked are terra firma real. There is a Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Mount Moriah. Since we have the story written out for us before it happened we have evidence that there is one Author in this story. The fact that Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Daniel and the others could specify hundreds of years beforehand the events of Jesus’ birth, life and death is evidence that the Creator – who alone knows the future – has authored this Story, as an invitation for you and me to join Him in it.
The story of Jesus birth is such a poignant message to humanity of our freedom to choose a personal path – beyond the seeming ‘power’ of external circumstances. That outer ‘power’ is a lie / maya / projection. Love is the all-encompassing nature of human reality / consciousness and its source lies within each divine human presence. Look to the children – baby Jesus - for its pure example – no past no future – simply an innocent openness to each and every moment. Bless the child within and all is well with us in this wondrous life.
I wish you a joyous Christmas celebration – we are all one family when we make that choice. I pray we choose compassionately and wisely as well as experience a magical Christmas time and joy and fulfillment this season, blessings to you and your loved ones. And A HAPPY NEW YEAR 2018!!!!!
Attacks on Christians see steep rise across India
Attacks on Christians see steep rise across India
Published on: 1:01 pm, December 5, 2017 by: mattersindia.com
By A C Michael
New Delhi: There is a clear pattern of rising religious intolerance across the country, especially against the minorities.
According to the World Watch List 2017, India is now ranked 15th in the list of countries where the practice of the faith is a high-risk activity. We were ranked 31 only four years ago.
Out of 29 states in India, at least 19 regularly witness attacks on Christians. Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh tops the list with 36 incidents as on October 30, followed by Uttar Pradesh (26), Madhya Pradesh (21), Maharashtra (16).
Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttarakhand and West Bengal are the other states.
More than 700 cases of attacks on Christians were reported on the United Christian Forum (UCF) toll free helpline number 1800-208-4545 since 2014. Last year, 216 incidents were recorded and 203 incidents have already been reported by the end of October this year.
The happenings in Madhya Pradesh are suspected to be politically motivated attacks. On three separate occasions, Christian children traveling in a train for a Christian camp were taken into custody at railway stations by the Railway Police on the grounds that the children were being “kidnapped to be converted.”
On May 22 and 23, nine elders and a minor were arrested by the Railway Police when they were accompanying 71 Christian children for a summer Bible camp to Nagpur from Indore. On June `3, a Catholic nun and four girls were detained at the Satna railway station. On October 21, two elders and seven children going for Bible Studies were detained and not allowed to meet the parents.
There are various kinds of incidents against Christians. Most common among them is the Hindutva activists forcefully conducting Ghar Wapsi (drive to convert people back to Hinduism) ceremony. Some who refused to cooperate were beaten up and subsequently booked by the police under falsely-framed charges. Other ways of harassing the Christian community include:
• Refusal to grant permission to establish and run places of worship
• Allegations of use of loud sound systems
• Restrictions of the free distribution of gospel tracts
• False accusation of forceful and fraudulent religious conversions
• Physical and verbal assault on Church pastors and members
• False and divisive propaganda
• Damage and desecration of places of worship and arson
• Disruption of prayer services
• Restrictions on religious gatherings
The Christian community in the country has started to feel that none of the political parties are interested in speaking out for the community, as they continue to maintain a deafening silence on these incidents. Sometimes even the media fails to report these incidents.
The only alternative left to the community is to take them up in courts of law. More than 80 cases are now pending in various courts including over 30 in the Supreme Court and various High courts.
Some cases pertain to ‘discriminatory laws and policies’ that violate the freedom of conscience and the freedom to practice, profess and propagate religious beliefs:
1. 1950 PRESIDENTIAL ORDER: Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam are denied special benefits and protections guaranteed to other Schedule Castes
2. ANTI CONVERSION LAWS: The Freedom of Religion Acts are used to harass and abuse the right of Christians who share the good news in the exercise of their fundamental right to profess, practice and propagate their faith. In 2012, rules framed under the anti-conversion law in Himachal Pradesh that required persons to declare beforehand to the District Magistrate any intent to embrace a certain faith was struck down by the High Court of Himachal Pradesh at Shimla.
3. NO ENTRY FOR CHRISTIAN PREACHERS: In 2014-2015, several Panchayat resolutions were passed in Chhattisgarh to ban Christian preachers’ entry into certain villages. These resolutions were withdrawn by the government following a challenge to them before the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur.
4. RESTRICTIONS ON CHURCHES AND PRAYER HALLS: Across the country, Christians are being restricted from conducting private prayers peacefully inhome churches and community halls. Even family prayers have been restricted in some cases.
AICU condemns Election Commission notice to GUJARAT ARCHBISHOP MACWAN FOR HIS CAUTION AGAINST FORCES COMMUNALISING INDIA,
AICU condemns Election Commission notice to GUJARAT ARCHBISHOP MACWAN FOR HIS CAUTION AGAINST FORCES COMMUNALISING INDIA,
WHY WAS POPE FRANCIS NOT INVITED TO INNDIA IN HIS SOUTH ASIA TRIP, ALL INDIA CATHOLIC UNION ASKS MODI GOVERNMENT ASKED
GST on Coffins, Crosses shows thoughtlessness. Withdraw GST on such items. AICU also supports demand of women against GST on items of personal hygiene, health of babies and the girl child
TRICHURAPALLI, DECEMBER 2, 2017
[The following press statement was issued at a press conference in the Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu by Mr Lancy D Cunha, the National President of the All India Catholic Union, and Dr John Dayal, Official Spokesman and former President. The 98 year old AICU celebrates its 100 years in 2019 and is holding its Working Committee meeting in Trichy.]
The Christian community in India is aghast at the manner in which state and non-state actors are harassing the Archbishop Thomas Macwan of Gandhinagar, Gujarat, for his call that people pray that narrow nationalist forces do not overwhelm the secular and democratic character of India. While the Election Commission of India has served him a notice, fundamentalist and religious nationalist groups have launched a media campaign against the Bishop and against the Catholic community.
Archbishop Thomas Macwan has replied to the EC notice. AICU however wants to know if the Election Commission gave similar notices on prominent priests of various other religions in Gujarat. Some head priests have directly told people to vote for the ruling party and the Prime Minister.
The Catholic Union has consistently decried the growing misuse of religion, religious symbols and places in the political discourse. Religious heads must educate their communities and the citizens large on strengthening the democratic traditions, including religious freedom and human rights, participation in the electoral. Religion must infuse Truth, Morality, Ethics, in the body politic, and not be divisive, incite violence or polarize people.
The Catholic union has questioned the government on why the Pope was not invited to visit India during his south Asia tour.
As the largest and oldest movement of lay Christians in the country, the AICU is deeply concerned at the government’s failure to condemn and contain the threats to freedom of expression in the country. The ugly controversy over films and the open threats to kill the artistes and director of the period drama film Padmawati, writer Prof Kancha Iailiah, and social media threats to activists Kavita Krishnan, Kavita Srivastava and others, reflect a speedy breakdown in the rule of law.
We are shocked that elements of the ruling party are also issuing such threats. The lynchings of Muslims and Dalits in the name of the cow, are a shame for the nation. Religious minorities are being coerced, threatened and targeted by self styled cultural-nationalists.
The Catholic Union has heard Central tourism minister Alphons Kannanatham saying that no Christian has been persecuted in the Modi regime. Ministers have their compulsions. He will have to answer his own conscience. Christians and Muslims are routinely persecuted in most states, with the police and political elements complicit in the crime. Government has admitted this in the Lok Sabha. Complaints have also been filed with the National Commission of Minorities, and the United Nations Human Rights Council. AICU calls upon the government, and the National Crime Records Bureau to publish this data and not minimize it by registering targeted and communal violence under “other” heads.
This does not augur well for the freedom of religion in India. The situation is aggravated by several recent steps taken by the government, including the enforcing of the NEET admission tests which deeply impact the future of minority students seeking admission in professional education institutions. The proposed National Education Policy continues as a threat with reports of rewriting curricula, and the corporatization of education.
A small example of government’s indifference to the sentiments of religious minorities is the 12 % tax imposed on Coffins, Crosses and Rosaries, the prayer beads used by Catholics as part of their religious practices. We demand the GST be removed on all religious artifacts. On GST, we also support women’s demand on Zero Tax on items of personal hygiene.
The Catholic Union has been in the forefront of the rights of Dalits and Tribals, specially those professing the Christian faith. AICU has filed a writ in the Supreme court together with others demanding Scheduled Case rights for Dalits professing the Christian Faith. We hope the courts will take a decision at an early date as this impacts the civic and human rights of a large number of people in the community.
Released to the Media by the official Spokesman, Dr John Dayal. He may be contact at +91 9811021072 and firstname.lastname@example.org
“GOD & CAESAR” - A REPORT on AICU CENTENARY SYMPOSIUM
The Maharashtra Chapter of the All India Catholic Union joined the count down to the Centenary Celebrations of AICU by organising a thought provoking Symposium on the subject ‘God and Caesar – Evolving Community Focus’ at Bandra Gymkhana, Mumbai on November 19, 2017. The galaxy of speakers led by none other than Rt. Rev Bishop Thomas Dabre, Bishop of Pune, Retd. Chief Justice Ferdino Rebello of the Allahabad High Court, Dr. John Dayal, eminent journalist and social activist and Mr. Albert W. D’Souza, renowned businessman and educationist provided an eclectic mix of religion, legal, lay and business perspectives to create a wonderful fusion of insights bringing to the fore various nuances on the highly seminal topic of discussion.
‘Caesar’ is eponymous for the political and administrative system ever since Jesus spoke the famous words ‘Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar….’ (Matthew 22:21). The All India Catholic Union has taken on the mantle to empower the laity to be involved with the Socio-Spiritual, Political, Administrative and Economic spheres and stand up for their rights through a strong laity organisation.
The seeds of this organisation were sown at the First All India Catholic Conference in 1919 which was held under the eminent leadership of Prof. A. Soares, Mr. F.A.C. Rebello and Prof. C.J. Varkey. Mr. F.A.C. Rebello, a visionary is particularly known for starting so many Catholic Banks, Gymkhanas and Societies that are now celebrating their centenaries in Mumbai and other places. The organisation particularly got a fillip when Mr. George Menezes became its president in 1986. The AICU has been growing from strength to strength as a democratic federation with affiliated Catholic Associations across the States, Dioceses and Districts in India. The AICU in turn is affiliated to the CBCI and dialogues with it on laity empowerment issues.
The Chairman of the Centenary Celebrations Committee Mr. Eugene Gonsalves who had come from Kolkatta while praising the organisers said that Mumbai always organises the best of events for AICU. They had a five-year plan to bring in the Centenary of AICU and the first of the programs was an Inter-Religious Dialogue at New Delhi that was presided over by Ms. Najma Heptulla, Minister of Minority Affairs in Sept. 2015. Ever since programs have been held in Mumbai, Goa, Kolkatta, Hyderabad and other regions by its affiliates. Mr. Lancy D’Cunha National President of AICU apprised the audience of its current activities. Mr. Raphael D’Souza State President of AICU Maharashtra thanked its affiliate the Bombay Catholic Sabha for collaborating with the AICU in organising the program that had the involvement and presence of Catholic Associations from Pune, Vasai and Nagpur.
Ms. Rita D’Sa, president of the BCS read out the message from H.E. Cardinal Oswald Gracias who wished the Symposium much success. Mr. Raphael D’Souza read out the message from Rt. Rev. Theodore Mascarenhas, Secretary General CBCI, who sent his best wishes for the Symposium and wrote, “ It is also my desire that the CBCI and the AICU work ever more closely for the benefit of the Church and for the Glory of God”. Mr. Don Aguiar, Maharashtra State Secretary of AICU proposed the vote of thanks. The entire programme was deftly anchored by Gordon Dsouza, immediate past President of the BCS.
Bishop Thomas Dabre who set the ball rolling, with his inimitable wit and candour first traced what Indian Catholics have given to GOD in the form of saints, cardinals, bishops, priests and religious to work in His vineyard. He then traced the historical contribution of the Catholic church in India in various spheres related to education, health and social emancipation, highlighting the fact that the Church had more than given to Caesar what belonged to Caesar. The idea of a secular and pluralistic society is being eroded, he lamented and alluded to the growing intolerance towards religious freedom and freedom of expression. Having imbibed the essence of spirituality through his vast research and study of the sacred scriptures of various religions, he expressed the need for a deeper understanding of the commonality of our religious identities.
In the same vein, Justice Rebello, recalling the Tryst with destiny speech of Nehru at the eve of Independence, decried the threat of persecution and targeting of minorities and advocated the strong rule of law to counter this growing menace. The Constitution of India, he assured the gathering, guarantees our freedom….the right to privacy and the right to practice and propagate our faith and also to change our faith. He highlighted three broad challenges: Common civil code, Conversion bill and the safeguarding of one’s rights after conversion. We need to continue to have faith in a Judiciary that is free and fearless, he concluded.
Dr. John Dayal in his forthright and hard hitting style, posed a frightening question: Who can guarantee that there will be a constitution in 2020?. He painted a grim landscape of the alarming reality of what the future holds for the community in particular and the minorities in general with the changing face of Hinduism tilting more towards militancy, minority quotas in our institutions at stake and the threat of FCRA controls. He exhorted the gathering to introspect whether we as a community were working to face the challenges of the future given our limited resources and outreach.
Mr. Albert W. D’souza from a business perspective bemoaned the lack of initiative from the Catholic community with a very limited footprint in the business arena with just 5 Christian companies nationwide in the Rs. 500 plus crores turnover category. He stressed on the need for us to enhance the economic power of the community and pointed out the brain drain from the community to greener pastures in foreign lands that is responsible for the pathetic state of affairs vis-à-vis our community. We must, he emphasised shore up our dimensional knowledge, develop an appetite to change from ‘employee’ attitude to an “employer attitude” and also the appetite for risk taking and build up our financial muscle if we have to make a significant impact as a community
The very animating Q&A session that followed brought out some more thought provoking insights that added further value to a very enriching and stirring symposium
Mr. Thomas Lobo, who moderated the symposium, very ably and competently managed the proceedings with his apt summarizations and interjections that further enhanced the value of a very absorbing evening programme. The event surely has left an indelible mark on over 200 strong participants, which included priests, nuns, professionals, businessmen and lay people, as they grapple with the question: Between God and Caesar whom do we render what?
Maharashtra State President - AICU