KUNDIAWA - Many Christians around the world have adopted a material and secular meaning of Christmas: giving and receiving gifts to strengthen social and economic bonds; reuniting with families and friends; celebrating; and taking holidays from work.
Special gifts are given to special friends at this time of year, representing personal commitment, appreciation, beauty, joy, pride and positive experience.
In Papua New Guinea, and especially in the Highlands where I live, the true meaning of Christmas is not fully observed. Rather, it is seen as the time to receive and remit bride prices, celebrate weddings, pay compensation, hold funeral feasts, drink and enjoy in a more casual way.
The problems to be solved can wait.
Teachers and students are home for holidays in their semester breaks. There’s drinking to the brim and the resultant vehicle accidents with injury and death.
I must say you don’t see many people going to church; they’re preoccupied with material things.
Newly married couples buy expensive items, especially the marriage ring representing romantic love of both giver and receiver. The giver expresses love and the receiver enjoys receiving it and says, “I love you so much and you will be mine until death do us part”. They submit to each other making promises to live a happy life.
Then there are other special gifts for birthdays, graduation, mother’s day, father’s day and so it goes on. Particular gifts represent a particular person and the occasion which has a unique character of its own.
Now what is the true and perfect gift of Christmas, the greatest gift to Humanity?
The birth of Jesus Christ in the town of Bethlehem is the greatest gift God gave to mankind out of unconditional love. Mary was a humble servant, obedient and full of grace and accepted to be the mother of Christ.
Mary, who was free from original sin, conceived by Immaculate Conception. The son of God took human flesh and was incarnated through the virgin Mary - the hypostatic union of body and soul. Mary was the mother of God who became man (theotokas) in the person of Jesus Christ with a human character and personality. A perfect man without sin.
It’s still a mystery to fully comprehend this incarnation, a supernatural act, but we are the recipient of this perfect gift so we have to embrace it, affirm it and value it as the most precious gift any human being can receive.
It’s a gift to be celebrated every day because the gift of Christ represents our salvation, redemption, destiny, spiritual values, grace, infinite happiness and life after death (parousia).
The three Wise Kings from the East followed the star of Bethlehem, travelling long distances to present their gifts to the infant child Jesus, in the midst of animals and shepherds, to symbolise their appreciation and welcoming of the new born King.
The three Kings were the first to present their gifts to the infant Jesus and were received by his mother Mary and Joseph, his foster father.
Every Christmas, thousands of Christians and pilgrims from around the world travel to the Holy Land to visit the site where Jesus was born, the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, to renew their faith.
It is true that Christmas is one of the big events of the year where gifts are given to the needy, the disabled people, the lepers, the terminally sick, the prisoners and the orphans.
This is seen as an expression of the human heart and unconditional love as well as social and economic bond and relationship. The gifts could be anything: clothes, mobile phones, a TV set, shoes and other items.
The givers feel blessed and are happy to give, while the recipients embrace the gifts and thank God for the givers.
Santa Claus is already in town and stores and offices are decorated and the Christmas trees glow with coloured twinkling lights. Gifts are given to friends while the poor majority mind their own business.
The common people - including buai sellers, street vendors and perfect strangers - roam the streets aimlessly. Youths are drinking and doing strange things, forgetting that life is so precious.
Should we continuously move away from God or give time to reflect and meditate on the purpose of our existence and destiny.
God is the giver of this perfect gift of Jesus Christ because he loves us at the first place, the gift representing agape love - the love between God and people.
God’s sanctifying grace redeemed us from sin through Christ, the perfect gift who died on the cross. The gift of Christ does not have a price tag and is priceless and of infinite value.
Christ is the gift of life who brings an important message of salvation.
This perfect gift gives us the strength and motivation, the positive experience and peace and love to God and our fellow humans.
This gift demands commitment and we have the spiritual and moral obligation to love Him and follow His commandments. There is no other way to enter heaven except through Christ.