Hope and Tenderness (Christmas Vigil homily, 24 December 2020)
24 Dec 2020
Christmas Vigil 2020
Is 9, 1-6; Tit 2, 11-14; Lk 2, 1-14
2020 is being described as a year like no other … the toughest year ever … the year when everything changed.
It breaks my heart to think of people who have to deal with a COVID-related illness or death in the family, the loss of a job, the loss of one’s bearings in a virtual school setting, the closure of a business, despair at seeing one’s lifetime savings vanish, the inability to pay one’s rent or mortgage, hunger – or the sheer thought of catching the virus and getting hospitalized, and, worse, waiting to die alone. The world we know has been shattered by the economic devastation and social dislocation arising from quarantine restrictions and lockdowns.
And as if COVID-19 were not enough, there was the eruption of Taal and our country got lashed by Typhoons Rolly, Quinta, and Ulysses and we saw houses and whole towns flooded.
If we look at the events of 2020 from a purely worldly perspective, we might be tempted to despair, we might be tempted to become pessimists. Napakamalas talaga ng Pilipinas! Why is all this happening to us? Are we cursed as a nation? Gigaba-an ba kita? It is so tempting to throw our hands up in the air and give up.
We can be tempted to believe in Jean Paul Sartre, one of the most pessimistic philosophers of modern times, who said, “there is no exit.” There is no exit. We are stuck here in this negativity. We are mired in these disasters. There is no way out.
The famous American musician and Nobel laureate in Literature, Bob Dylan consciously playing off of Sartre, says in one of his songs: “there is no exit in any direction … except the one you can’t see with your eyes.”
There is no exit in any direction. Bob Dylan here is agreeing with Sartre. Following Dylan, we do not deny the pain, the suffering, the sadness, and the tragedies. In a worldly sense, there is no way out of this … “except the one you can’t see with your eyes.”
My good friends, the invitation of Christmas is not to succumb to the temptation of pessimism and despair, but rather to open the eyes of our heart. In spite all the tragedies of 2020, the invitation of Christmas is to ask for the gift of hope.
What is hope? Hope is a virtue that comes from the in-rushing of grace. Hope is that virtue that pushes us beyond our struggles and conflicts and directs our heart to trust in a good and loving God. Hope is that virtue that moves us to surrender to God who is always and everywhere present.
“There is no exit in any direction … except the one you can’t see with your eyes.” What is the exit? What is the way out? Where is the avenue of hope? This road is the one that leads to Bethlehem.
Bethlehem was a scruffy village of no account. There we will find the shepherds: they were dregs of the earth. These were people who couldn’t find a better job. It was to Bethlehem where the magi went, certainly wise men of a sort, but not Jews, not people of the prophecies nor people of the promise; in a word, they were outsiders.
At Bethlehem, we will find Mary and Joseph, poor peasants of the countryside who wore travel-worn, dusty, dirty clothes. And the manger was a feeding station, not a nice crib.
At Bethlehem, we will discover the good news that God came into and among human existence with all of its limitations and flaws. Christmas is a potent and palpable sign of God’s desire to embrace our brokenness.
And it is no accident that this God who desired to be with us as we are, with all of our flaws, was born in a feeding station. Because that is why God came into our lives: to nourish our brokenness, to feed our hungry souls, to heal our despair.
Good friends, tonight we journey to Bethlehem and there we will find nothing other than grace. We receive this gift of grace through the simplicity and humanity of Christmas, and it can remove from our hearts and minds the pessimism that has spread even more nowadays as a result of the pandemic.
We can overcome that sense of disquieting bewilderment, not letting ourselves be overwhelmed by defeats and failures, in the rediscovered awareness that that humble and poor Child, hidden away and helpless, is God Himself, made human for us. All humanity is in Him. He took all that we are, just as we are. Jesus is one of us: God, in Jesus, is one of us.
This evening, Pope Francis counsels us to ask for the grace of wonder: “before this mystery, a reality so tender, so beautiful, so close to our hearts, that the Lord may give us the grace of wonder, to encounter Him, to draw closer to Him, to draw closer to us all. This will revive tenderness in us, the human tenderness close to that of God.”
And today we are in great need of tenderness, we in in great need of a human touch, in the face of so much misery! If the pandemic has forced us to be more distant, Jesus, in the manger, shows us the way of tenderness to be close to each other, to be human. “Distancing” is not in the vocabulary of God at Christmas, for in Jesus, God tells us that he is “very near,” that he is tenderly close to us.
Good friends: Christmas is the celebration of the closeness and tenderness of the child born in straw poverty. Christmas shows the way out of our despair, the exit that we can only see with the eyes of faith, the eyes of our heart. Christmas is the celebration of tenderness and hope especially this year when everything changed.
Maligayang Pasko at Pagpalain tayo lagi ni Emmanuel, ang Diyos na sumasaatin!
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