Merry Christmas from ScholarLeaders! As we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior this week, Benrilo Kikon, from Nagaland, India, reflects on what Christians today can learn from Mary’s courage, Joseph’s faith, and Jesus’ meekness on that first Christmas.
Along with Meghalaya and Mizoram, Nagaland is one of three Indian states (all in the Northeast) with a Christian majority. Ethnically and religiously distinct from the rest of India, which is overwhelmingly Hindu (80% of the country’s 1.3 billion people), Nagaland (88% Christian) has struggled with rebel activity against the Indian government, as well as conflict among its 16 minority tribes. A lush, mountainous state, Nagaland sustains many unique species of wildlife, birds, and orchids in its tropical and subtropical forests.
Benrilo is pursuing a PhD in Old Testament from the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (UK). Although the Gospel was first introduced to Nagaland over 125 years ago, there are very few Naga biblical scholars. A 2006 second edition of the Lotha Naga Bible (published by the Bible Society of India) was translated from various English versions, and not from primary biblical texts. Benrilo hopes that her research on biblical languages and manuscripts, hermeneutics, and translation will stimulate and contribute to future translations of Scripture into the Lotha Naga language.
Benrilo shares the following devotional and prayer update:
Lessons from the First Christmas
I come from India, which is a Hindu-majority country with a very small percentage of Christians. Yet, in my state of Nagaland, nearly nine out of every ten people are Christians. If I were in mainland India, there would be hardly any celebrations during Christmas. However, in Nagaland, right from the beginning of December, all the towns are decorated and the festivities begin, with churches organizing special Christmasservices leading up to Christmas day.
One of my favorite Christmas traditions is the fellowship over a feast right after the church service ends. The whole community (of around 2,000 people) gathers over food, singing, and dancing. Since it is cold in Nagaland, we make huge bonfires and gather around them, sharing about what Christmas means to us. We also love to sing Christmas carols in the Lotha Naga language.
Whenever I think of Christmas, I think in two directions. First, I think about the enormous missional need in India, where hundreds of millions of people do not yet know the good news of Jesus. I also think about how to make Christmas relevant to Nagas who are overly familiar with the story.
Therefore, I share this devotional as I would to a Naga audience, and I hope that it could also be a blessing for all of us in the ScholarLeaders community. As I think about the Christmas story, three main characters stand out to me…
As a woman from a patriarchal Naga society, I am keenly sensitive to Mary’s role in the Christmasstory. What immediately fascinates me is that she was chosen to bear the Son of God – what an honor! In a world in which women are dishonored and marginalized, this is a great story of honoring women.
Luke 1:26-38 gives us a wonderful account of the calling of Mary and her humble obedience. One of Mary’s characteristics is her courage – her courage not only to accept her unconventional calling, but also to follow it in defying all social protocols. Mary showed courage by becoming a mother outside of wedlock, by remaining in a complicated relationship with Joseph, and by standing against a patriarchal society, in which the very act of bearing a child out of wedlock could possibly cost Mary her life. With courage, Mary embraced her calling to nurture and raise none other than the Son of God.
Mary’s courage inspires me as a woman to stand up for my own calling and to follow it with perseverance. As Mary responds, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled” (Lk. 1:38).
The second character who has influenced me is Joseph, who epitomizes faith beyond all human understanding. It took great faith for Joseph to accept a pregnant woman as a virgin wife. It also took faith for him to care for a child who was not his own. It was Joseph’s faith in the angel’s words that enabled him to take Mary as his wife, against what his society or community might say. Joseph had faith not only in the angel’s message, but also in Mary and in the Son she bore.
In the biblical text, we hardly hear Joseph’s voice or get insight into his thoughts. All we are familiar with are his actions. Joseph shows his faith not by his words, but by his actions. May we be like Joseph, who did not speak too much, but who, through his life and actions, revealed his faith.
Finally, let us turn our attention to the infant Jesus. In a world that thrives on action and movement, and on the excitement of doing and performing, we find that the central character of the Christmasstory – a baby – is oblivious to all the complex happenings all around him.
There’s a calmness, a quietness, and even a silence to the portrayal of the infant Jesus. We hear stories and myths about divine babies doing extraordinary things from birth, but here we find a very human baby. We have not one word in the Scriptures that reveals the baby Jesus as having any agency. This meekness is something that Jesus carried with him throughout his life. Even when he was accused by the Pharisees or finally by Pilate, he kept silent and did not defend himself. We learn from Jesus the power of being meek and silent in a world full of rushing.
Even in Christian ministry, the focus can often be solely on action – on what we need to accomplish and on being in control of the narrative. But to be like a baby without any control or agency, while still being central to the Christmas story, is a difficult discipline for us to learn. No wonder Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Baby Jesus shows us the power of silence, the power of not being in control, and the power of being in total surrender to God’s plan.
I would like to exhort the Naga Christians, as well as Christians around the world, including the ScholarLeaders family, to take some time this Christmas to read the stories of these great characters from the first Christmas – the stories of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus – and to be inspired by these human characters who helped bring divinity to earth. And perhaps by reading and imitating them, we too can fulfill God’s divine plan for His people in our own time and place.
Please pray for the successful completion of my thesis writing and submission. I would also appreciate prayers for my health and for my family’s health.