A Christmas lesson (bis)

Listening to the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Butros Sfeir giving the noon Christmas mass today in Beirut, confirmed what I was thinking of yesterday. At some point in the unfolding of the celebration, Sfeir tells the story of the birth of Jesus and so mentions his birth in Bethlehem. “In the city of Bethlehem, in Palestine, where he was born”.  He seems unperturbed, and swiftly moves to another subject. Worse, as he shifts his discussion to abstract concepts of love and tolerance (as noted, a classical rhetorical strategy amongst modern privatized Christianity), he manages to extract from it an even shakier concept of ‘love for the nation’. He then manages to mumble something like the birth of Jesus which symbolizes this message of love actually teaches us about how one should ‘love his nation’. Fortunately, he does not elaborate further. Bethlehem is a couple of kilometers away from where he is giving his mass. It is under the control of a political entity (Israel) that causes much injustice and oppression, and has probably no respect for Sfeir’s tradition (i.e. Christianity). To add insult to injury, a significant number of people from Bethlehem and from around it live within the nation that Sfeir wants people to love, although these people are neither loved by those people Sfeir is concerned with nor given any form of ‘love’ or ‘tolerance’. Well maybe if Jesus was the messenger of ‘justice’ it would have been better. Love as such stripped out of social realities is a monster-like fantasy causing more wreckage than healing.

2 Replies to “A Christmas lesson (bis)”

  1. Long time no read. I believe a little effort should be made to try to ruffle the surface of this tranquil (and neglected) pond.

    Don’t take me wrong, I’m not going to defend the old cleric. I actually admire your strength of will and dedication for listening to his sermon. This is a feat I believe I would never be able to pull off. This religious leader seems to want to remind us of the connection between preaching and preachiness on every single occasion (in and out of church). And Hibernatus isn’t that much relevant now is he.

    I agree with your basic stand regarding Palestinians, but I honestly can’t understand why you buy into Hezbollah’s communication strategy and why you expect the Maronite Patriarch to take more political stands and get envolved in regional politics!

    I’d rather the Patriarch-Cardinal, Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, stayed out of politics, national and regional. What I would expect from a high ranking christian cleric is a more profound sermon, one that rekindles the inner light and some spirituality to our daily existence. I would have liked to hear him say something relevant and in touch with a Lebanese Christian’s daily existence living in a plural and fragmented society. I would have liked to hear a cleric go beyond the usual clichés and speak of the significance of christmas in a secular and materialistic culture (which is our own).

    As for Bethlehem of Judea, well, I think there’s enough political exploitation surrounding the celebration of Christmas over there, with what Hezbollah and the western media is doing (with parallels between contemporary palestinians and biblical judeans two millennia ago). I’m personally disturbed by this exploitation that actually removes the present conflict from its context. I think Mahmoud Abbas attendance (following in the footsteps of Yaser Arafat who had found a wholly different use for churches in Lebanon in the late 1970s) is disturbing enough. Why add to it? This would be adding insult to injury. I don’t see how you can condone the instrumentalisation of a religious theme for political reasons, and wish for a greater involvement of clergymen. It comes to a greater surprise knowing that you are a secularist.

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