The following homily was delivered by School President Fr Aristotle C. Dy, SJ, during the Xavier School community Christmas Eve mass on 24 December 2015.
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, I proclaim to you good news…”
We know of course what the good news is, but let us reflect for a moment on news. There is good news and there is bad news, but every day there is news. Mostly bad. The stories that grab out attention are those that are tragic, and there is a pattern in these stories.
In the news there is always a battle or a war taking place somewhere. We need not look far. Early this year there was a military operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao where our Special Action Forces aimed to catch a notorious terrorist, but many things went wrong and no less than 44 of our bravest men died, along with 23 other Filipinos on the other side.
In other parts of the world, there was the terrorist attack on a magazine in Paris where 17 were killed, another example of the contemporary conflict between radical Islam and Western society. Just last month another attack in Paris claimed 130 lives. Think of the ongoing civil war in Syria, now joined by several other countries; the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria, and the war in Afghanistan that has been going on since 9/11 fifteen years ago.
There are no victors in war, only people who suffer on all sides. This year, the face of that suffering is the refugee crisis facing Europe as Syrians and other displaced peoples make desperate efforts to migrate to Europe; one million people have already arrived there. Here in Asia, the Rohingya of Myanmar try to escape ethnic persecution in their own country.
Hunger. Homelessness. Diseases like Ebola. Natural disasters like the earthquake in Nepal that claimed 9,000 lives; or typhoons Lando and Nona in our country. Man-made disasters like the chemical explosions that killed 160 in Tianjin, China; airplanes mysteriously crashing; in recent days landslides in Shenzhen also claimed a still undetermined number of lives.
If the bad news out there does not really affect you, think of the people in your circles who are trying to make sense of tragedy. Death, especially mysterious or sudden death, visited certain families this year. Accidents or self-inflicted harm showed us how fragile all human life is.
Wars are not only between nations and peoples. We have our own personal wars and woundedness in the people we don’t talk to because they have hurt us or because we have hurt them. Many children suffer, spiritually if not physically, because of adult conflicts. Some of them, like refugees, run away to look for a better life.
Many of us are hungry for affection, for understanding, for love. Many have houses but no homes where they can feel safe and accepted. Many if not all of us battle personal demons, and some have to battle the demons of disease.
We long for a perfect world where none of these tragedies are present. We long for a solution to human suffering, and Advent, if we are able to enter into its spirit, is precisely a time of longing, desiring, waiting. We wait for Jesus, but not for him to be born again because we already know that he was born. He already came among us. We wait for him to come again so that his Kingdom of abundance, of peace and justice, can be ours.
If war is a recurring theme in the news, so is the quest for peace. Sensible people of goodwill come together to work for peace. Thus we have a proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that aims to forge peace in Mindanao. Various countries try to mediate and bring peace to places like Israel and Syria.
No matter how elusive it is to have peace, in the world and in our hearts, we try. Tonight is a moment when, no matter how briefly, we gaze upon the Baby Jesus and rejoice that Jesus has come and promises to come again to make everything right. He was not born into a perfect world. Lest we sanitize the Christmas story because we have beautiful belens, remember that Jesus was born in poverty. He was born in a time of conflict and he and his parents would become refugees in Egypt.
But still it is good news that the angel brings to the poor shepherds who are privileged to witness the birth of Jesus. They share in that moment when the Savior is born, when the world is given a glimmer of hope. That is why it is good news, and we must rejoice at all such moments, no matter how fleeting, when we are graced with good news that give us hope.
This year I think of the singular grace given to our country when Pope Francis visited us, and his other visits to America and Africa. Everywhere he went he brought a message of love and mercy, a message that he communicated not with words but with his person.
I think of the APEC events last month, when despite all the hassles, our country earned more respect in the community of nations. I think of the climate agreement in Paris when 200 countries agreed to cut down on carbon emissions for the sake of the planet’s and our children’s future. What else? Well, you may or may not like beauty contests, but having a Miss Universe after 42 long years is certainly a moment of joy for our country.
These are fleeting moments, we might say. Indeed they are. But we celebrate moments of good news because such moments have the power to give us untold strength. That, my friends, is what Christmas does for us. We recall with St Ignatius that God, the Trinity, looking upon the whole expanse of the universe through time, and seeing all the suffering people, decided to share our human condition. The Word became flesh. God became human, and it has made all the difference.
Not because a perfect world has been inaugurated. The world is as imperfect today as it was when Jesus was born more than 2000 years ago. But it is a world now blessed with the irrevocable presence of God, a presence that is not just a fuzzy feeling of God being present in all things. It is a presence in the flesh. Jesus is here. God is with us.
We retire in these days to our families and loved ones because it is there that we experience most fundamentally, the love of God for us. Someone once said that family is where, when you go there, they have to take you in. Rich or poor, happy or sad, success or failure, family is family. It is where you belong. It is the base from which you can be the person God wants you to be.
We relish this time together, knowing that after the holidays, real life will set in and we will go back to our routines. But there is a difference in that we have received food for the journey.
My friends, that is also what we do on Christmas Eve. We have gathered to mark the birthday of Jesus, looking forward to the time when he will come again to make all things right; but in the meantime savoring the knowledge that He is always with us. This bit of good news empowers us to face whatever bad news may come our way.
Do not be afraid, the angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy. A savior is born.”