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Christmas: The Festival of Light and Life

Independence Day Message 2018

If we ask any non Christian as to one festival so closely linked to a particular religion and which has now become universal; the answer would be Christmas without any competition. For Christians, Christmas is but one of several feasts they observe throughout the year and which are sometimes more significant than this feast in December which has become more vibrant due to commercial purposes in the modern times. Why do people celebrate Christmas? A straightforward answer to this question is that Christmas is the birthday of Christ. Does this mean that Jesus was born on the 25th December? No, it does not mean that He was born on December 25th. The truth is that nobody knows the day on which Jesus was born. Then one may ask the reason for celebrating Christmas on the 25th December every year. This is a complex and complicated story, which needs to be investigated to have a sound understanding of Christmas.

According to the Bible

It is clear that the early Christians did not celebrate the birthday of Christ. In the New Testament of the Bible, apart from the records of the birth of Christ we do not find any record of these early followers of Jesus Christ celebrating the birthday of their leader and master. This is not something surprising as Jesus was a Jew and most of the early followers of Jesus were Jewish people. For Jews birthdays were not very important as for the Romans or Greeks. In this background the only clear birthday recorded in the New Testament is the birthday celebration of King Herod, after which event John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, was beheaded. 

When Christmas began to be celebrated on the 25th December this festival became meaningful to people as it was able to enrich the birth of Christ by absorbing the meaningful festivals already celebrated in society.  This is the core factor that has made Christmas so important for people all over the world. In this particular context it is clear that Christmas is not a mere birthday party for Jesus Christ. It is a festival of light and life. This is clear in the following Bible verses taken from the traditional Bible passage read for Christmas from St. John’s Gospel (St. John 1.1-14),

″In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…..″

Let us see how Christmas became a rich mixture or a colourful tapestry though many sociological, religious and ethical influences

The Historical landscape

According to the generally accepted history of the Christian Church Christmas has been celebrated on 25th December since 354CE. Before this time, and after the New Testament period, this festival was celebrated on 6th January. It is necessary to understand the context of  January 6th to comprehend the festival that was celebrated on this date. In pagan antiquity 6th January was the feast of Dionysus the Greek vegetarian god of wine. It was the belief of the followers of this god that by transforming water into wine this god revealed his divine power. Very probably, when the early Christians gradually initiated the celebration of the incarnation of God in Jesus the established legend of Dionysus would have created a significant ground to make the nativity of Jesus effective and meaningful. This is clear in the way in which they celebrated the Epiphany on the 6th January by commemorating the feast of the power of revelation of their God in a way by displacing the feast of the epiphany of Dionysus.

On the other hand the gradual development of 25th December as the nativity of Christ from the mid 4th century cannot be understood without a sound understanding of the mid winter festivals of the ancient world. These festivals were especially prominent in ancient Babylon and Egypt. At the same time Germanic fertility festivals were also held during this winter season. Along with the winter festivals the birth of the sun god was particularly associated with 25th December. For instance, the births of the ancient sun god Attis in Phrygia and the Persian sun god Mithras were celebrated on December 25th. The Roman festival of Saturn (Saturnalia), the god of peace and plenty, was from 17th to 24th December. These festivals were held with great festivity along with public gatherings, exchange of gifts and candles, etc.

Cultural Influences

Apart from these origins there are many other customs and traditions from other cultures which are embedded with Christmas.  For instance the custom of decorating homes and altars with evergreen leaves of holly and mistletoe during the Christmas season came from the ancient Celtic culture of the British Isles where they revered all green plants as important symbols of fertility. The tradition of calling Christmas Yule tide in many countries is derived from an ancient ritual of burning Yule logs as part of a pagan ceremony associated with vegetation and fire. This community act was performed with the expectation of magical and spiritual powers. It is believed that the widely venerated Saint Francis of Assisi introduced the practice of making cribs by making a model of the scenes of nativity to re-enact the birth of Christ in order to bring spiritual revival to the laity. As is common knowledge, singing is part and parcel of almost all cultures of the world. In the background of this “cultural universal” singing of the carols for Christmas appeared in the Middle Ages and by the 14th century this custom became an integral part of the religious observances of the birth of Christ.  Apart from these customs, rituals and ceremonies there are many other traditions such as the Christmas tree and the observance of saint days that are intertwined with the celebration of Christmas.

What Christmas means for us today

Christmas has the power to bring many cultures, traditions and symbols together to uplift humanity to divinity and bring down the divine to humanity. It is the responsibility of Christians and others concerned to make this festival meaningful by adsorbing all life affirming and light generating festivals and activities to this festival.  We can see that already this has happened commercially. It is our responsibility to make this happen ethically, morally, culturally and spiritually.

The necessity for this responsibility springs up in the post war contexts of many countries as there are people who still exist in bleak life threatening situations. Here the message of Christmas is not to look into their caste, code, class, ethnicity or religion, but to accept and honour them by respecting them and making them understand that their liberation and redemption is tied up with the salvation of whole humanity.

While celebrations will continue this Christmas as well, let us direct our minds to understand those that are unable to celebrate not religiously but in any practical manner according to hardship, non recognition, discrimination, fear and loneliness. The message of God who becomes a human being in order to know humanity and to save humanity cannot resonate at all if we are unable to bring this joyful news of light and life into the lives of the above. Let this be a season where we share this light and life with them and many others. May the peace of Christmas be with you all..

Rt.Rev'd.Keerthisiri Fernando
Bishop of Kurunagala,
Church of Ceylon,
Sri Lanka

Political Uncertainly in Sri Lanka

Independence Day Message 2018

There has been political uncertainty, anxiety and a constitutional crisis which has given way after the  President of Sri Lanka his Excellency Maithripala Sirisena invited the former President the Hon Mahinda Rajapakse to be sworn in as the new Prime minister of the country while removing the previous Prime minister the Hon Ranil Wickremasinghe from Office on Friday 26th October 2018. This has been due as the President's party has pulled out of the coalition Government which has been in place for the past three and a half years.

While the previous Prime minister has confirmed that he is still remains in this post and he has the majoritarian support of Parliament, the President has dissolved Parliament and it is due to reconvene in three weeks time.  While this vulnerable situation remains for this time period it is our duty to share our thoughts on this matter as the Diocese of Kurunegala in the Church of Ceylon.

Sri Lanka is still recovering from a three decade war and different other turmoil that have been given ignition under ethnic, religious and political lines.  It is certainly not in the interest of the people of this beautiful country to suffer yet again another conflict which has been in the making for awhile and it looks at present that people at the ground level are also been influenced by same. These impediments result in time and energy spent, distancing people on divisive lines,  tarnishing the image of the country in the international stage and presenting stumbling blocks in the country's reconciliation and recovery journey.

As responsible representatives of the people we call on each elected official not to fuel into the emotional and sentimental mentalities of vulnerable populations which has only shown us calamity in the past. We also call upon all our citizens to act responsibly in this moment of indecisiveness and especially not to be carried away with divisive rhetoric or violent political agendas. It is time we all need to tap into our emotional intelligence to overcome this while maintaining harmony and respect with each other.

As regards the ongoing crisis as the legal opinions have favoured, the situations remains an issue that must be resolved in the parliament with the consensus of the elected members of this body. In this country the mandate of the people has been duly practiced by the parliamentary representatives for many decades with a rich traditional history and with the supremacy of the constitutional framework. We are certain that this uncertainty can be cleared with due process and with the opinions of the elected representatives. We also hope that the outcome of such process will be respected by all as it is the will of the people in this democratic state.

We pray that God's will, will prevail upon this situation while calm and dialogue will triumph so that the country will once again be able to concentrate on the task of building up, reconciliation and development.

Rt.Rev'd.Keerthisiri Fernando
  Bishop of Kurunagala,
Church of Ceylon,
Sri Lanka
27th October 2018

Statement on the resumption of executions for convicts of drug offences

It has been reported that the President and the Cabinet of Ministers have taken a decision to authorize prison authorities to resume the execution of those sentenced to death for drug related crimes and are yet continuing to be involved in the drug trade while in prison.

As Christians, we believe that all people are made in the image of God and are therefore imbued with the spark of the divine within them, however obscured and hidden it may be. This is why the taking of human life is expressly condemned by the Church, whether by man or by the state. (Read More>>)

The 62th Annual Session of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Kurunagala

The Sixty Second Session of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Kurunagala will be held at the Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe Centre Auditorium on Saturday September 22, 2018 under the Patronage of the Rt. Revd. Keerthisiri Fernando . The Chief Guest will be Revd. Heshan De Silva The president, Baptist Sangamaya of Sri lanka. The order of proceedings will commence at 8 a.m. with Celebration of Holy Communion in the Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Kurunegala. The morning session of the Council will begin at 9.45 a.m.


To serve the people of God and the body of Christ with utmost commitment, love, with true discipleship and to witness for His incarnation, death and resurrection.

We acknowledge that all this is the Grace of God and that we have nothing that is not from God. In this gratitude we set our wills to fulfill the work of representing the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church so that the people of this land will find a new spirituality and true community in the new creation. We pray that the life and witness of our church contribute to the wider life and witness of the Church of God in Sri Lanka, Asia and the world: and that this in turn will lead all people to the truth in God.

The Church
The Church of England in Ceylon came into being with the establishment of British rule in Sri Lanka and the Diocese of Colombo comprising the whole island was formed in 1845. At the centenary celebrations of the Diocese in 1945 a resolution moved for creation of a second diocese to enable better pastoral care of its congregations and more effective mission of the Church. Thus began the Diocese of Kurunagala in 1950 with Rt. Revd. Lakdasa de Mel as its first Bishop.More

During British rule in Ceylon, the spreading of the gospel according to the Church of England was undertaken by three church organizations. The Church Missionary Society (CMS) operated principally in the rural areas. The society for the propagation of the Gospel (SPG) covered the coastal areas with extensive networks. The Tamil Church Mission which operated under British tutelage catered for the plantation areas. Thus the rural base of the Diocese of Kurunagala was a historical factor stemming from the activities of the Church of England in the nineteenth century. (1950-2000)... More



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