That great festival of love Christmas is nearly upon us once more, when telling stories about life during Roman times and making beautiful music is part of a feast of ideas celebrating both community and culture.
On Christmas Day as we enjoy a day of being with the people we love and care about should we engage in a conversation about what the message of Christmas truly means in a simple and unemotional way?
Or has the message truly become lost, buried under a mountain of tinsel and toys?
If that message is still important then is it only perceived now by Australians as the province of those who declare they are religious? I like to hope not.
This is the time when Christians celebrate the birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ for whom the first Christmas was celebrated.
They listen to the message he sent to the world all about caring, courage, compassion and love.
His remarkable festival has survived to come down to us through the ages. It about his words and actions that, as he grew from a baby to a young Jewish man, were so convincing.
In his own time Jesus was regarded by many as a troublemaker, by some as a prophet, by yet others as divine, and by an increasing number as God himself.
What we do know is that he was a historical man who really cared for those that came into his sphere of influence.
He had the courage of his convictions, offered compassion to those whose only response to his words was betrayal or violence.
And, most importantly he did not stop loving those around him, especially when they doubted him or his message, even unto death.
Jesus was directly connected in mind, body and will to the ideas and promises made to the Jewish people since the dawn of time. So many forget and want to deny that he was Jewish. But, he was.
The cross he was eventually crucified on by his own people was made from a tree that had once stood tall and strong in a forest.
It has since become symbolic of his birth, death and resurrection.
The Christmas tree, like Jesus, was cut down in its prime, resurrected to stand tall, and then clothed in light. Traditionally a Xmas tree is put up on Xmas Eve and taken down 12 days later, 6th January – Epiphany.
Like the use of a crown, it was light that characterized and differentiated his person, as well as exalted and distinguished it.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.’
It was in the late Renaissance period that artist Michelangelo Merisis da Caravaggio (1571-1610) became a master of light in painting.
Caravaggio’s Jesus is a man made of flesh and blood, not a disembodied spirit. His resurrection is apprehended in literal terms, and therefore all the more miraculous.
The other two disciples, whose hands are concealed are not questioning Jesus’s identity. They flank the doubting disciple Thomas, who is carefully prodding the wound in Christ’s side. Thomas did, like many still do, doubted Jesus’ authenticity –
‘Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed; blessed are those that have not seen and yet have believed’.
Caravaggio was always concerned with portraying the humble humanity of Jesus and people who were conscious of their ‘human’ flaws…so they were not depicted as being heroic…but real. The models he chose to portray them were too, and his art abounds in symbolism.
Caravaggio embraced the reality of the misery, injustice and sorrow in the world. He fostered a belief in the transcendent power of humility, resignation and faith.
Although his works speak through the visible, they always speak of the invisible. While they focus on a man’s body, their interest primarily is in a man’s spirit and soul.
They are truly great works of art.
Caravaggio found meaning, spirit and purpose in everything around him, while revealing to us the intangibles that so often occlude the truth with a riveting and powerfully humanistic reality.
Being real is an important focus for religious leaders today.
Too often in the past they have been perceived as being lofty, almost unapproachable, or as if religious leaders were not real people at all. Certainly they need to be accountable for their inaction too, but with compassion and not violently.
Currently having Pope Francis at Rome helping to break down many prejudices is having an impact and so others religious leaders around the world need to follow his lead.
The media too must take responsibility for the images they create and portray despite what editor’s demand.
Putting people, institutions or corporations for that matter, onto pedestals, only gives them one place to go – to fall off.
Celebrities do create employment for many people although they will often find themselves abandoned when things go wrong because one wants to ride a wave down where possible disaster is lurking.
It is human nature to want to ride up on wave of success. The more one person is successful, the more others thrive.
Pushing people beyond the boundaries they create for themselves too is not a bad thing.
It often helps them to find reality, the middle road, one on which we can all meet with mutual respect and harmony.
‘Within the darkness … there was beauty. Within the darkness there was grace’ *
The future relies on each and every one of us embracing the Christmas message – caring, courage, compassion and love.
It requires that we gain an empathy with each other, by learning how to have a regard for each other’s ideas and opinions and also how to respect other people and their beliefs, religious or otherwise.
Developing our culture means the little things must be observed.
How we meet and greet each other, conduct ourselves in regard and respect for those around us. This can happen through the every day rituals we perform and by displaying our manners and etiquette.
Culture in the twenty first century is about how we make love, maintain bodily health, mental strength and inner wellbeing. It is also about our attitudes and philosophies, our behaviour and beliefs and our moral and social mores.
It relies on each and every one of us to promote the emergence of new ideas. We need to encourage the raising of positive voices and to provide a practical benefit for marginalised sections of society.
Importantly, as Jesus actively encouraged – we must talk about the things that hurt.
All people, regardless of race, ethnicity and creed need to pull together as one, if we are to define and shape the continuing development of our world.
And, we cannot do that without complete respect for each other’s stories.
Currently Australians are involved in many great endeavours around the world.
Daring to imagine and plan for what it might be possible to accomplish has been made possible through the significant achievements of our ancestors.
In historical terms, it is the stories of Australia’s indigenous people that are told first and that is, and always should remain, a priority.
We also need to close divisive gaps between the diverse groups of peoples integral to our population, so that they do not feel, or believe they are on the outside looking in.
We need to be inclusive and show respect and regard for each other.
We also need contemporary leaders to come together and offer our growing global multi cultural society new options, new policies, other ways of doing things and, considered choices.
Most importantly leaders need to empower communities to transform themselves. Then it will really become empowerment of, by and for the people.
Good citizens who believe they are consulted will help to keep our cities safe, our communities thriving and our country and its established democratic freedoms and culture, both active and alive.
Carolyn McDowall, Writer, Publisher – The Culture Concept Circle, 2013-2014
* Manning Clark Reflection (1988, 62)