China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2010/Dec

Rejoice, a child is born

It is that time of year again when we remember the birth of Jesus and how Mary and Joseph rejoiced at the event. At that time they were away from home, as a decree from the emperor had been sent out that all the people were to be enrolled, each in their hometown.

So Mary and Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem. While they were there, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. Mary and Joseph probably had no friends in Bethlehem to rejoice with them, but in the neighbouring fields there were shepherds keeping the night watch over their flocks.

Lo and behold, an angel appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the city of David, a saviour has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.”

At first the shepherds were frightened, but after the angel left them, they said to themselves, let’s go to Bethlehem and see this great birth and rejoice with the parents.

A girl child is born… Rejoice?

All over our world, the birth of a child brings joy not only to the parents, but also to all who hear the news. It is a time for rejoicing. Unfortunately, in many countries, children are born into terrible situations of poverty, wars, old traditions and prejudices.

Along with that, some countries have a preference for male offspring and there isn’t as much joy at the birth of a female. Some of this comes from old traditions or the need for an extra set of hands on the farm, but that doesn’t justify what happens to girls as they grow up in some of those societies.

This is the 21st century and baby girls are still being abandoned, starved, given away, or drowned, there are also little girls living on the streets of many cities in the world who are begging and being sexually abused.

As girls grow up they are subjected to so-called traditions that only apply to females, such as female mutilation in some countries, which takes away their God-given right to enjoy sexual pleasure as an adult.

Young girls in many countries today, have to cover their bodies from head to foot and never get the vitamin D from sunshine that is needed for healthy bodies. In other countries a young girl can be killed by her own family members if they deem she has caused a family dishonour. Other young girls and women are targets in warfare and are raped by the soldiers.

Many of these traditions are seen by many others as a way to control girls and women. The traditions, which are usually set by men, claim that their culture or religion is the reason for the way they treat girls and women.

The binding of girls’ feet in China, which started between ages five and seven, was female subjugation, a way of controlling women, but thankfully, that awful, painful practice, which lasted for about 1,000 years, was banned in 1912 by the Nationalists and outlawed in 1949 by the communists.

Will female mutilation, the body covering of girls, aborting female foetuses, abandoning girl babies, rape and other atrocities cease in our generation? Let us work for that.

The infancy of Jesus

We do not know a lot about the treatment of baby girls at the time Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but we do know that when a male child was presented in the temple, according to the law of Moses, the offerings and purification rites of the mother were different than the offerings and rites for a female child.

The news of the birth of Jesus spread quickly. When Jesus was still a toddler, a passage in the gospel of St. Matthew records that the Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem saying, “Where is the new born king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”

After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.

They were overjoyed at seeing the star and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”

When Herod realised that he had been deceived by the Magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the Magi. Innocent little boys were massacred!

This fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”

Injustices to children today

We may not have evil kings now, but we still have people who want to harm children. In our day we read of many things happening to helpless little children around the world. Right here in Hong Kong we have been following the story of an incident that first came to light in 2008 and just recently happened again!

In 2008 six infants died in China from contaminated milk powder. At least five dairy manufacturers had been using milk powder laced with melamine, an industrial chemical, which caused thousands of children to suffer kidney failure and/or develop kidney stones. Some children are still not completely well (SCMP, 11 November 2010).

In China, most families only have one child and the birth of that child is also a joyous time for the parents and family. The parents, as all parents do, try to protect their children from things that could hurt them. Unfortunately, a basic thing like milk powder that many use to nourish their children has become a dilemma for at least one family.

One father naturally wanted to get to the bottom of the evil caused to his child and many other children. Many people supported and encouraged him to get justice for all the families and help for all the children.

The man thought that he had a right, according to Articles 35 and 41 of his nation’s constitution, to speak up for a terrible injustice, but things didn’t work out that well for him and now he is suffering a double injustice sitting in prison.

Yes, we all rejoice over the birth of a baby, but some negative things that happen to that baby as it grows up are often caused by others, whether that be inequality between boys and girls; evils like people who would rather make money than a good product; traditions that harm or segregate children, especially girls and many others.

Let us listen again to the words of the prophet, Jeremiah: “Rachel weeping for her children.” Many mothers and fathers are weeping for their children in our day when their children suffer injustices in their own societies.

Hoping for a more joyful tomorrow

As we Christians celebrate the joyous event of the coming of our saviour and, as we once again read the stories of that birth in the gospels according to St. Matthew and St. Luke, let us pray for the many children of our world who suffer at the hands of adults do not treat them as they should.

No tradition, religion or production should discriminate against children or harm them in any way. Jesus, the Christ, has given us instructions not to harm children. “See to it that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of my father who is in heaven.”

As followers of Jesus Christ, let us do all we can to save the children from the evil ones – the Herods – of our time.

Rejoice, today is born a saviour, Christ the Lord.

May we all receive the blessings of Christmas and have a Happy New Year.

Best wishes from the staff of the Holy Spirit Study Centre.