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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

preparations: reasons, miracle and hope

24 December 2007 (Evening Mass)
Santa Maria Parish

Good evening. Let me start my sharing with a story. Part of my work as a Campus Minister at the school is to give recollections and facilitate retreats to our students, faculty and staff. In giving a retreat or a recollection, it is very crucial on how you create the environment and the mood for prayer. If you have failed in this aspect, it is difficult to bring their attention to pray, to reflect, or even to cry. That is why in every recollection and retreat, I take time to really prepare in the best way that I can – to make a list of what to bring, to do a little dry-run, to check all of these things again and again until I feel satisfied. One time, I was giving a recollection to a group of high school students (from which section I will not mention) and I was suppose to show a very touching film that I hope will make them truly reflect upon their life. Hence, as not to fail this opportunity, I prepared three copies of the film just to be sure. One, I had a VCD copy of the film. Two, I made another copy in a laptop. And three, I made another copy in my USB Flash Disk. Obviously, I was prepared then even so with the different equipments to be used. It seems nothing can stop me from showing that film. Even one fails, I still have two other options to show the film. Then the moment finally arrived. I set up everything even with my back-ups. I switched the player on. I placed the VCD in the player. And then when I was just about to push the play button, when I was just about to show the film, the lights simply went off. The moment simply died in an instance and I felt so sad.

My dear friends, I started this story because I feel that all of us prepare in one way or another at any given point in our life. We do many preparations for many things in our daily life. We prepare our clothes to wear. We prepare our list to buy in the market or grocery. We prepare for a quiz or an exam. We prepare for the many things that we need to accomplish during the day. And there are also big preparations especially events in our lives like birthdays, our first communion, graduations, 18th birthdays, big presentations and meetings, first dates, weddings, investments, and of course we prepare for the many events during Christmas – like the Simbang Gabi, gifts, Christmas tree and decors, Noche Buena, and others. Why then do we need to prepare? Perhaps the obvious and simple reason is because we want things to be in order. We want things to be ready. We expect things to be this way rather than another. We want things to be as close as perfect because we might not have the right moment again. And that is why preparation is indeed important. If we are more prepared, things will turn out fine.

Our Gospel for this evening is the Christmas story. We hear the story how Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem and gave birth to Jesus. They were visited by the Shepherds and there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” But if we try to take a closer look at the Nativity story, perhaps we can see more clearly on what really happened that night. Come to think of it, Joseph and Mary must have been prepared for the long travel to go to Jerusalem because during that time, it is no joke to travel in long distances. Historians say that they must have packed their food for each day’s meal. They must have prepared a good supply of water. And they must have marked where to stop-over for them to rest and replenish their supply. I guess Joseph and Mary did prepare well. But in the middle of the story we see a little problem. Despite their many preparations, they didn’t have a place to lay Jesus when it was time for him to come. Instead, Jesus was born in a manger, surrounded by cattle and sheep, and he was wrapped in swaddling clothes.

My dear friends, preparation is indeed important. If we are more prepared, things will turn out fine. But there is also a reality in life that despite the preparations, there are things that are beyond our control and sometimes things do not turn out the way we hope it should be. If we look back at the things that have happened to us during the year, perhaps we can see those moments when things didn’t turn out to be the way we planned it. But I do believe that there is a reason why sometimes things simply fail. I believe that there is a miracle that is happening during those moments. I believe there is hope that can come out of this experience. And that is what has happened in our Christmas story despite the preparations of Mary and Joseph. There is a reason, a miracle, and hope that Jesus was born in a manger, surrounded by cattle and sheep, and he was wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Before I became a Jesuit, I worked for two years as a rehabilitation officer in the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa. The experience of spending Christmas with our brothers in prison is really memorable for me. During this season, there are many preparations that take place inside the prison walls. Christmas is really like a great fiesta for them. There are many colorful and shining Christmas parols and decors displayed all around the prison compound. You could hear Christmas carols being practiced and sang all over the place, and honestly, many are quiet good. They are faithful with the Simbang Gabi masses. And many former chef and cook take part in preparing hundreds and hundreds of roasted pig and chicken for the Noche Buena feast. But for them, preparing for Christmas is not solely all of these. Christmas for them is more importantly preparing themselves to receive a phone call, a letter, or a visit from a love one or a family. However, it is a reality that most of them won’t be receiving a phone call, a letter, or a visit this Christmas. But when you are inside with them during Noche Buena, nobody looks sad. Everybody seems to be very happy when there are hundreds of reasons that I can share with you why they suppose be sad. No. I believe they are happy not because of the many things they have to experience Christmas, but it is because they have found the reason, the miracle, and hope in preparing to celebrating Christmas.

For the past nine days during the Simbang Gabi, we have been listening to the wonderful sharing of our dear fathers. We have heard stories about hope and waiting. We have heard the struggles of Mary and Joseph in accepting the invitation of God to take part of the coming of Jesus. We have heard the role of our desires with the desires of our God for us. Hopefully, all of these have helped us reflect and prepare more to embrace the meaning of Christmas. That Christmas is not solely on the many colors and presentations we create for the season, it is not solely in the food and gift we give and receive, but is in the preparations with the reasons, miracle and hope that go with it. Today, Christ is born, the Emmanuel, God with us. In the midst of all kinds of preparations in our life – we may succeed or not – always remember that Jesus is always prepared to be with us. And as long as we take Christ in our lives and preparations, we may find our reason, our miracle, and our hope in our experiences.

To end my sharing, let me simply bring you back once more to my story. Perhaps you were thinking what happened afterwards since there is no electricity to show the film. I simply led the class into a prayer and I felt they were able to pray more deeply rather showing them the film. Then I realized that I have just found the basic reason for the recollection. The same thing for celebrating Christmas -- why Christ was born.

As we celebrate Christ’s coming, let us thank Him for coming into our lives and showing us the true meaning of love and compassion. Let us thank the Lord for the many things that has happened to us during the year both the happy and not so happy ones, despite the many preparations we had put into. Let us also pray for one another, most especially for our family, that we may continue to find the reason, the miracle, and the hope in continuing the love of God into their hearts. Amen.

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