Christmas is a time to take stock and ask hard questions about ourselves and our world. Are we being faithful to the Shema—the command to love God and our neighbor? Are we building a peaceful and just world? Is there room in our hearts for the Holy Family? Can we accompany the shepherds and the magi to the stable in Bethlehem and praise God, singing with the angels that magnificent song: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth?
With so many terrible events happening in the world—the killings of innocents in Peshawar comes to mind as the latest—one is tempted to despair and to surrender in front of evil and sin.
But there is Christmas, which must always be seen together with Easter. Before His incarnation, humanity was tail-spinning out of control in sin. But with Christ’s coming, God saved mankind from the bondage of sin. He gave us hope and taught us how to live in His Spirit to attain salvation. Yet in His infinite wisdom He did not deprive man of free will that is why even with God’s coming men continue to defy his will. Surely, the peace of Christ can only be attained by those who deign to freely accept His invitation to love and will be deprived from those who reject Him. The troubles that contemporary societies find themselves in remain essentially rooted from their utter rejection of God’s love and offer of peace.
In his first Christmas Urbi et Orbi message last year in 2013, Pope Francis said that true peace is not a “balance of opposing forces,” nor a “lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions.” Rather, he said, peace calls for “daily commitment, starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.” Looking at the Child in the manger, he said “our thoughts turn to those children who are the most vulnerable, victims of wars; but we think, too, of the elderly, of battered women, of the sick. … Wars shatter and hurt so many lives!” Too many lives have been “shattered” in the conflict in Syria, he added, “fuelling hatred and vengeance.”
Last week, in his homily of December 19, 2014, Pope Francis again made it clear that our salvation “is not sterile, as in a laboratory”. With passion, he exclaimed: “No! It’s history. He has walked through history with his people!” Therefore—the Pope said—“there is no salvation without history. . . and so, step by step, history is made. God makes history, we make history; and when we fail, God makes adjustments and sets history back on course, walking with us all the time. If this is not clear to us, we will never understand Christmas! We will never understand the Incarnation of the Word! Never! It’s a story that goes forward in time. Father, is history over with the story of Christmas?’; ‘No! The Lord continues to save us in history. And he walks with his people.”
That U.S. and Cuba are on the verge of reconciliation is a testament that God intervenes in history. He called on the Pope and the Holy See to be the instrument of peace between these two nations at odds for decades now. In the domestic front, we also see that the Bangsamoro peace agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine government has placed the troubled South in the cusp of enduring peace. Who knows one of these days, perhaps through a January surprise, a breakthrough in the peace negotiations can also be achieved between the Communists and the Government or some other dissident groups? And maybe in Paris, France, next year just before Christmas, the government of the world will surprise us all by adopting a new global agreement that guarantees human rights and effectively address the serious problem of climate change.
These and many more will show us that, in the words of Pope Francis, “God walks with us, that God makes history, that God puts us to the test and that God saves us in the worst moments, because He is our Father.”
This is why for Christians, Christmas is not a passé and meaningless occasion but that there is every reason to celebrate the coming of Christ even two thousand years after the event. Christ gives us hope and inner peace; hope and peace that can sustain us even in the worst and seemingly hopeless moments in our lives. Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus promised his disciples this: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Indeed, let us not be afraid for God is a God of history who always wills to save us in history. And so yes, with the shepherds, the three wise persons from the orient, and the angels, let us together sing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
A peaceful and blessed Christmas to all!
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