The first Christmas came and went without any fanfare. The very moment that the Child Jesus came into the world was known only to the very few chosen individuals, such as Mary and Joseph, and the lowly shepherds upon whom the Angels announced the birth of human salvation. It was a difficult and trying time for the couple entrusted with a task that they knew to be beyond their grasp, imagination and expectation.
They must have been constantly on their toes as they traversed every twist and turn in their journey of welcoming and ushering into the world the Son of the Most High on that blessed night. Every father and mother would wish the best possible conditions to bring forth to this world a child with ease and comfort, especially so one whose coming is clearly of Divine origin. But like many in dire straits, Mary and Joseph found out that it was something beyond their control.
Our depiction of the Nativity scene sweetens and smoothens the rough and tumble situation in which the Eternal and perfect self-expression of God freely chose to become one of us. The glitter and sparkle of ornaments and blinking lights is far removed from the raw reality of Mary and Joseph’s lonely, difficult journey and search for a decent place to lodge in, and the poverty of human hearts that led them to periphery and isolation.
We romanticize this definitive crossing-over of the divine into the human sphere by putting glitz and glamor in our symbols which was never there to begin with. We sanitize the crèche now devoid of any signs of discomfort. Not only do we dress up Mary and Joseph with strikingly colorful and shimmering garb, but we also erase any evidence of difficulties of childbirth which all women (and men who can empathize) go through. The Mary and Joseph of our Christmas ensemble, are so squeaky clean and fresh. We portray Jesus not as a helpless, sleeping baby in need of warmth and care but as a fully awake, smiling, overgrown infant with arms outstretch ready to embrace. Although we may be bedazzled by this idyllic but trite and contrived scene, we cannot connect our own struggles and pains with the celebration. We have forgotten how to celebrate amidst the reality of our mundane issues and concerns. We cannot identify with our own interpretation of this most holy and joyous event.
It is no longer surprising when we hear people declare: “I no longer feel the joy of Christmas like I use to.” “I don’t feel like celebrating.” “It looks like I am not going to have a happy Christmas with all the problems ganging up on me.” “I feel so alone, I hate Christmas.” “I wish this season is over soon, so I don’t have to endure the merry-making.” The list could go on. Surely, at one moment in our lives, we have uttered similar words to ourselves. Succumbing to such thoughts could plague us in this increasingly materialistic world.
One time, many people found a witty, satirical tirade very true to their experience of Christmas: “Mabuti pa ang pera may tao, pero ang tao walang pera.” (Roughly translated: Money is better off, it has people in it. Poor people, they don’t have money.) It is as if, money is the center and the basis of rejoicing in Christ. Often, people lament poverty and scarcity most felt during the season and exclaim, “Paskong tuyo na naman!” (Christmas celebration on tuyo, the cheapest kind of dried fish, a poor man’s staple food). How truly poor we would have become if we begin to equate Christmas with having and possessing material things, with parties and gifts, with joy that passes and fades away!
True, poverty in the Christian world should be recognized as an aberration in living our faith. True, as long as there are needy, weak, voiceless, and marginalized people in our society, we are reminded of our failure to be the heart and hands of Jesus in our world today. But poverty and suffering is never a disconnection to the Eternal Word’s incarnation. Indeed, the season of Christmas should inspire and empower all people of goodwill to address poverty in all its manifestation. Jesus’ first coming must move us to embrace his mission to give life and together live its fullness here and now.
But how do we draw strength, courage and a sense of mission from the first coming of Christ? It is important for us to recognize that the very first Christmas was already a foreshadowing of the Paschal Mystery: the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. The first Christmas was the very first moment when God touched our pains and sufferings as a human being like us. He made them his own, embracing weakness, helplessness, dependence, poverty, discomfort, oppression, fear, danger and threats to life and existence. In a word, God’s love and mercy was incarnated and graced the world in clear and unmistakably human terms right in the periphery and isolation of human existence. In the face of powerlessness, poverty and hardships, Mary and Joseph brought into the world the light and the source of our joy amid what appeared to be blocks and hindrance to God’s coming!
Keeping in mind what Mary and Joseph had to endure in the context of a legalistic, strict, exacting and constricting mindset of a patriarchal society, how do we share in those suffering and pain? How does our society contribute to that suffering? Know that it is in these conditions that Christ comes to us again and again, not only to dispel our fears and lift our flagging spirit but also to strengthen us and encourage us to truly be Christ’s transforming presence in the world.
O Father of Love and Mercy, help us to experience the First Christmas in its depths and so welcome your Son into our hearts to be your apostles of transformation and compassion!