Here we are in the month of December 2021. Another crazy year drawing to a close. For India, the year started with the Delta variant wreaking havoc. So many of us lost loved ones or know someone who did. Across the world millions have sunk into depression. There has been financial hardship. Just as we were beginning to relax we now have to contend with the Omicron variant, which is still an unknown quantity.
One gets the impression that across the world the health experts, and as a consequence, the governments, are out of their depth. They want to save lives. But they also don’t want the economy to suffer. Covid-19 is something new. As time passes, it evolves and mutates and the world has a hard time keeping up. The rules keep changing and throw us into confusion. Our bosses don’t know whether we should work from home or go to the office. School authorities don’t know if classes should be online or in person. Should international travel continue or be banned? All these decisions are made by the powers at the top. But they affect our everyday lives.
Besides being the last month of the year, December is also the month in which the world celebrates the birth of a baby born in Bethlehem, in distant Israel, over two thousand years ago. So what is the significance of this birth? In ancient Israel there was a system of sacrifice for the atonement of sins. A perfect lamb, a lamb without blemish was offered to God. People brought the animal to the priest in the Jerusalem temple where it was sacrificed. It was costly. It was a reminder that sin (ways in which they deviated from God’s standard) had consequences. God had mandated that blood had to be shed for the forgiveness of sin.
When shepherds saw a perfect lamb was born, they swaddled it in cloth and laid it in a manger. Every lookout or ‘migdal eder’ had a manger.
The Bible tells us that Mary, the mother of Jesus, conceived him by the power of God’s Spirit or the Holy Spirit. But as the pregnancy advanced, Augustus Caesar, the then ruler, announced a census. Each one had to go to their hometown to register for the census. Joseph and Mary, a carpenter and his pregnant wife, were also affected by the decisions of their government. They would have to travel the long distance from their home in northern Israel to Bethlehem. It was a journey that involved expense and inconvenience. For a pregnant woman, riding on a donkey on bumpy roads was not at all comfortable. But they did it.
Bethlehem was full of people who had come to register for the census. Normally a hospitable culture, no one had a room to offer this couple. But someone offered them a place with the animals, in a shed or, most likely, a cave at the back of the house, where most kept their animals. It was here that Jesus was born. Mary wrapped him in swaddling cloth and laid him in the manger, the only crib available. God used a census to fulfil a prophecy. He uses ordinary events to fulfil His plans.
That night shepherds grazing their sheep were the first to hear about this supernatural birth. They knew the significance of swaddling cloth and a manger! They were the first to offer their worship to the newborn Christ (Luke 2: 8-20).
I grew up in a family that was nominally Christian. We did not have the personal relationship with the Lord Jesus that I have today. But there was always excitement about the Christmas season. For weeks before the 25th of December, all kinds of sweets would be prepared. Gifts would be bought. On the 24th, our family would go to church for the midnight service. When we returned home, my mother would serve us hot cocoa and we would sample the sweets. Gifts would be unwrapped. We children basked in the warmth of our parents’ love. Though we owned land, in those days my father did not have much money. Yet they managed to get each of us a gift we would enjoy. I am now 68. As I look back, I cannot remember a single gift I received. But the warm and joyful atmosphere of our home, the love of my parents, I can never forget.
Today I have a new understanding of Christmas. I write this on the 17th of December. Although I have bought a few gifts for the family, I have not yet made a single sweet.
Like the shepherds, I understand the significance of that birth over two thousand years ago when God entered this world, in the flesh. He did not come to lord it over us. He displayed humility by choosing to be born in humble circumstances. He came with one purpose. To die. To take our karma to the cross. That you and I could have forgiveness of our sins – including the way we looked down on, discriminated against, mistreated and deprived our fellow human beings. Thirty-three years after the birth, that same body was wrapped in cloth and laid to rest in a tomb carved from a rock – a cave! However, as the Bible says, that tomb could not contain him and three days later he was resurrected. Sin and death were conquered!
Almost 28 years ago I responded to this supreme act of sacrificial love in the only way possible. By choosing to die to myself and to live for him. As I obey His teachings, His Spirit which I received 28 years ago has slowly transformed me. Because I am such hard clay, the master potter has had to work hard. It is taking time. But the transformation is happening. Forward Press is part of the fruit of that transformation. Love is part of that transformation. Peace is part of that transformation. Hope is part of that transformation. Joy is part of that transformation.
So even as Omicron is already dominating the news, I refuse to worry. I am not anxious. I know and trust that God’s good plan for my life is being worked out even through challenging circumstances. In spite of other people’s bad decisions, I know who is in ultimate control. And he is just, compassionate, wise and holy. I can sing “Joy to the world”.
And to you, our readers, I would like to wish the same love, peace and joy that I enjoy. May 2022 be a year of much blessing and hope for each of you and your families, Omicron or no Omicron!
Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) society, culture, literature and politics. Contact us for a list of FP Books’ titles and to order. Mobile: +917827427311, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The titles from Forward Press Books are also available on Kindle and these e-books cost less than their print versions. Browse and buy: