[Viewpoint] The wrong Christmas message

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[Viewpoint] The wrong Christmas message

Christmas arrives at shopping malls and department stores ahead of churches. When December arrives, commercial excitement leaves little room for spiritual awakening. “Silent Night and Holy Night” commemorating the birth of the Messiah, the Savior, is drowned out by the mingling and jingling of merry-makers.

But the secularization of Christmas is not without its merits. Christmas does not exist exclusively for Christians, but for all human beings. The infant Jesus of Nazareth was not born in a holy church, but in a stable of an inn. He started his life in the symbolically lowest and rowdiest part of the secular world.

The Church, with a mission to be the “salt and light” of the earth, cannot turn away from the secular world. A religion out of touch with secular communities is no different from salt that has lost its taste. The message of hope, compassion and peace embodied by Christmas is what our society needs to hear at a time of extreme anxiety amid the menacing threat from North Korea and political division.

The Magis from the east did not sit comfortably waiting for the Messiah. They sought out and travelled the desert day and night with the star as their guide to meet their infant king. This was the first Christmas. I doubt if there are many traces of the toil of the Magis and the humble nature of the manger among the fancy decorations in this country during the Christmas season.

The liberation theology that arose in Latin America as an alternative to the hypocrisy of the North American Christian society underscored the role and social commitment of the religion to act for the poor and the oppressed. But its violent protests and revolutionary ideology discredited the movement.

Religious faith is not meant to change political and power structures. Its mission instead should focus on religion. It is not the blessing of heaven and the Holy Spirit, but the real actions of sharing and serving, that society desires from the Church. In his first teachings to his disciples, Jesus told them to let their light shine before men so that they could see their good deeds.

Religion should sow love in place of hate and peace in the abode of conflict. But Korean Christianity itself is made up of hate and conflict since it is divided into many factions and hundreds of sects that often battle each other in court disputes. Its voice has no authority to preach words of peace. What grounds does it have to call for reconciliation and tolerance against the annual year-end fist-fighting bout at the National Assembly?

The Catholic Church is also wrapped up in an inner conflict. The Cardinal’s frank call for separating religion from politics in the controversy over the four-rivers restoration project triggered scorn from some priests who demanded his resignation because he supports the government project.

But we have not heard prayers for peace from any of those who held candlelight vigils while our country is under the threat of North Korean military provocations or prayers for the starving and oppressed people across the border. Aren’t they the ones with mistaken priorities?

“In vain, my Christ, in vain, two thousand years have gone by and men crucify you still. When will you be born, my Christ, and not be crucified any more, but live among us for eternity? When?” cries the shepherd boy in Nikos Kazatzakis’s novel “The Greek Passion or Christ Recrucified.”

A priest led a crowd of Jews to throw rocks at Jesus and had him crucified. Religious leaders who have lost their spiritual passion and are instead preoccupied with political affairs are no different from the priests out to crucify their central belief.

The Church must ruminate on the Christmas message first before preaching it to society. Karl Marx said there was only one real Christian in history and that he died on the cross. It is up to the Church of Christianity and Catholicism to prove the words of the skeptics wrong.

*The writer is a partner at Hwang Mok Park, P.C. and former head of the Seoul Central District Court.


By Lee Woo-keun

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