The Nativity: the holiday of God’s humanity and human comensality
The Nativity is full of meaning. One of its messages has been co-opted by the culture of consumerism that prefers the figure of the good natured old man, Santa Claus, over that of Baby Jesus, because Santa attracts more business. The Baby Jesus, on the other hand, speaks of the inner child that is always within us, who feels the need to be cared for, and who, once grown, has that caring impulse. That is the part of paradise that has not been wholly lost, made of innocence, spontaneity, enchantment, play and living together with the others, without any kind of discrimination.
For Christians it is the celebration of the “proximity and humanity” of our God, as it is told in the Epistle of Tito (3,4). God became so passionate about human beings that He wanted to be one of us. As Fernando Pessoa expresses so beautifully in his poem on the Nativity: «He is the eternal Child, the God we lacked; the divine being who smiles and plays; the child so human who is divine».
Now we have a child God, not a God who is a severe judge of our actions and of human history. What inner happiness we feel when we think that we will be judged by a child God. Rather than condemning us, the child God wants to live together forever, and amuse Himself with us.
His birth provoked a cosmic commotion. A text of the Christian liturgy says in a symbolic form: «Then the chattering leaves became quiet, as if dead; the whispering wind remained still in the air; the crowing rooster went silent in the midst of his song; the swift running waters of the creek were motionless; the grazing sheep became immobile; the pastor who raised his staff was as if petrified; then, in that precise moment, all went still, all went silent, all was suspended: Jesus, the Savior of the people and of the universe, was being born».
The Nativity is a festival of lights, of universal fraternity; of family gathered around a table. More than eating, it is a festival of sharing our lives and that of others, of the generosity of the fruits of our Mother Earth and of the culinary arts of human labor.
For a moment we forget the daily toil, the weight of our hard existence, the tensions between family and friends, and happily we become brothers and sisters joining in comensality, which means to eat together, gathered around a table as was done before, when the whole family, parents, sons and daughters, sat at the table, conversing, eating and drinking.
Comensality is so central that is linked to the appearance of human beings as human. Seven million years ago the slow and progressive separation from a common ancestor began between higher apes and humans. The singularity of the human being, unlike other animals, is the gathering of food, distributing it among all, starting with the youngest and the elderly, and after that, everyone else.
Comensality presupposes cooperation and solidarity with each other. It was comensality that facilitated the leap from beast to human. What was true yesterday, is still true today. This is why it is so painful to realize that millions and millions of humans have nothing to share, and live with hunger.
On September 11, 2001 occurred the atrocity of the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. Nearly three thousand people died in that action.
That very same day, 16,400 children under the age of 5 died. They died of starvation and malnourishment. The following day and throughout the whole year, twelve million children were victims of hunger. And no one was terrified then, nor is terrified now, in the face of that human catastrophe.
On this Nativity of joy and fraternity we cannot forget those that Jesus called “my little brothers and sisters” (Mt 25, 40); those who will neither receive gifts nor have anything to eat. But this sad fact notwithstanding, we celebrate and sing, we sing and are happy because we will never be alone. The Child’s name is Jesus, the Emmanuel that means: “God with us”. On this occasion this little verse is appropriate. It makes us reflect on our understanding of God, as revealed in the Nativity:
Every little boy wants to be a man.
Every man wants to be a king.
Every king wants to be “god”.
Only God wanted to be a child.
Happy Feast of the Nativity of the year of grace of 2014.