Wednesday, December 16, 2009



Christmas has already been in the air for more than one month now, but in these past days it has taken on a more pronounced emphasis. We see Christmas decorations just about anywhere: supermarkets, shop windows, offices, streets, houses and, of course, churches. We hear Christmas carols at any time of the day and even well into the night.

This all-pervasive external “Christmas atmosphere” changes and moves people. It makes them “compulsive shoppers” and frantic communicators who flood the post offices (and now the Internet!) with tons of greetings.

It brings to churches and chapels greater crowds than usual, including so many who seldom remember to pray or go to Mass during the rest of the year! Such is the common phenomenon in the Philippines every year. It is part of our culture. This year is no exception, in spite of the serious economic crisis.

A question is unavoidable: How much of these activities and flurry of initiatives is genuine, and how much is showiness “palabas”? How much comes from the heart or reaches the heart? How much stops at the purse or comes from the desire to be “in,” to do what everybody else does without really reaching the “core” of what the Christmas Novena should be?

There is great danger that many Christians may miss the essence of what the preparation for Christmas is meant to be.

For many, it may be pretty much like what was going on in Palestine in the days when John the Baptizer started his mission along the banks of the Jordan River. People from all walks of life were flocking to him with unusual enthusiasm and expectation. Many even asked to be baptized, but their lives were hardly changed.

Jesus tried to bring people to reflect on who John really was and what was the meaning of what he was saying and doing. “John testified to the truth . . he was a burning and shining lamp.” (See today’s Gospel.) John’s testimony was aimed at introducing Jesus to the people. John was the lamp ready to be forgotten about and put aside as soon as the Son of Justice – the Messiah – would appear. How many understood that?

What is the meaning and the message of what we do in this pre-Christmas period? Is it just keeping a tradition? Is it just a fad or curiosity, or just our penchant for being together and to celebrate? In the midst of so many decorations, singing, buying, and selling, . . . and even in the midst of our cramming the churches and adjoining patios, we run the risk of “getting lost.”

We should remember that the “core” of the matter is JESUS CHRIST – His Birth, His Person, and His Mission to reveal to us the love of the Father and to give us the Holy Spirit. He comes for our sake: to save us and bring us to heaven. This is the essence. This is what it should be for all of us. The rest is just preparation or decoration.