Christmas under COVID-19

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

“Every child wants to be a man; every man wants to be great; every great wants to be king. Only God wanted to be a child”. And so it happened

The Christmas of the year 2020 is perhaps the closest to the real Christmas of Jesus under Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. This emperor ordered a census of the entire empire. The intention was not just as between us, to raise how many inhabitants there were. That was it, but the purpose was to levy a tax from each inhabitant, the total amount of which – the sum of all the provinces – was intended to keep the fire pyre permanently lit and support animal sacrifices to the emperor who presented himself and was thus venerated as god. Such an imposition on all of the Empire provoked revolts among the Jews.

This fact was later used by the Pharisees as a trap for Jesus: should he or should he not pay the tax to Caesar? This was not the common tax, but the one that every person in the empire had to pay to feed the sacrifices to the god-emperor.

For the Jews it meant a scandal, because they worshiped only one God, Yahweh, how could they pay a tax to worship a false god, the Emperor of Rome? Jesus soon understood the trap. If he agreed to pay the tax, he would be complicit in worshiping a human and false god, the emperor. If he denied it, he would alienate the imperial authorities by refusing to pay the tribute in honor of the god-emperor.

Jesus gave a wise answer: "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." In other words, give to Caesar, a mortal man and false god, what is Caesar's: the tax for sacrifices, and to God, the only true one, what is God's: worship. This is not the separation of Church and State as commonly understood. The question is another: which is the true God, the false one from Rome or the true one from Jerusalem? Jesus, deep down, answers: there is only one true God and give him what fits him, worship. Give to Caesar, the false god, what is Caesar's: the coin of the tax. Do not mix God with God.

But let's get back to the theme: Christmas 2020, like never before in history, resembles the Christmas of Jesus. Joseph's family and the pregnant Maria are children of poverty like most of our people. The inns were full, as here the hospitals are full of people infected with the virus. As poor people, Jesus and Mary, perhaps they could not even pay the expenses as, among us, those who are not assisted by the SUS cannot afford the costs of a private hospital. Maria was on the verge of giving birth. It was left to the couple to take refuge in an animal stable. Similarly, as do so many poor people who have nowhere to sleep and do so under the marquees or in any corner of the city. Jesus was born outside the human community, among animals, as so many of our younger brothers and sisters are born on the outskirts of cities, outside hospitals and in their poor homes.

Soon after his birth, the Boy was already threatened with death. A genocide, King Herod, had all boys under two years old killed. How many children, in our context, are killed by the new Herods dressed as police officers who kill children sitting at the door of the house? The mothers' weeping echoes Raquel's weeping, in one of the most moving texts in all of Scripture: “In the Baixada (in Ramah) a voice was heard, much weeping and moaning: the mother weeps for her dead children and does not want to be consoled. because she lost them forever” (cf. Mt 2,18:XNUMX).

Out of fear of being discovered and killed, Joseph took Mary and the baby Jesus across the desert and took refuge in Egypt. How many today, under threat of death from wars and famine, are trying to enter Europe and the USA? Many drown, most are rejected, as in very Catholic Poland and are being discriminated against; even children are torn from their parents and caged like small animals. Who will wipe away their tears? Who kills their longing for their dear parents? Our culture is cruel to the innocent and forced immigrants.

After the genocidal Herod died, Joseph took Mary and the Child and went to hide in such an insignificant village, Nazareth, that it is not even mentioned in the Bible. There the Child “grew and became strong in wisdom” (Lk 2,40:XNUMX). He learned the trade from his father José, a factotum, builder of roofs and house things, a carpenter. He was also a peasant who worked the fields and learned to observe nature. He stayed hidden there until he turned 30, that's when he felt the urge to leave home and start preaching an absolute revolution: “The waiting time has expired. The big turnaround is coming (Kingdom). Change your lives and believe in this good news” (cf. Mk 1,14), a total transformation of all relationships between humans and in nature itself.

We know its tragic end. He went around the world doing good (Mk 7, 37; Acts 10,39, XNUMX), healing some, restoring the eyes of the blind, killing the hunger of multitudes and always pitying the poor and aimless people in life. The religious articulated with the politicians arrested, tortured and murdered him by crucifixion.

Let us get out of these “dense shadows” as Pope Francis says in the Fratelli tutti. Let us turn our gaze unclouded to the Nativity of Jesus. It shows us the way God wanted to enter our history: anonymous and hidden. The presence of Jesus did not appear in the chronicle, not even in Jerusalem, much less in Rome. We must accept this form chosen by God. The inverse logic of ours was implemented: “every child wants to be a man; every man wants to be great; every great wants to be king. Only God wanted to be a child”. And so it happened.

Here echo the beautiful verses of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa: “He is the Eternal Child, the God that was missing. / He is the human who is natural, / He is the divine who smiles and plays. / He IS the child so human that he is divine”.

Such thoughts bring to mind a person of exceptional spiritual quality. He was an atheist, Marxist, member of the Foreign Legion. Suddenly he felt a deep emotion and was converted. He chose the path of Jesus, among the poor. He became Jesus' little brother. He came to a deep intimacy with God, always calling him "the Friend". He lived the faith in the incarnation code and said: “If God became people in Jesus, people like us, then he would pee, whine asking for the breast, pout because of the wet diaper”. In the beginning, he would have liked Maria better and Joseph, older, more, something that psychologists explain in the process of human realization.

He grew up like our children, watching the ants, throwing stones at the donkeys and, naughty, lifting up the little girls' dresses to see them furious, as Fernando Pessoa irreverently imagined in his beautiful poem about the baby Jesus.

This man, a friend of the Friend, “imagined Mary rocking Jesus, putting him to sleep because playing so much outside made him very excited and found it hard to close his eyes; she washed the diapers in the sink; she cooked the porridge for the Boy and stronger food for the worker, good José”.

This Italian spiritual man who lived – often threatened with death – in so many countries in Latin America and several in Brazil, Arturo Paoli, was inwardly happy with such reflections, because he felt and lived them in the form of emotion of the heart, of pure spirituality. And he often wept from inner joy. He was a friend of the Pope who sent him to the town about 70 km from Rome to be picked up by car so they could spend an entire afternoon talking about the liberation of the poor and divine mercy. He died aged 103 as a sage and saint.

Let us not forget the greatest message of Christmas: God is among us, assuming our condition humane, happy and sad. It is a child who will judge us and not a severe judge. And this child just wants to play with us and never reject us. Finally, the deepest meaning of Christmas is this: our humanity, one day assumed by the Word of life, belongs to God. And God, no matter how bad we are, knows that we come from the dust and has infinite mercy on us. He can never lose, nor will he let his son or daughter be lost. Thus, despite COVID-19, we can live a discreet joy in the family celebration. May Christmas give us a little happiness and keep us in hope of life's triumph over COVID-19.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Christmas: the joviality and humanity of our God (Voices).

 

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