South Africa: Bishop Sipuka says Christmas is a time for healing and restoration.
Paul Samasumo – Vatican City.
In his Christmas Message 2022, Bishop Sipuka called upon South Africans to embrace cheerful but sober celebrations.
Restoration and healing
"First, Christmas is about love and humility … Second, Christmas is about relationships. God became one of us to heal the relationship between Him and us, between us and creation and among ourselves. God, 'through Christ, reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry (work) of reconciliation' (2. Cor. 5:18). We meaningfully celebrate Christmas; therefore, if we are also prepared to work for peace, peace in our families, in our neighbourhoods, at work, in our country and the world," said the Bishop of Mthatha.
He emphasised that the festive season is meant to be a moment of restoration and a time to improve the quality of relationships with others. We should aim for relationships that are "’characterised by the qualities of 'love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control'(Gal. 5:22-23),” said the SACBC President.
The Bishop criticised the fact that the Christmas period is often used as an excuse for excessive indulgence in alcohol and a period for some to commit horrendous crimes. The Christian values he was promoting are not alien to the values encouraged in the traditional African way of life, said Bishop Sipuka. They are essentially the values of Ubuntu, for which Africa is known, he emphasised.
Sensitivity towards the poor
It was also important to remember, said the Mthatha prelate, that Christmas "is about the poor. Jesus was born into a poor family. His birth was first announced to the poor shepherds by the Angel. When He was being presented in the temple, Mary and Joseph gave the offering of the poor -two pigeons as they could not afford the lamb, which was the usual offering. Later Jesus would proclaim that He is 'sent to bring the good news to the poor and liberty to the oppressed' (Lk. 4:18). As He summarised His teaching in the Sermon on the Mountain, His first words were, 'Blessed are the poor.' A meaningful celebration of Christmas invites sensitivity and compassion towards the poor. As we do our Christmas shopping, we must remember the poor," said Bishop Sipuka.
Work for social justice
The Bishop further emphasised that sensitivity to the poor must not be limited to assisting or giving them alms only during this season of Christmas.
Sensitivity to the plight of the poor among us "must include working for social and economic structures that will ensure that no one lives an impoverished life. Our planet has enough resources to feed all its citizens. Still, our greed, supported by unjust economic systems and lack of political will to create economic equity, has led to few people having more than what they need, while many go without the basics of life," said the South African prelate.
It is good to be merry
However, Bishop Sipuka was keen not to be misunderstood as pouring cold water on all Christmas celebrations and merry-making, especially given the last two years of the pandemic.
"There is nothing wrong with being merry and joyful during this season because Christmas celebrates the restoration of unity between God and humanity and the establishment of peace among people on earth. The account of Jesus at the Wedding at Cana (cf. Jn. 2:1) and many of his parables about feasts and celebrations indicate that Jesus also enjoyed merry moments," said Bishop Sipuka.
However, said Bishop Sipuka, 'Man does not live by bread alone.' So, it is prudent to avoid the inclination towards excessive indulgences. Most of these indulgences, he said, are informed by an unrealistic view of life which considers only perpetual enjoyment while neglecting the call to duty.
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