Bishop Sipuka: “Christmas is a reminder that ‘Man does not live by bread alone'”

Christmas Message 2022

Last year’s Christmas was described by one article as “not so jolly” because while there was a bit of a reprieve and lesser stringent measures, the Omicron variant of the virus was still looming large and wearing masks and sanitisation was still the order of the day. This year, however, it could be said that the situation has returned to normal. As is usually the case, this year we are seeing big volumes of traffic with people coming back home from places of work to be with family members and to perform family functions and to celebrate. We thank God for this relief from the confining and limiting grip of Covid-19.

As we have been “forced to take a break of two years” from the normal celebration of Christmas, we will do well to remind ourselves about the real meaning of Christmas and appreciate it and shun those behaviours and attitudes contradictory to this season’s spirit.

First, Christmas is about love and humility. St. Paul informs us in his letter to the Philippians that Jesus, out of love, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”. Everything Jesus said and did reveal that love. The child lying on the stray in a cave outside Bethlehem is saying to us, “this is how much God loves you”.  As we kneel before this child, we see how God humbled himself and became powerless simply to reveal His love.

Similarly, as we celebrate Christmas, we are invited to that sacrificial concern for others that will make us go all the way to save and assist others according to their needs and circumstances. We are invited in this season to a humble and selfless love. As Jesus tells us in Jn. 15:11 “Greater love has no one than this; that someone lay down his life for his friends”. Christmas is about love, not hedonism.

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.

Christmas is meant to be a moment of our restoration and a time to improve the quality of our being so that in our relationship with others, we are characterised by the qualities of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Yet instead of seeing these values, which are also Ubuntu values increasing during this season of Christmas, we have gotten used to seeing them decreasing. There will be murders; crimes will be committed; many will be raped; excessive drinking and reckless driving will see road accidents shooting up; others will experiment with drugs and begin their journey into addiction; quarrels will be engaged in; there will be lawlessness and lack of consideration for others, all in the name of Christmas.

The prevailing overindulgence and carelessness during the Christmas season also account for much of the littering and pollution that will take place at this time, again in the name of Christmas. With these behaviours and attitudes, all practised in the name of the “festive”,; we contradict the message of the Christmas carols “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased”.

Third, 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.

This sensitivity to the poor must not be limited to assisting or giving them something only during this season of Christmas. Still, it must extend to 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.

Christmas is a season to reignite our human solidarity as God’s children, all made in his image and for whom God sent His Son. One of the great prophets of our time, Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, once said, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist”. Christmas is a time of giving to those in need. Yet it also invites us to listen and respond to a long-term and the burning question of why poor people are poor. It urges us to answer the question of prevalent poverty not by speculating or complaining but by actively engaging with systems that perpetuate economic inequality.

Fourth, Christmas is a reminder that ‘Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:1), and by “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Phil.4:7).  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.

The problem with being merry, especially during the Christmas season, is the excess of it, which leads to overindulgence, lack of care for others, exploitation of the vulnerable and loss of balance in taking care of ourselves. We focus too much on satisfying our physical needs of eating and procreating while we neglect our emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.

This excessive indulgence is informed by the unrealistic view of life as consisting of perpetual enjoyment and maximum ownership of material things while neglecting the call to serve, care for those less fortunate and work for a good cause. This attitude is particularly true of some young people who are in perpetual pursuit of maximum indulgence and entertainment, particularly around this time of Christmas, which they call “festive”. This exaggerated quest for pleasure leads to behaviours that are not life-giving but death-dealing for those indulging in it and those who are used to attaining this life of pleasure.

We are happy that Christmas is finally happening after two years of missing it.  Christmas is a beautiful season with values that can restore us spiritually, mentally, and emotionally and build us as human beings. Let us do our best to rescue the Christmas season from the capture of excessive materialism and overindulgence. May this Christmas become a celebration of the renewal of the right relationship between God and humanity, between humanity and creation and among people for a world that can only be better because it is infused with the values of God’s kingdom. Merry Christmas!

+Bishop Sithembele Sipuka
Bishop of Mthatha



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