Christmas Day Mass: Jesus, Our True Savior!

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Photo by Redemptorist Manila

Today we begin the Christmas season. Yes, this is just the beginning of Christmas in the liturgical calendar of the church. All that we have done in the past four weeks, in what we call the Advent season, are just preparations for Christmas.

For many of us, this maybe the climax of a long Christmas celebration which may have began as early as September. Many of us are perhaps exhausted, sleepy and have spent all our money from all the food, drinks and celebration of the past weeks. Despite these, the church invites us, all Christians, to celebrate the deeper mystery of Christmas. The incarnation of Jesus, the main event of Christmas, after all, is not dependent on how much money, material things, food, drinks, external decorations we have now but how much are we open, humble and alive to the promptings of the profound spiritual reality of the coming of Jesus in our lives.

The gospel on this Christmas day, is from the opening of John’s Gospel. There is no mention of Bethlehem, of Mary, of shepherds, or the stable and the manger. Nevertheless, this is a magnificent passage which delves into the deeper meaning of Christmas.

The most quoted text in the gospel is the words:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14)

Literally in Greek it reads, “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent/tabernacle among us.” These words allude to the tent of meeting (or tabernacle) that was the place of God’s presence among the people during their wandering through the desert in the Exodus (Ex 25:8-9). Now, it it not just the tent/tabernacle but Jesus is God’s presence among human beings.

He came into the world yet “his own” did not accept him (Jn 1:11).  “His own” could be Jesus’ immediate kinship group (Jn 7:1-7; 19:27), or his clan or people.

He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

Sadly, this pitiable reality has been repeated throughout history. Even if God has already come down to redeem us, yet humanity still looked for another saviour who it perceives can grant its immediate needs. This is also true today. The world has recently become attracted to saviours who promise quick fix solution to the problems of society. Their solutions, however, often involves hating, excluding, ostracising certain groups or race for the sake of the security and comfort of the majority.

Indeed, Jesus is not the typical savior that the world knows. Jesus as savior came not to solve our problems or answer all our questions or fulfill all our personal ambitions or praise all our successes but to reveal all our problems, to challenge all our certainties, to expose us to our vulnerabilities, and to lead us to His Kingdom.  In Christ, God entered the world to overturn our world.  And we are confused and not contented.

How beautiful the world would have been if the Messiah who had come was a superhero, who would wipe out all our enemies and get rid of all evils in this world.  Then our world today is like a paradise, peaceful, prosperous and everyone is happy.

But he is not a God who came to be served but to serve.  He is not a God who lord it over everyone but became the slave of all.  He is not a God who is undependable but a God who is just and compassionate to all. He did not come to the world to lecture us, to scold us, to judge us.  He did not come for the healthy and strong but for the sinners.  He did not tolerate our sins but gave us the strength to rise above our weaknesses and sins.

He entered into our history, identified with our struggles, lived in the midst of our evil world, experienced our fears and anxieties and marveled with our dreams and aspirations.  As Pope Francis, when he visited Tacloban in 2015, said: “We have a Lord who is capable of crying with us, capable of walking with us in the most difficult moments of life”.  He is one of us.  He is indeed Emmanuel, God who is with us!

Jesus is our true savior. Let us not be seduced by fake saviors in our world today. Let us reject all their lies and manipulations. Let us renew our loyalty to Jesus, our true savior.

Only Jesus can liberate us from our particular enslavement. Jesus entered our world to bless it and to liberate us from all form of enslavement whether oppression, hunger, homelessness, addictive habits and substances, fear, anger, resentment, hatred, or loneliness. At the same time, we are called to work together with him, to help others break the chains of their enslavements, so that, in the words of the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading,

“All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God”.

A most blessed Christmas to all!

 

Here is the schedule of Christmas Day masses at the Baclaran Shrine (Philippine Time). All Christmas Day masses at the shrine are streamed live. Click this link to watch and listen to the Christmas Day masses at the shrine.

christmas-schedule-2018

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Midnight Mass: The Wonder of Christmas

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Tonight’s liturgy and readings of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas Mass during midnight, is full of contrasting words and images.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah proclaims,

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Isaiah 9: 1).

These prophetic words from Isaiah truly express the paradoxical challenge of living the spirit of Christmas: Christmas is to see and to walk towards the light amidst the darkness of our lives and our world

The second reading, St. Paul in his letter to Titus, speaks of the two comings of Christ: (1) “the grace of God has appeared,” that is, in the Christ event (and Bethlehem marks the inception of its appearance); (2) “while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory…”

In the Nativity, Christ comes first in great humility in anticipation of his coming again in majesty and great glory. It is especially fitting that this note should be struck at the Midnight Mass of Christmas, for much of the traditional imagery speaks of the Lord’s Second Coming as taking place at midnight. This imagery, for example, is found in the parable of the ten virgins: “At midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom!’” (Mt 25:6).

Lest we sentimentalize Christmas into a “Baby Jesus” cult, we need to remember that it is only in the light of the Second Coming that we can celebrate the first coming.  We are kind of living in-between times. Jesus has already come more than 2,000 years ago but we still await the fullness of his coming when we partake of his glory at the end of time.

Of all the readings, the gospel has the most contrasting images. Christmas is the birth of the king. But the new king wasn’t born in a palace, his birth wasn’t hailed by heralds fanning out to every corner of the empire. Instead, his family were refugees: They couldn’t find room at the inn; Mary gave birth in a stable; and the child had to rest in a manger.

There is darkness in the night, and yet the radiance of  God’s love is in the child. The winter is cold, but the baby brings the fire of God’s love to earth. The baby is so small and helpless; and yet he is the Word, who in the beginning was God and was with God. The humble animals surround the child, but the angels of God sing his birth. The child is poor and lowly in origin, and yet all the power of God is his. The stable is lowly, but it is the king of kings who is born into it.

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It is in these contrasts that we can find the wonder of Christmas. Indeed, Christmas is not the eradication of contrast. Christmas is not the absence of conflict. It is not the deleting of differences. On the contrary, it is the acceptance of diversity. It is the welcoming of the other who is unique and different from me. Contrast, is at the core of God’s incarnation: God became fully human without God stripping of God’s divinity and human becoming divine without human stripping of humanity.

The wonder of Christmas is the story of God coming down from heaven and embracing the world and humanity despite all its darkness, messiness, sinfulness, and muddiness.  The wonder of Christmas is God’s becoming human by not resorting to human power, prestige, wealth and fame.

The wonder of Christmas, however, is not just God coming down to become human. The wonder of Christmas is also human going up to God by welcoming God’s word and plan in human life. The greatest joy of Christmas for humanity is this very sublime dignity that God has imparted to all of us through Jesus Christ–the opportunity to partake of God’s divine life and all its qualities–peace, justice, wisdom, joy, unity, generosity and prosperity.

Saint Athanasius, the renowned fourth-century bishop of Alexandria and the greatest apologetic of the doctrine of God as the Trinity, in his classic work, Incarnation of the Word, said that the incarnation of Christ occurred not just in order for God to become human but also for human to become God, Similarly, the Benedictine monk Julian of Vezelay (c. 1080 – 1165) highlights the double movement of the Christmas wonder–God’s becoming human and human becoming divine:

And so from his royal throne the Word of God came to us, humbling himself in order to raise us up, becoming poor to make us rich, and human to make us divine.

It is in this light that Mary’s yes is very important to the Christmas story. Mary’s fiat (yes) is a turning point in the history of the world. The turning point involved the incarnation as God’s coming down from heaven to become human and Mary’s yes which represents humanity’s aspiration of going up to God. Mary’s yes is the prototype of humanity’s yes, or more precisely, Mary’s yes represents humanity’s yes par excellence.

Mary’s yes is replicated by the shepherds who came to worship the baby in the manger and the different characters in the Christmas story that we have heard during the 9 days of Simbang Gabi or Christian academy. They are all part of the wonder of Christmas.

The wonder of Christmas will not be complete with just the birth of Jesus. The response and participation of Mary, John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Joseph, and many other prophets and characters who allowed God to make them an instrument of God’s plan and dream for all humanity and creation, are all part of the Christmas wonder. The wonder of Christmas cannot be complete with merely God’s action; it includes and necessarily involves human response and participation.

We can never, therefore, experience the wonder of Christmas if we become passive observer of the great event of incarnation. You are part of the wonder of Christmas. God wants you to be part of the wonder of Christmas. We can be part of the wonder of Christmas not through the baby-cult, admiring the cute baby Jesus on the manger from the outside but not receiving Christ from the inside of our being. The wonder of Christmas is the reception of the Christmas story into our lives and like Mary, John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Joseph, and many other prophets and characters, it is allowing ourselves to become instruments and heralds of the building of God’s kingdom, here and now.

This Christmas, let us once again welcome in wonder and awe the greatest event of God’s coming into our lives. Together with the whole world let us bow down and adore our savior Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us humbly receive the birth of Jesus in our hearts and resoundingly accept our becoming part of the Christmas wonder.

A most blessed Christmas to all!

 

Here is the schedule of Christmas Day masses at the Baclaran Shrine (Philippine Time). All Christmas Day masses at the shrine are streamed live. Click this link to watch and listen to the Christmas Day masses at the shrine.

christmas-schedule-2018