A Promise Kept

24 December 2005: Saturday of the 4th Week of Advent
Luke 1, 67-79: Last Day of the Simbanggabi/Misa de Gallo

There are few times in a year that makes us easily smile and uplift our spirit, and perhaps, bring a few tears of remembrance than Christmastime. Nothing surpasses the season’s magic, and the world is transformed from a world of darkness, to a world of light. When traffic is caused, not by people off to work, but by people off to find a present for a loved one; when bus terminals are packed with people, not on their way to sell their wares, but on their way to be with their families; when our minds are bombarded not with business deals, but the gifts we bring. When what matters is not how much we earn, but how much we love. It is a time when we fulfill our promises of love.

Two weeks ago I went home to visit my mother who was hospitalized. When I called her, she requested that I bring with me my youngest brother. At first my youngest brother hesitated because of his work and he would be home for Christmas anyway. Christmas was just two weeks ahead. But I have kept my promise. As the eldest, I did everything to convince our youngest. Since he works in a television station, he had to finish his scripts, his shoots and edits to be able to make the trip. I told him I promised mom, and I intended to keep it. When my mother saw him, I saw how happy she was, her weakness disappeared, and her pale face glowed as ever: she knew that that is the only time this year--- when I was also at home--- that our family would be complete. To keep my promise was an assurance that we would be able, though early, to celebrate Christmas together. As a priest, I would not be with them on Christmas eve.

Life is complicated. Yet, in a deep sense, life is finally about one thing: it is about how much we love, how much we make other feel loved.

In 1999, ATD Fourth World published the story of Aling Sonia and her Christmas:

Aling Sonia carries a big wooden box filled with cigarettes in her arms. She, a tiny young woman, is selling them at the traffic lights. She leads us down under the bridge, over some half-broken steps through a dark and narrow passageway between the shanties on the estero to the door of her mother’s room. She offers us the only two chairs she has, and she herself sits on a little stool.

Some weeks ago, she gave birth to her fourth child. During the past year, we have witnessed her tremendous efforts to survive and keep her family together. Recently, she has placed the baby and her youngest child into foster care. “For temporary placement only,” she quickly adds. “With only the two elder ones at home, I can sell cigarettes and at least earn enough for our food and send the eldest to school. Remember, you bought him his schoolbag! And your friend, the social worker at Caritas, is also helping us.” When I say that selling cigarettes in the streets is hard work, she answers: “Yes, all the other vendors are men. But I can manage. For my children!” Tomorrow she’ll go to visit her two little ones.

We have brought Aling Sonia a letter from Ate Fabie, who had befriended her and her children during the Street Libraries, in the previous three years. Aling Sonia opens the envelope and takes out a pretty, colorful Christmas card. She looks silently at the card in her hands and then says: “Ate Fabie has not forgotten me. True, she has not forgotten me!” Moved and with tears of happiness in her eyes, she adds, “This is the first time in my life that I have received a Christmas card from a friend!”

Suddenly, there is Christmas in that small room under the bridge. Aling Sonia feels connected to someone dear to her out there in the world.

Christmas is indeed a time of hopeful love. A love that conquers us only by winning our hearts. A love that doesn’t count the cost, because it is so engrossed with giving. Christmas is the story of God’s connection to all of us in the world who are dear to him. It is story of God’s self-giving.

You see, we ask ourselves, in anguish, why we are suffering, why we are sorrowful and lonely and in despair, we are plagued with tragedy and senseless accidents. Why we are not lucky. And God promised us a Savior.

At Christmastime, God answers at last. He keeps his promise. And we are silent and still: God is born a child, and makes himself as one of us, as part of our history. Here, in this magical season, God does not speak words to tell us WHY we are suffering, simply, he shares our suffering. He does not tell us WHY we are in pain and plagued with problems, simply, he shares the pain and accompany us in our struggles. He does not explain, WHY we are broken, simply, he himself is broken. We are no longer alone in an immense world of suffering. His name bears humanity’s answer: Emmanuel. God is with us. Leonardo Boff, OFM, says, “God does not ask questions, but lives out answers; he does not give any explanations, but whose life is the explanation itself.”

There is a story of a five-year-old named Janie who woke and began screaming for her parents, as a violent storm occurred. Her mother came quickly to comfort her. After calming her down, her mother began to leave. The child protested vigorously. Her mother, trying to reassure her, gently responded, “God is always here with you.” Unpersuaded, Janie replied: “But I need someone with skin.”

God knows we need someone with skin: people with whom we can connect as ‘one of us’ as ‘flesh of our flesh’. At Christmastime, God has put on skin. And we too are asked to reconnect with the whole of humankind, of people with skin. Those without skin cannot express love the way we need it: the hands that wipe our tears, the arms around our shoulders that relieves our aching heart, the kind words that soothes our souls. Or, simply, those who rush through traffic to touch the life of love ones with gifts of love, those at the terminal who eagerly awaits reconnection with family, those whose minds recall sweet and tender moments, the Ate Fabies who lights the lives of the Aling Sonias of the world, are those who live out the answers to humanity’s questions. They are the Emmanuels of our lives who teach us the way God loves. These are the people we remember at Christmas. God’s gifts to us.

Let us gaze on the child’s eyes in the manger and adore him. God made flesh. Love made flesh. Let the ever self-giving goodness awaken in us our own goodness, let light shine in the darkness of our hearts. Much of our suffering comes from a heart of stone. Even those we love--- our families, our friends, our partners--- we have deeply hurt. And let God’s grace transform our hearts with that of his heart. The great philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard said, “When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world--- no matter how imperfect--- becomes rich and beautiful, for it consists solely of opportunities of love.” If only politicians will honor their promise, if only friends will fulfill their promises, if only husband and wives will live their promises to each other, how different our world would be. Let God’s grace enable us to unhesitatingly grab all opportunities of love, and to keep our promises and the commitments of our lives.

And just as Zechariah, in his old age, proclaims with gratitude in the gospel today, that “God… raised a horn of saving strength as he promised… he remembered the holy covenant he made, the oath he swore”, we too remember that God indeed keeps his promise to be with us till the end of time.

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