Reaching Out to Spread Joy on Christmas!
Christmas greetings from the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) to our Ethiopian brothers and sisters of Christian belief as many gather together for religious services and meals with family and friends to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. At the same time, many non-Christians will celebrate this day as a secular holiday—as a time to “bring some joy” to family and friends around us through sharing food, greetings, good will, gifts and time together.
For Christian believers, it is an important time to reflect on the love God showed to humanity by sending his son, Jesus, as a substitute peace-offering for morally flawed human beings—providing a way for such “imperfect believers” to be reconciled to a Holy and Just God. However, Jesus is also revered as a prophet or as an important historic teacher by people of many different cultures, faiths and beliefs; from Muslims to Jews to secularists.
No matter how one sees Jesus, he and his teachings have shaped movements of freedom led by people like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Others have taken on issues of great consequence in their areas of influence like the Christian statesman, Wilbur Wilberforce, an English parliamentarian of the early 1800’s who morally opposed the slave trade based on the teachings of Jesus; working on it throughout his life until the British government finally ended this evil practice.
When the Nazi’s took over Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, believed that his Christian faith called him to take a stand against injustice. He became an outspoken opponent of Hitler and a critic of the church for accommodating such evil by failing to take a stand. Eventually he had to seek refuge in New York for his views; however, after attending the Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York in 1941, he reportedly said he saw real faith combined with social action against the wrongs of society. It inspired him to return to Germany to oppose the evil, tyranny and cruelty at any cost; even his life and that is exactly what it cost him. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and later hung by the Nazis right before the overthrow of Hitler.
The whole idea of “Christmas” has become so much a part of so many cultures that Jesus is often removed or even softened so much that his teachings and the message of Christmas may have lost its real meaning. Right now, in Ethiopia, we need moral convictions that lead us to confront the tyranny; not to overlook it or to adapt to it, but to call it what it is—an evil system sustained by people who are caught in a lie that will produce nothing!
So whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or of some other belief, our hope is that we are so morally convicted by the ongoing evil, cruelty, greed and hardness of hearts in Ethiopia and in the Horn of Africa that we stand up together to stop it. It is a time to consider how we might bring more “joy” and lessen the immense suffering, deprivation and insecurity to the people.
How can we do this collectively and how might each of us individually spread such joy by contributing to the lives of others in some tangible ways?
According to the Christmas story, Jesus was also born into oppression, which may explain why when the angels first appeared to tell of his birth, they came not to kings, queens or prime ministers; but instead, to shepherds of lowly position—ordinary, humble people. Consider the ruler of the region, King Herod. He was of Jewish ethnicity himself, but was so personally threatened by prophesies about the birth of a new “King of the Jews,” a competitor who might challenge his control, that he “closed off all political space” by ordering the massacre of all young Jewish boys in the region under the age of two; turning against his own people. An angel warned Jesus’ parents in a dream and they left their home; escaping to Egypt as refugees. This story could be set in the Ethiopia of today. King Herod eventually was deposed for being one of the worst tyrannical leaders ever.
Ethiopians in the country are now believed to be the second poorest in the world as per the findings of a recent study from Oxford University; with 90% living under the poverty level. A climate of fear has spread throughout the entire country as the Meles regime has been cracking down on any dissent. The new report that recently exposed the inhumane methods of torture in Maekelawi Prison—with specific details of the cruel treatment of a distinguished woman of Amharic ethnicity—is creating a groundswell of anger. Underneath the most horrific human rights abuses are other darker motives; including greed, power-grabbing and economic or political aspirations at the cost of others. Without any justice in Ethiopia, many seek to capitalize on the vulnerability of our people.
All of this leads to robbing the people of their land, resources and livelihoods. Such land and resources are then given over to party loyalists or foreign investors. This practice is now rampant and is causing an outrage of emotion to surge right beneath the surface of everyday life. Consider the many Ethiopians and Africans who are not celebrating Christmas in any material way except; perhaps in their hearts because they are homeless, orphans, in prison cells throughout the country, refugees living in cramped cells in Saudi Arabia, sleeping in the desert bush of Yemen after crossing the Red Sea, living in refugee camps in Sudan or Kenya or struggling alone in countries far from home.
As many of us celebrate this Christmas season, let us think about those in our family of Ethiopians who are enduring great hardship. In this atmosphere, how can we bring “joy” to an Ethiopia that seems to be in the tight grip of tyranny? First off, remember, God is in control. What seems to be impossible for people is not impossible to God if one has faith. King Herod thought he had “eliminated” the threat to his power, but God is sovereign over kings and nations. Jesus fulfilled his purposes and Herod died, as a defeated and evil man. God can turn upside down the best plans of men, even using what was intended for evil for good. However, we have responsibility too; Meles did not create the problems we face in Ethiopia by himself. We Ethiopians, through our own failings, have made it possible and often made it flourish.
So, the question remains, how can we bring “joy” to Ethiopia? How can we stand up for what is good, moral, just and right and how can we refuse to participate in an evil system dependent on lies, fraud, torture and an insatiable appetite for more? How can we become the ordinary shepherds who honor the message and not the puppets who seek to kill the righteous? Most people of faith believe that some day we will be judged. What will we say then? In light of that, how then shall we live?
During this Christmas season, despite the profound problems we face, we should be encouraged to know that God can multiply are efforts as we confront evil, show love to others and seek to do right. Change usually does not come from a million or even from the most powerful among us, but from a few—often from the least expected, quiet heroes who are not seeking their own self-aggrandizement. When Jesus came to this world he brought a new light that was carried on at the start by only twelve disciples.
The principles of the SMNE are grounded on caring about each other and standing with others in a pursuit for justice and well being. It is not based on ethnicity, religion, skin-color, educational level, political view, gender, age, disability or any other distinctions that the world often makes about people. Such differences are part of the uniqueness of people; some are part of life choices, but all should not make a difference in seeing the full humanity of another. Yet, it is often greed and coveting what belongs to others that lay the groundwork for the dehumanization of others. Once someone is “less than human” for example, by ethnicity, it then becomes easier to commit such horrific acts against them as torture. Where is our “soul?”
We in the SMNE are here for the well being of all Ethiopians; all created in the representative image of God, our Creator. We are ready to do whatever we can to bring hope to the people. The lack of caring for each other is reason why most everyone in Ethiopia is either living in poverty and desperation or leaving the country. Nothing is wrong with Ethiopia, the land. It is rich and could be fruitful. What is wrong could be changed if people of conscience rose up to say we have had enough! We in the SMNE are hoping that all of those who believe in these principles will do their share to try to bring “joy” back to Ethiopia.
As Christians and those of other faiths who revere the teachings of Jesus reflect on the real meaning of Christmas, it is not just a day to celebrate, but is a call to a different way of life. In his final days, Jesus asked his disciple Peter if he loved him. Peter responded by saying that of course, Jesus should know he loved him. Jesus responded, “Then, feed my sheep.” Jesus repeated the same question three times. Peter affirmed his love towards Jesus three times. Jesus then repeated each time, “If you love me, then feed my sheep.” Jesus cared about the people he saw as harassed and helpless without reliable shepherds to care for them.
How can we stand up for the vulnerable and hurting among us not only during this season, but as a way of life? If ever there was a time to “feed the sheep” around us, it is now. What can each of us do to help? With God’s help, this is the precious gift we can give to our people and to our country starting with this Christmas! May God tear down the evil that has entrapped us as people and as a nation; changing the hearts of both the oppressors and the oppressed until we find real JOY!
Please do not hesitate to e-mail your comments to Mr. Obang Metho,
Executive Director of the SMNE, at: Obang@solidaritymovement.org