“Jesus is the reason for the Christmas season,” says a message circulating in cyberspace.
December 25 is the presumed birthday of Jesus Christ. This is debatable because when he was born, shepherds were out watching their flocks at night. In those days, flock-watching in the fields was possible from spring to autumn. During winter, the sheep were sheltered in the shepherds’ homes. Israel’s temperature can drop to really low levels in winter. It must have been lower in the old days when global warming was unimaginable. The biting cold posed an insurmountable obstacle to shepherds attending to their flocks at night.
Moreover, when Jesus’ birth was drawing nigh, Augustus Caesar ordered a census in the Roman Empire and everyone was mandated to be counted. In Jesus’ place and time, you did not wait for census officers to knock on your door. You had to register in the town of your lineage. Which was why the young couple, Joseph and the very pregnant Mary, hit the road to Bethlehem, the town of King David who was Joseph’s ancestor. An important undertaking like a census could not have been scheduled in winter when the weather was harsh for travel.
Historians say that December 25 was deliberately chosen as it was also the day Pagans honored the sun god Mithras. The celebrations were synchronized to accelerate the acquiescence by pagans to Christianity when it was declared as the Roman Empire’s official religion. In other words, choosing December 25 was a calculated political move.
That aside, it remains that Christmas has always been traditionally about Jesus Christ. And yet, it is not about him at all. The crass commercialism characterizing the season goes against everything he advocated.
Jesus is one of the leading figures in human history. Christians believe that he came as God. There are not a few skeptics who doubt this. But no one can deny that he came as a man. In a world of misery and greed such as the one we have today, it is worth looking into his life, at least as a man. He had more than a mouthful to say against greed and oppression.
He lived a life of purpose. “I came,” he said, “that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly.” By they, he was referring to the poor and the oppressed. To propagate his ideology, he chose members of the working class as assistants. He and his disciples walked the streets and went to all corners their sandaled feet could take them to preach about loving one’s neighbors as loving oneself and doing unto others what one wanted done unto oneself. He exhorted everyone to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the sick, share resources. He put the welfare of others above his personal comfort. The issues of the poor and the powerless found a champion in him.
A recurring theme in his speeches was socialism or something akin to it. He said that one cannot serve both God and wealth. Once, he delivered a sermon and, at midday, commanded that the loaves and fishes in a boy’s lunch basket be shared by everyone. At another time, a rich man asked him what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus recited the Ten Commandments. The young man said, “I have done all of that. What do I need to do further?” Jesus told him, “Sell your possessions, give to the poor.” The man of immense wealth left with a heavy heart for he could not do as Jesus asked. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven,” Jesus remarked sadly.
The booty capitalists of our days are worse than the rich man Jesus encountered. Not only do they refuse to share their wealth (unless sharing means tax deductions for them), they also exploit the working class’ labor to expand their capital. They have resorted to all schemes imaginable to steal the actual pecuniary cost of the proletariat’s sweat. Mining companies are raking in billions of pesos from the muckers’ labor. Everyday, the workers risk their lives as they descend into the bowels of the earth to look for gold. And the mining companies boast, “We pay the miners more than the minimum wage.” Hah! The minimum wage is not necessarily decent wage. What is legal is not necessarily moral. I bet my life that the Philippine minimum wage law would not impress Jesus especially as it was crafted by an institution protective of booty capitalism’s interest.
Jesus disdained profiteers. When he went to a temple, there were so many merchants - money changers and people selling doves. In those days, doves were sacrificed in the temple by the poor who could not afford sheep and goats. Enraged, Jesus turned the tables upside down, cracked a whip he made and drove out the merchants while denouncing them for converting the temple into a den of thieves. The merchants must have been reaping more profit than what reason permitted. Why else did the reasonable Jesus call them thieves?
The profiteering in those days is nothing compared to today’s. For instance, the oil companies keep raising prices to intolerable levels using the fluctuation in the world market as excuse. Then they reduce the price but do not go back to the previous level. And consumers feel grateful for the reduction, not realizing they had been had.
The Philippine landlords just sit around waiting for profit from the peasants’ harvests. The latter have become prisoners of the earth owned by the former. In spite of its deficiencies, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) could have helped break, by a little stretch, the chains of the peasants’ bondage were it not for lackadaisical if not insincere implementation. Worse, it was to end this month. Farmers, with bishops and priests, went on hunger strike to pressure Congress to extend the CARP and reform the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. But the “Honorables” were bent on ignoring the call, giving a token extension of only six months. Many of them are landowners themselves who are too greedy to even consider parting with a square meter of their hundreds of hectares of land. They are more interested in concocting ways to extend the Arroyo Regime which fiercely protects their interests. This regime does not serve the masses made up of workers and peasants. It serves the profiteering oligarchy and their wealth.
Christmas is no longer an occasion to celebrate the life of a man who turned the tables of profiteers upside down. It is the Feast of Capitalism as we are pressured to do a lot of spending, even beyond our means. The real winners of the season are the booty capitalists who, through multimillion advertisements make us feel guilty when we do not hit their malls to shop until we drop. Christmas insults Jesus’ teachings.
Che Guevara, a man born to privilege, chose to spend his life promoting socialism and dismantling structures of capitalism. The profiteers hated him. After his death, they raked in enormous revenues selling his image.
Like Che Guevara, Jesus Christ, the man who disdained flagrant commercialism, is its biggest victim on his birthday.