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Arts and Culture

A source of hope: 3 lessons about Christmastime

Robert Z. Cortes - Philstar.com
A source of hope: 3 lessons about Christmastime
Filipino Catholics crowd the street fronting the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao in Quezon City as they attend the sixth Misa de Gallo on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman

Just when we were about to celebrate a Christmas less affected by the pandemic than last year, Super Typhoon Odette arrives and wreaks havoc, especially on our countrymen in the South. This tragic reality can understandably push many of us back to the brink of gloominess and grief for yet another Christmas. After all, the image we have of Christmas is, by default (and perhaps justifiably so), one of prosperity and peace, not death and destruction.

Even amidst all our tragedies though, sadness and gloominess are not our only option. We cannot fail to see that although the birth of Christ was surrounded by poverty and pain, the angels in heaven did not wail, but sang “Glory to God!” We are told that one of them brought shepherds “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Lk 8:10). And angels are not flippant.

I say all that not to trivialize the gravity of the present situation, or to suggest that it is something that can simply be wished or psyched away. Rather, I say that Christmas itself a source of hope. Learning the deeper truths about Christmas helps one to make sense of what appears senseless and be freed from the trap of sadness. I would like to offer three.

Christmastime is about the Light and being light

If there is anything that best symbolizes Christmas aside from the Child in the manger, it would be the star of Bethlehem. ABS-CBN, more than a decade ago, used precisely this theme for their Christmas station ID, Ang Star ng Pasko. After 12 years of ABS-CBN Christmas station IDs, it remains unbeaten as the all-time (and my own personal) favorite. Coincidentally, the song came as a response to another super-typhoon, Ondoy. 

I love that song not only for its catchy beat and melody, but also for its theological depth. The song grasps in pop culture style the allusion of the Star. No, it wasn’t just the heavenly body that lit that dark night in Bethlehem, and eventually led the Magi from the East to the Child in the manger. Rather, the real Star of Bethlehem is Jesus Christ. The Magi thus went from seeing the light of the heavenly body to contemplating the Light Himself. They were led by the starlight to the True Light.

The Belenismo sa Tarlac, an exhibit of Christmas creche designs, opens in Tarlac City on Nov. 6, 2021. A total of 54 participants registered the join the event.
The STAR/Boy Santos

The theme of light is one that we see strewn all over Scripture and Catholic liturgy. We read that God is light (1 Jn 1:5), and that today a light will shine upon us, for the Lord is born for us (Dawn Mass of Our Lord’s Nativity). These lines make us recall that God is the Father of lights (Jas 1:17) and from Him comes Jesus who is Light from light, true God from true God (Nicene Creed). 

If therefore, Christmas were to have an impact in our personal lives, the idea is for us to be a light to others, in imitation of the One Whom we claim to follow. Being light means many things, to be sure, but we can enumerate a few: to be a principle of joy rather than grief; to spread truth rather than lies; to be a force of unity rather than of dissension. All these are what it means to be light in a darkened world, and we ought to be more so amidst tragedies. 

Christmastime is about the Beginning and beginnings

To the scripturally sensitive, the birth of Christ cannot fail to echo the first words of the Gospel of John: in the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God (Jn 1:1). And the Christmas season is so shot through with the theme of beginnings. 

Christmas Day commemorates the first day when the Beginning of everything opens his human eyes to everything He created. 

That day signals, as well, the beginning of his journey towards the days of his Passion, Death and Resurrection. This very idea resonates in several familiar Christmas carols such as “What Child is This,” and gives a bittersweet ring to them. The lyrics of the 2nd verse go, “Nails, spear shall pierce him through. The cross be borne for me, for you. Hail, hail the Word made Flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary!”

Fireworks mark the launching of Belenismo sa Tarlac, an exhibit of Christmas creche designs on Nov. 6, 2021.
The STAR/Boy Santos

The Christmas season also includes the commemoration of the Baptism of Jesus, which indicates the beginning of his public life and ministry. 

These ideas suggest that Christmas is a season to make our own beginnings. For example, is there better time to be “born again” than in the season which we recall the day Christ was born? As well, we are reminded of our own baptism, the beginning of our vocation and mission to be “another Christ, Christ Himself.” It is thus a good season to renew our willingness to serve in imitation of the One Whom we claim to follow, who was born to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28).

Christmastime is about the Holy Family and making our families holy

At the very center of Christmas are three individuals: Jesus and, right next to him, his mother Blessed Mary and foster father St. Joseph. In the same way as three divine Persons are at the very core of our faith, three human persons form the core of our commemoration of Christmas. The fact that God entered humanity through a family challenges our only too earthbound view of the family. It invites us to see its deeper meaning as an institution. 

Indeed, the family is more than just a basic social unit. It is the reality by which God has come to world in order to save it. Understanding the family in this transcendent meaning gives us the ultimate reason for sparing no effort to protect this fundamental human institution. We begin by fulfilling our roles in our own family in the best way we can. 

simbang gabi in the Philippines
Despite the rains, Catholic devotees attend the traditional simbang gabi (morning mass) at the Saint Dominic Cathedral in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.
The STAR/Victor Martin

What better time to do this than Christmas, when we spend more time with everyone in our families, both nuclear and extended? Undoubtedly, it will be harder to do good and much less be good, when one is confronted with the stresses and challenges that Christmas preparations bring with them, as well as having to put up with so many different personalities. For those who have been directly hit by the super-typhoon, the challenge of maintaining one’s equanimity is incalculably multiplied.

But at Christmastime the Holy Family reminds us more strongly that our family is our greatest human source of strength and hope. As exemplary models of what it means to be truly self-giving, patient, and forgiving, they are a timely reminder of how we can imitate the One Whom we claim to follow. In trying to be holy ourselves in the ordinary things of family life, especially in moments of great difficulty, we have taken the first step to making our families holy this Christmas.

CHRISTMAS 2021

MEANING OF CHRISTMAS

SUPER TYPHOON ODETTE

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