Christmas Is a Story of Encounters

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The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-6
21 December 2018
Zephaniah 3:14-18///Luke 1:39-45
          Every Monday morning I try to visit the sick members of my parish and most often, a lot of comedies happen in these visitations like last week when I asked children directions to Mang Eusebio.  After kissing my hand, the kids willingly accompanied me to Mang Eusebio when one of them asked me why I was going to visit the old man.  I told him I am going to bless Mang Eusebio and that is when he faced me, full of wonder and asked, “bakit po, may masamang espiritu po ba sa kanila?” (why, are there bad spirits in their house?).  I just laughed and told them there are no ghosts at Mang Eusebio’s home and I will just visit to pray for him.  With that, they left me and as I stood at the front gate ofMang Eusebio’s home, I felt like Max von Sydow who played the role of Jesuit exorcist Fr. Merrin at the poster of the 1973 movie “The Exorcist.”

           Christmas is a story of encounters among God and persons.  So far since Tuesday we have heard stories of encounters by Joseph, Zechariah and Mary with an angel.  Today, we hear the beautiful encounter between two women so blessed by God, two mothers whose sons would usher in a new beginning of life on earth.

           Mary set out in those days and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk.1:39-43)

            We have met Elizabeth briefly in Wednesday in the story of the annunciation to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptizer.  We have reflected that she was in a better position than her husband in receiving the good news of her pregnancy when “she went into seclusion for five months”, a kind of self-imposed “gestational silence” to ponder and pray upon God’s answer to their prayer for a child.  Finally, Elizabeth spoke today upon hearing the greeting of the Blessed Mother Mary.  And her response to her cousin’s greeting is so wonderful, if we must say, so pregnant with meanings that surely resulted from her gestational silence:  “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Here is Elizabeth, the old and barren wife of Zechariah who must have been so used to being sad and sorry for her plight of being childless, even ashamed.  Now, she is filled with joy, so amazed to feel and experience God in her life.  First with the baby in her womb and with Mary visiting her, with the Son of God in the womb of her visitor!  It was too much for Elizabeth to contain that she burst into joy filled with the Holy Spirit.  She must have been the older version of Miss Universe Catriona Gray filled with enthusiasm, moving in graceful slow motion!  She could not believe how her life had changed so much and now, here she is being visited by Mary, the mother of the Christ.

           It always happens with us too when we experience great privilege and honor be given us by others, most especially by God.  Like Elizabeth, we have that sense of awe and wonder to ask “who am I” to be accorded with such great honor.  Many times we have found ourselves asking God, “why me, Lord?”  We always believe there is somebody better and smarter than us, one who is more capable than us that we always wonder if God really has a plan for us.  It is always good to maintain such a sense of humility before God and others like Elizabeth, but sometimes, it can happen that after seeing clearly our role in the plan of God, we back out or worst, we pretend to be doing our part.  This is what the Orthodox Christian theologian Olivier-Maurice Clement, a friend of St. John Paul II who warned about “sleepwalking existence” wherein we pretend to be real disciples of Christ when we are just dreaming.
       Advent is the time for us to wake up from our sleepwalking existence, to face the discomforting realities of being disciples of Jesus Christ.  In this time when it has become a national past time to bash us priests, may we see it also as a time to examine how true are we priests to our calling.  It is the time also to be more open to hear the cries of the people, to listen to their views and perception that we are more aligned with the rich and powerful, if our claims to being a “Church of the poor” is just a mere poster and slogan or a reality.  This is the time for us priests to wake up from our sleepwalking existence and get real with our vocation as shepherds like Christ who was maligned and accused with so many falsehoods.  Advent is the time for us all to accept the real hard stuff of Jesus Christ like witnessing to His love and mercy among the poor and the disadvantaged, of bringing Him to those forgotten by their families and the society like Mary visiting Elizabeth.  And yes, like Elizabeth, let us doubt no more that despite our nothingness, we are worthy before God that He has plans for us in bringing Christ Jesus in this world. AMEN. Fr. Nicanor F. LalogII, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
*Photo by the author, Church of the Visitation, Holy Land, 19 April 2017.

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