Do Not Be Afraid: Christmas Homily 2014
2014 Christmas Sermon
By Charles BO – Archbishop of Yangon
Do not be afraid (Mathew 1:20)
To all of you gathered this night, I warmly greet you “a Joy filled, a grace filled Christmas”. The hope of Christmas shines on each one of us this midnight. Emmanuel, the God with us (Mt 1:23) is amidst us -brothers and sisters, with a great message “ DO NOT BE AFRAID IT IS I (Jn 6:20), I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, TILL THE END OF THE WORLD (Mt 28:20)” Together as a people of God we say loudly “MARANATHA COME LORD JESUS ( Rev. 20:22)” Happy Christmas! Happy Noel! Let there be showers of blessings on all of you this night. Let the Rivers of blessings and prosperity soak you – – who believe in the Living Lord Jesus! Let the triple P : Prayer, Peace and Prosperity with you and the nation.
This Christmas comes at a pivotal moment in the History of Myanmar people and Our Church. With great spiritual vigor and display Catholic Church show cased its 500 Years jubilee of our historical presence in this country this year, 2014. That celebration has created history, opened the eyes of all to the great service this small community has been doing to the nation and its people. All of us made that event a magnificent success, affirming our oneness as a Rainbow church. We still savor that moment, Christmas adds to that joy. What is the message Christmas for us today?
The book of Isaiah brings the message : people who have walked in darkness have seen the light… light shines on those who live in a land of deep darkness. 9:1. A new light of faith shines on all of us. Yes, as Myanmar people we walked sixty years in darkness. Streaks of light is shining from 2010. Still it is not full sun shine. But the central message this year is DO NOT BE AFRAID. (Mt 1:20) These words appear several times in the Bible. In the Old Testament, these words are said at very special times : When Yahweh pledges His Chosen people a Promised land, he encourages them “ DO NOT BE AFRAID’ ( Gen 26: 24, Gen 46:3, Deut 1:21,Deut 31:8). Go and be prosperous in the land flowing with milk and honey (Deut 31:20). Prosperity and the promised land – what a coincidence for the People of the Golden land, Myanmar. The promised land was taken away from our people for sixty years! Elections are coming in Myanmar. Now like Israelites we await with hope – will this land become a land of Promise and prosperity to all? In the new testament, Jesus birth is announced with a great message “ Do not be afraid. A savior will be born to you.” The yoke of sin and suffering is taken away by the love of Incarnate, Jesus. The message of the Angel is salvation. What a consolation to human soul! God has not abandoned us. Jesus says “I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you.”( John 14:18). Human spirit often cries out from the depth of agony : I am abandoned.
But God’s response today is “I will not abandon you- I send my Son as a saviour”. Brothers and sisters, we are comforted by this great message. In our sickness, in our sorrow, in our loneliness, in our financial difficulties, in our family problems, take heart, the living God, the Emmanuel, comforts us “I will not abandon you – I will be with you till the end of the world.” Let us rejoice and be glad. Our protection comes from the Lord. Rejoice with the Infant Jesus. God values us. Be not be afraid. Listen to a consoling words of Jesus :Do not be afraid. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet one of them is not forgotten before the Lord. In fact the hairs on your head are counted, you are more than many sparrows (Luke 12: 6-7).
Yes, Christmas is a season of Hope. But is this message of “Do not be afraid” only for the soul? Every great feast seemed to have a message for only for the soul. Catholic Church has always shunned this false dichotomy of soul and body. Body is sacred. It is made sacred by God taking our body through Incarnation. Christ birth is a message of integral hope – of soul and body being nourished by this eternal message. How does this message applies to you and me at this juncture of history in this country today? What does it mean the message “ Do not be afraid!” to our people? What is the message of Christmas to Myanmar people in 2014?
Often reflections on this nature are termed ‘political’. We should never forget Christ Himself was born during an era of unspeakable cruelty and suffocating oppression of the Roman Empire. Fear gripped even the Holy Family when Herod, the agent of the oppressor, chose to kill thousands of infants in jealousy and fear at the name of Jesus. Amidst all political oppressions, Christ, our savior never forgot human needs. For he proclaimed “ Good news to the poor, liberty to captives and freedom to oppressed ( Lk 4: 16-18). Our judgment would come, according to Jesus, based on what we have done to the suffering people ‘the least of my
brethren’, in their hunger, loneliness, sickness, imprisonment. (Mt 25:40)
It was Karl Barth, the protestant theologian fine tuned the image of a Christian today : A Christian is one who holds the bible in one hand and newspaper in another hand. Yes. We read Bible, the revealed word. But we also read Signs of Times (Vatican II) to God who is acting in history, HERE AND NOW- the existential Word of God that speaks through the events of today. That is Emmanuel. That is Christmas. I wish to apply the message to our I have three major DO NOT BE AFRAID Message to the People of Myanmar.
First message : People of Myanmar DO NOT BE AFRAID to seek your right to dignity and prosperity. When the prophet Isaiah announced the coming of the Messiah he boldly announces “ A son has been given to us. He will bring immeasurable prosperity” (Is :6-7). You are not sons and daughters of a poor nation. God loved this golden land more than any land, giving resources above and below ground. We have gold, jade, ivory, teak and numerous riches. In the 1950s we were the richest country. Korea was poor, Singapore was poor, Malaysia was poor, Thailand was poor Then the “great miracle” happened. We were reduced to one of the poorest countries on earth. Genius were at work! Poverty and oppression sent millions to exile. Our sons and daughters become the modern day slaves in the nearby countries. We became the least developed country. We became like a blind beggar begging with the golden plate. So we need a freedom from fear. And the angel says : DO NOT BE AFRAID. Our date with destiny has arrived. Do not be afraid to claim your rights.
Let the new elections bring new hope. Do not be afraid of voting, do not be afraid of selecting your candidate of choice. You hold your future in your hands. Our poverty need to go. With Mary we should cry out “ He has filled the empty with riches.”(Lk 1:53). Let the cronies, let those who sold the tears of the poor for six decades, learn that God is on the side of you. Let Mary say with you “He sent the rich away empty”. (Lk 1:53) Yes – you deserve a better life, do not be afraid of challenging those who steal your future from you. Keep an eye on those who loot the resources. Do not be afraid of resisting the injustice where the foreigners and the companies that come to grab our land live in five star hotel luxury and the poor Myanmarese ( Burmese) who resist are thrown into inhuman prisons.
My second ‘Do not be afraid’ message : Do not be afraid of dreams. St Joseph was not afraid of his dreams. Herod and the Roman army could not destroy his dreams. He knew arrogance has an expiry date, oppression has its grave dug already. With the psalmist he was not afraid of the rich and the powerful : Do not be afraid When a man becomes rich and his wealth multiplies; for he will not take his wealth to his grave when he dies. ( Psalm 49:16-17)So he followed his dreams and brought salvation. Sons and daughters of Myanmar, future belongs to you. As the prophet Joel said : “In the end of the days I will pour out my spirit on all kinds of people – your young people will see prophetic dreams” (Joel : 2:28) Yes. That prophetic dream is :dignity to all, prosperity to the people of Myanmar. Do not be afraid to Re- imagine a new Myanmar where “justice and righteous flow like a river.” (Amos 5:24).
Imagine a Myanmar where there will be only one war : war against poverty. That war needs to be fought on behalf of 40 percent of our people who are poor. As the Pope warns the “culture of indifference” to human suffering is the mortal sin of modern times. A new Myanmar is fast embracing that culture of indifference. 8,000 new hotel rooms are built for tourists in Yangon alone, while 40 percent of village schools do not have proper roofs. Do not be afraid of challenging such a new economy that welcomes foreign companies and foreigners with an open hand, while letting the poor of the land become poorer. What is the use of selling one’s eyes to buy a great painting? An economy that does not ensure the dignity of the poorest of the Myanmar is a blind economy.
My Third ‘Do not be afraid’ Message : To those to whom God has given the great honor and duty of ruling this nation : Do not be afraid of bringing greater good to greater number of Myanmar people. We are encouraged by the wisdom and sagacity shown by the present rulers in bringing greater freedom. The journey is long. Road blocks are many. Education is top priority. “Do not be afraid” to return the mission schools to the original owners. The country has nothing to lose. Only then Myanmar children would become the most educated in Asia. Ensuring the rights of minorities and ethnic communities is a non negotiable call for peace. Do not be afraid of controlling the agents of hatred and those who preach vengeance.
Gandhi has a word for them : “ An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”. Do not be afraid of enlarging the space for freedom. Myanmar people will repay confidence thousand times.
My Special message to Christian Community : Do not be afraid of being Christians. You are the mustard seed, you are the salt of the earth. You have shown your unity and joy of being a Christian during the Jubilee celebration. Do not be afraid of empowering yourself through deep faith- return to Jesus, return to Bible, return to Evangelization. Do not be afraid of the evangelized –that is you- becoming evangelizers. Like the shepherds who heard the message from angel and went about proclaiming it, become an assertive and confident apostle of Christ.
Once again during this Christmas we affirm, the Christian community is at the service of the nation and its people. Church had played a major role in the education, health and human development. We are not afraid of playing that role again. When our famous schools return, the poor of Myanmar will have quality education. Empowering the vulnerable will be major task of the church in a new Myanmar. That was the Christmas message of Mary : “ He has brought down the mighty from their thrones; lifted the lowly. Holy is His Name. (Lk 1: 52)
Let this Christmas bring showers of grace on every Christian to be a true Christian and true son and daughter this great nation. Do not be afraid- because our mission is not commissioned by human beings, it comes from God. So let all fear go away. Let dreams fill our hearts as it filled Joseph on that night of salvation. Let thousand flowers bloom. Our task is sacred.
Let me end with the words Moses uttered to Joshua when he handed over his responsibilities
Do not be afraid or discouraged, the Lord is indeed going before you – he will be with you, he will not fail you or abandon you. ( Deuteronomy 31 : 8).
Merry Christmas to all the people of Myanmar.