CHRISTMAS MESSAGE OF CHARLES BO
ARCHDIOCESE OF YANGON – MYANMAR
“EMMANUEL IN MYANMAR – THE ENDURING MESSAGE OF HOPE
I am extremely delighted to offer once again Christmas message to our friends, to all Christians, to our Buddhist brothers and Sisters and all others.
The flavor of Christmas floats in the air.
The message of hope once forth breaks in the dawn. The message that was born 2000 years ago in a simple manger in Bethlehem, once again reverberates in the hearts and minds of every human being today “Peace to all men and women of Good Will”. Two men signified that message gloriously this year: Nelson Mandela who died this month. A shepherd, who becomes a freedom fighter, imprisoned for 27 years and yet come out without bitterness and become a beacon of forgiveness. He epitomized the Christ’s message of love and forgiveness. The second man is our Pope: Francis. Within a year this man has captured the imagination of the world, selected as the person of the Year by the world famous TIME magazine. He too comes with the message of the Manger: Love all, Love every one, love the poor for God was born poor and God is found in poor. These men showed to the world, there comes a time; we can reflect divinity, in our lives through deeds of kindness. We can lift our human nature into divine, shining a light on us and on others.
This power of reflecting divinity is Christmas. This is the core message of Christmas. That God dwells in us – that God is EMMANUEL. That is the message of Prophet Isaiah and that is the message of Angel Gabriel. WE are celebrating God’s humanity today but we are also celebrating our potential to be divine.
Something significant happens in all our lives.
Five years ago, I have the occasion to visit “Grand Canyon”. After travelling westward across the great plains, until came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Before me a vast chasm one mile down, eighteen miles across, and 277 miles long! Something must have happened!
A visitor to our world at Christmas time, seeing the lights, the decorations, the trees, the parades, the festivities, and the religious services, would also probably say: “Something must have happened here! Indeed something did happen. God came to our world on the first Christmas.
There is a lot of talk today about what makes Christmas. New papers and television advertisements coax people into believing that they can have a real Christmas by going to a festive shopping center, eating at popular restaurants, or watching glittering “ Christmas programs” on television. Others believe that Christmas is made by the sentimental ornaments on just the right tree, eating food from a menu. Is that a real Christmas?
In a market economy everything is commoditized. The sacred become secular and the secular is raised to sacred. Christmas has been reduced a shopping madness. The Godless country of China earns 1 billion dollars in the Christmas merchandise every year. We buy their Santa clauses, festoons. In the last one decade China hijacked Christmas and wiped out the memory
Or is this a time for encounters? Human encounters, encounter among cultures? Would just visiting our relatives on Christmas day, make a real Christmas? Some believe that Christmas is made by purchasing a uniquely special gift for every relative, friend, and acquaintance. To be sure, all of these contribute to our cultural understanding of Christmas. In the Philippines, the decorations began from the month of September. Is it a real Christmas?
So what makes a real Christmas?
A real Christmas is ‘Emmanuel’ God with us.
When I was small, I have been the prey of Fear. I was afraid of ghost. Even now I am still afraid. I was afraid to sleep alone, I was afraid of darkness, afraid of exams, afraid of tiger. Since I have been bitten by a dog, I am afraid of dogs and suspicious of all dogs. I am afraid of soldiers. Afraid not to be loved by others, afraid to be hated by my friends. Afraid of wars, afraid of the religious violence and ethnic violence.
And then there’s the mother, afraid of her children, the executive afraid for the business, the clerk afraid for his job. The citizens afraid of the authorities and the authorities for citizens. Everyone is afraid of something.
Fears and phobias follow like shadows in our lives. Drudgery and misery seems to be the constant companions. Into this darkness as Isaiah says breaks forth the light : The People who have walked in darkness have seen that light. What is that light? The light of hope.
But then along comes Christmas with the great promise that calms our fears and enables us to celebrate life Emmanuel: “God is with us” When we accept Christ into our lives, nothing not even death, can separate us from God and His love. “God is with us: Its what Christmas is about. God is with us, the great people of faith have always, always claimed that promise. Just think of it:
– Moses caught between the Pharaoh and the deep Red Sea in a seemingly hopeless situation believed that God was with him and he went forward and trusted God to open a way and He did!
– Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego went into the fiery furnace into a seemingly hopeless situation and they trusted God to be with them and He was.
– Little David stood before Goliath. What chance could a small boy with a slingshot have against this giant of a warrior? But David believed that God was with him and it made all the difference.
In Holy Bible we read 365 times the word: DO NOT BE AFRAID”. There are 365 days in a year. So God reminds us every day, not to be afraid, but trust Him, for He is with us. : When fear rules the world, the message is simple: do not be afraid.
Not only ordinary mortals like us fear. Take our present Pope. He has had his fear. Here are some of the words, mentioned later, when Pope Francis was elected: “Before I accepted, I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square,” he said. “I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go away and relax, I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear – even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes, and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion.
“At a certain point, I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded. I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting, and [to] the table, on which was the act of acceptance. I signed it; the cardinal camerlengo [chamberlain] countersigned it; and then, on the balcony, there was the Habemus Papam [announcement of a new pope]. Pope Francis accepted the responsibility as a Pope, because he believes that God is with him.
Yes. The light that comes, not only comforts, it creatively challenges us. Leonard Sweet explains: The angelic message of the coming of the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, the one who brings “glad tidings of great joy to all peoples” is also a warning message: a message warning us that everything is now about to change. Life can no longer be the same again. Jesus changes everything. With Jesus, the story of God went from being carved in stone to being carved in the heart. And that changes everything.
Life as usual is no longer. It is now life as unusual. The kingdom is come. “A Baby changes everything”. The world, broken down and sin steeped since the exile from Eden, is no longer condemned to wallow about in its waywardness and wickedness. God has stepped up and stepped in, with nothing less than a personal appearance of the divine with a great mission to relieve the sting and shame of sin and death from this world.
So Christmas calls for a metanoia. A change of heart. A turning towards newness. Each one should live now a new life. Each family with new minds and hearts.
So too our country, Myanmar, no longer usual but unusual, but a new country.
But we are afraid. Afraid that things are going on as usual. The people and the cronies who benefitted last 20 years are the major beneficiaries once again. The real estates, new agreements with the foreign companies, the desire to loot and load the resources – it looks like the business as usual. The blood and the sacrifice of thousands, hundreds who died a silent death yesterday so that the Myanmar of tomorrow may be just and equitable, that blood and sacrifice might be destroyed in the darkness of new greed of the old cronies.
Shall we keep Silence?
In Isaiah 62 we find: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent (v)
“You will no more be termed Forsaken and your land shall no more be termed Desolate. Instead Jerusalem will receive new names”
“You shall be called My Delight and your land Married.”
Yes. Silence can be criminal. Because when evil takes over and suffocates the voice of the just, one cannot remain silent. Let me remind you the great words of the civil rights leader: The world will have to weep not for the evil deeds of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good People.
So with Isaiah, we claim: We shall not keep Silence. For the sake of the people of Myanmar, her poor, her ethnic communities, her displaced sons and daughters and those unfortunate victims of human trafficking we shall not keep silence.
Myanmar stands at the cross roads of history. Cross roads as the Jews faced after exile. Like the Jews, we too are returning to a land of hope after 50 years of suffocating darkness.
After fifty years of captivity in Babylonia, Jewish exiles had returned to their homeland expecting only times of great joy and celebration. Instead they faced an enormous task of rebuilding. The walls of the fortress city of Jerusalem lay scattered in broken pieces. The once magnificent Temple was in ruins. Any possibility of restoration appeared to be hopeless. Instead of a renewed national status similar to that achieved under the kingship of David and Solomon, the nation was in helpless disarray. Instead of the Lord’s leadership in renewal, it appeared to the people that they had been abandoned. They were blaming one another and especially one could hear the taunts hurled at the prophet. “Well, now what, prophet? We are nothing but a forsaken people living in a desolate land. Where is God in all this now?”
Most of the people may have given up. But Isaiah did not. “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent and For Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest” he proclaims. “You shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will give (v,2)
In the same strand, we could reflect our Myanmar situation. For Myanmar’s sake we can no longer keep mum. We are no longer forsaken, no longer termed Desolate. But we receive new name. “The land I delight and your land shall be married”
After 50 years of crossing a long tunnel of darkness, we are rebuilding our nation. To destroy is easy. To rebuild takes time. To fell a tree is quick and could be done within an hour or a morning. But to grow a tree takes many years. So too our Nation. This nation can be rebuilt to its original glory. But that needs inclusive, participatory nation building approach. Is this country includes the aspirations of all communities in the new dream?
Let us start with the name: This country has a name : Myanmar. .
I personally believe ‘Burma’ is an exclusive term, which indicates only the ‘Bamar’ majority group. ‘Myanmar’ would include all nationalities and ethnic groups.
A new name for Myanmar. Name without content is empty. We need a name that is married to the dreams.
A new situation for Myanmar.
A new grace of God for Myanmar.
Since it is a land the Lord delights, we all citizens and all the rulers must live with a new vision. A vision that celebrates unity in diversity. The mindset that provoked conflicts and displaced need to go. That mind set was: One race, one language and one culture, one religion. That has bled the nation for decades. Enough is enough. Ours is a rainbow nation. A beautiful nation. Diversity is not a weakness. Diversity is not only to be tolerated but actively promoted and celebrated.
Diversity is a strength.
We call for a true federal state. Christ was born in Israel colonized by Rome. The roman Arrogance destroyed diversity. Into that darkness, Jesus was born as a light. Christ came preaching brotherhood. ‘Without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace’ (Pope Francis). Christ called the shepherds, the wise men. He discriminated none. Human fraternity is the message of Christmas.
Will there be a true Fraternity in Myanmar? Will that message of Christmas be enacted once again in our streets, mountains and valleys of this great nation?
Equal rights and equal distribution of natural resources to the ethnic groups and equal privileges and equal protection to all religions are conditions for rebuilding the country. This land needs be watered with Justice and righteousness as Amos calls forth: Let Justice and righteousness flow like a river. Let these virtues water this nation.
Just as the Lord named the children of Israel “My Delight” so has your God taken delight in you? Indeed it is a powerful message for the people of Myanmar. When everything goes wrong that can go wrong in our own lives, our perspective becomes that of the “forsaken” by others and by God. Our home, our land, our relationships become “desolate” wastelands. There is no warmth. Only frigid chill of rejection remains. The Lord’s promises seem to be intended for someone else.
During this 27th. SEA Game celebrated in Myanmar; there were constantly reminders in the radios and televisions to uplift our cultures and values of hospitality and respect for each other. Okay, everything went smooth till the day Myanmar lost soccer. Then our young became aggressive and violent: yelling, setting fire and throwing stones… Life is a long journey of ups and downs. But the journey needs to go on. In games in life.
We should never be discouraged. Never give up! Life is rowing against the current. Do not give up when you at times could not control oneself. Do not give up when you have problems in the family. Do not give up when the changes in the country is taking too slow.
Listen again to the words of Isaiah as you remember your own times of hopelessness. “You shall no more be termed forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed desolate” “You shall be called by a new name” “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord”. (Is. 62:3)
To make that happen, every one of us need to do ordinary things in an extra ordinary way., for our own good, the good of our family and our nation.
Many of us would remember the story of Jesus at the wedding feast at Cana. Wine ran short half way and it would be a shame for the newly wedded couples. Mary mother of Jesus told Him, “They have no wine.” “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come”. “Do whatever He tells you”. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jar with water.” We know the story.
The point of this first miracle of Jesus in Cana is that Jesus takes water and makes wine out of it. Water is ordinary. Wine is extra ordinary. The first sign of Jesus’ ministry is that wherever he goes, he takes ordinary people and makes them extraordinary. Jesus brings this ultimate affirmation to people by “taking delight in us”.
The point that the wedding at Cana means that Jesus came to give us new life and that everywhere we let him in. Jesus continues to do extraordinary things with ordinary people like us. You alone will get nowhere, but you and Jesus Christ together make an unconquerable partnership for extraordinary living.
“With Christ you are hero, and without Christ you are zero” It all depends on whether or not we believe this Word: ‘Yahweh delights in you”
Before you ever turn to God, “Yahweh delights in you.” Before you ever repent of your sins, “Yahweh delights in you”. Before you believe in God, God believes in you.” While you are yet a sinner, Christ died of you. His cross is the extra, the plus that proves once and for all, “Yahweh delights in you”.
God is arranging and adjusting an ordinary and hidden country like Myanmar, to be an extraordinary nation. The Lord has given a New Name. Let us put all our efforts. Learn from the mistakes of the past. One party, communism and socialism were all mistakes of the past. New name, new system
This nation shall not be built by one community. Not one religion. Let us join the government in rebuilding the nation. Let the government use all resources to rebuild the nation. As a church, we are here to participate robustly in the nation building. One of the agonies of this nation was that it stripped itself vulnerable by wrong policies. In the 50s and 60s this was the best educated nation in South East Asia. Reason: Simple, very high quality, committed Christian schools, whose name is not forgotten even after 50 years.
Many Burmese feel that Nationalizing the schools, depriving the great service Christians did to the nation was one of the unpardonable self inflicted wounds on this nation.
We as a church are ready to commence that service once again. Look at our neighborly nations. The predominantly Hindu nation of India, has allowed Christians to operate educational institutes. 30 percent of the schools are managed by Christians in India. Look at the Buddhist Thailand, where just 1 percent of Christians run schools for thousands of Thais.
We appeal to the government to return our schools, return the properties confiscated from the Church. We are not foreigners. We are sons and daughters of this great nation and we wish to contribute our mite in the nation building. Education is our strength. Even a communist country like Vietnam is returning the confiscated properties and institutions.
Not only permit the mission schools to be functioned once again, but also must return all the mission schools which were taken at gunpoint. Not only that, out of justice compensations be made all the damages done within these past five decades.
Someone would ask: Would Myanmar make U-turn? Our democracy road is so narrow that it is impossible for U-turn.
Let us hope. Hope is the stream that runs through the desert of pessimism. Let us hope that Immanuel, the God within us, is present in every one, the ruled and the rulers, the Bamas and the others. I for one strongly believe in the audacity of hope. I for one believe in the God’s time that has arrived in Myanmar. I for one strongly believe that God will not leave this land desolate.
With prophet Isaiah, we wish to affirm:
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. I shall call you by a New Name…You shall no longer be termed Desolate…Forsaken..Your land shall be married…My delight in you….
All of us can make this happen. This nation’s time has arrived. The cloak of darkness that covered her beauty is removed. Like the daughters of Zion, she shall journey forth on the global stage, clothed in justice and prosperity. A people who walked in darkness have seen the light.
Our nation will prosper, our nation will once again a place of haven for all ethnic- people, for all the migrants and for all the refugees. The Lord our God delights in us. God is smiling at us.
Emmanuel in Myanmar.
May I wish all “A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS”