Christmas is undeniably the most joyous season of the whole year. And we all know the reason because it is the birth and coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. Unfortunately in practice, we always forget Jesus Christ and we get focused on the gifts and decorations that delight our senses but leave us empty within. When we forget Jesus Christ as the reason of the season, then we altogether forget the persons around us, forgetting that the greatest gift we can always receive is the gift of our personhood, the gift of another person we journey in life. One rejoices because of a person. Only persons can bring joy and only persons can rejoice.
You must have seen the Christmas short film of Ayala Malls’ “Wishing Tree” where a Lola and her apo celebrate the Simbang Gabi at Greenbelt. After Mass, the apo would hang his Christmas wish on the “wishing tree” aided by the security guard. The Lola eventually had Alzheimer’s, had to stay home while her apo went alone to Simbang Gabi. As usual, the apo who had grown up into a young man went to hang his Christmas wish but this time, instead of asking for toys, he simply wrote “Make Lola happy again.” The security guard saw his wish and had a brilliant idea of gathering from the mall’s CCTV records the joyful memories of the Lola and her apo at Greenbelt through the years. On Christmas Eve, the apo went to kiss and greet his sick Lola in her room where he found a Christmas card from Ayala malls. Inside was a USB with footages of their happy days together at Greenbelt that lit up Lola’s face with joy as if she had suddenly recovered her memories that she rested her head on her apo’s arm. How amazing that despite her dementia, Lola rejoiced again when she saw the gift of person in her apo, their gift of selves to each other that tells us only persons can bring joy to another person, not money or things or gadgets.
This third Sunday of Advent which we also call “Gaudete Sunday” or “Rejoice Sunday”, we level up our rejoicing because our joy is not only coming from another person but from the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God Jesus Christ! Such was also the joy of Mary in singing her Magnificat upon experiencing the very person of God in herself and in Elizabeth, “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk.1:46). Every joy is magnified because of the person of Jesus Christ who revealed to us that our God is not merely an entity but a Person who relates with us and wants that relationship deepened as a true Father to us. Last week, we reflected how we must create a room or a space within us to let Christ come to us and possess us. Today, our readings remind us how God shows us Himself and His plans for us through other persons in Christ Jesus. See how the people were filled with joy upon listening to the preaching by John the Baptizer in the wilderness of Jordan. Everybody, including sinners like tax collectors and soldiers were asking him “what should we do?” because they felt the joy within of Christ’s coming. And the good news is that through John, the people of that time including us today found that God is not really asking so much from us: we simply have to live simple lives of sharing whatever we have, being fair and just with one another.
To everyone in the crowd, John said, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise. Tax collectors should stop collecting more than what is prescribed while soldier should stop the practice of extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with their wages.” (Lk.3:11, 13, 14)
Let us rejoice because God is not asking great things from us to experience His coming in Jesus! We do not have to withdraw to the mountains and wilderness to find Jesus Christ. All He wants is our complete person with concrete acts of love and charity, mercy and kindness with every person around us who is our brother and sister in Him. All God wants is our complete person wherein we are faithful and true to Him through others in whatever state of life we are into. See how all the readings proclaimed during this Season of Advent teach us to realize that God has truly come among us in the person of Jesus Christ so that we can experience Him in our very personhood and among other persons, both in good times and in bad times, in joys and in tears. Together we all celebrate life’s ups and downs with God Himself in Jesus through the persons who heed His call to love and to serve. In becoming human like us, God the Son came to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is within us and that the Holy Spirit has been sent to support our relationships with other persons. It is always a struggle to be a good person most especially among relatives and friends who are supposed to be the first to love and understand us but turn out to do the opposite. So often, we forget the other person due to many fears within us like being unloved or rejected, going hungry or thirsty, of losing and getting lost. The prophet Zephaniah tells us in the first reading to cast away all fears and be not discouraged by failures and hurts in life; rejoice because you are so loved by the Lord! “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festival” (Zeph. 3:17). St. Paul reiterates this call for rejoicing, telling us “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil.4:5-7).
How sad, and how can we rejoice this Advent and Christmas in our country where Christmas is said to be the merriest and the longest when the president and his men especially in the police force rejoice in the death of drug dependents and criminals? We condemn every act of violence especially to innocent victims but executing their perpetrators, eliminating addicts and criminals will never solve the problem. How can we rejoice when very clearly justice favors the rich and powerful who can all go free or even be exempted from being arrested simply because of age? How can we rejoice when telling lies and peddling fake news are the norms of the administration, maligning people and institutions? The most tragic part of this attitudes of killing, telling lies and injustice in courts is the atmosphere they create among people to lose respect for another person, to fail to see the value of every person rooted in God. Anyone who rejoices in the death of another person, in fake news and lies can never have true joy because deep inside, they are the most insecured and fearful persons of all who are so afraid to love and to forgive, to accept the truth that they have lost their own value of being a person. They will never experience Christmas like Herod who ordered the murder of innocent children upon hearing the birth of another person truly greater than him, Jesus Christ.
This joy of Advent and Christmas in the coming of Jesus Christ is found in the humility of our all-powerful, ever-present, and all-knowing God who chose to be another person among us, so weak and so small even begging us to receive Him. Doubt no more, my dear reader that no matter what your sins are or your past may have been, whatever may be your state and condition in life today, God is here. Have a room in your heart for Him, welcome Him for He does have plans for you. He is also among other persons around you at this very moment, meet Him too among them. Rejoice and give the person you love with a big, warm hug to feel God’s intense presence on this Rejoice Sunday. AMEN. Fr.NicanorF.LalogII,Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, .Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
*Photo is a painting on acrylic canvas by Bulakenyo artist Aris Bagtas, “Triangulo ng Liwanag” exhibited in Washington DC in 2013. Typical of paintings by Aris is the joy of the Filipino family where there is always the presence of love represented by his vibrant colors. According to Aris, the relationship among the father, mother and child is everyone’s “triangle of love” in this colorful life we have. Used with permission.