True message of Christmas
The spirit of Christmas, with its messages of fellowship, generosity and victory against the odds, seems in stark contrast to the reality that is Trinidad and Tobago today. And yet, all through the year, ordinary citizens display all these qualities.
The public response last February to the plight of 20-year-old Ryan Rampersad, for example, is testament to this. Rampersad, the father of two small children, was one of the six people who was hit by a car driven by an off-duty policeman in Sea Lots. Paralysed and in a near-vegetative state, Ryan’s family got donations of food and other goods from well-wishers who wanted to help a poor family.
In similar fashion, public-minded citizens made their voices heard in October when a mother, jobless and desperate to get food for her hungry children, was sentenced to seven months in jail for stealing by a magistrate whose understanding of law was not tempered by any notion of justice, with several lawyers offering their services pro bono to appeal the sentence.
In a similar situation just a few weeks later, onlookers in court offered assistance to a drug-addicted mother with a three-week-old baby who was charged with possession of cocaine. In that case, a more enlightened magistrate, mindful of other factors, sentenced the woman to treatment for her addiction.
These are just three examples among many of acts which embody the true ethos of this season. The Christmas story has a range of theological interpretations, ranging from fundamentalist to liberal, as well as secular literary analyses. But, no matter what the perspective, the core message cannot be gainsaid: Jesus was born to redeem all humankind of their sins. So the message is not only that of forgiveness, but forgiveness especially of those who have done wrong.
This is not an easy attitude to adopt but, if it were easy, what would be the point? Just as Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross had to be agonising in order to be meaningful, so too are those who would embrace his birth challenged to forgive those whom they would rather not forgive. What too many people fail to appreciate, however, is the distinction between forgiving someone and excusing them – that is, actions may be forgiven, but there must still be a reaction in order to stop further transgressions. Persons who follow this principle understand the distinction between punishment and prevention, and do not make the facile assumption that punishment is the same as prevention.
To do this requires not merely moral reasoning, but also the generosity which is represented in the exchange of gifts today. For material generosity is easy: but the true message of Christmas lies in generosity of the heart.