CHRISTMAS, IMMERSION INTO HOPE
With deep joy, I wish to greet you a hope-filled Christmas and New Year! Indeed, this joy comes from our contemplation of the birth of the Child Jesus as the most profound sign of hope in our time. In addition, in the docility and generosity of Joseph and Mary according to God’s plan, the Child was cared and brought up into a family! We are led into this mystery if we wish to truly celebrate Christmas.
Scholars consider that the passage above (which is included with Isaiah 9:1-6) was dated after the crisis between Aram (Syria) and Israel (Ephraim) – where the two forged to attack the kingdom of Judah to force it into an anti-Assyrian revolution. In this difficult situation, Judah’s king, Ahaz, sought to be a vassal to Assyria’s King, Tiglath-Pileser III, to preserve the land of Judah from impending destruction by the foreign nation. In this way, Ahaz already resolved to depend on Assyria’s security more than Yahweh’s protection (cf. Is. 7:1-9).
Furthermore, many scholars also consider Isaiah’s prophecy mentioned above as part of either an accession hymn or a thanksgiving hymn, or even both. To me, I consider it as both because the recognition of the “accession” of our Lord and King, fulfilled definitively in Jesus himself, is a twin to a grateful heart that acknowledges the lordship of the Emmanuel – “God-with-us”. What abides with him are all-wisdom, defender, people-loving, and true peacemaker. With this assurance, we have a unique way of living “hope” as Rogationist Religious in our time.
It is of great concern to me that while we enjoy the festive traditions of our Christmas celebration, I cannot but also think of the difficulties that our Province experiences – from our individual problems as Religious to more complicated problems as a circumscription. At times, like Ahaz, we may be tempted to depend on our talents, skills, expertise, mastery, resourcefulness, and smartness, as if they are valid solutions to complex sets of problems everyday. We must remember that at the onset and preoccupations of problems, we have our God who is both divinely Provident, and Lord of all things. The solution to every crisis we experience is not our human strength, but the strength that comes from the “Emmanuel” – Jesus himself. His presence has to make us breathe well that He is in control.
The situation today must awaken us towards a common project, journey, and witnessing as a Province. I believe we are faced with two kinds of violence today: noisy and silent. In our Asian context, disturbing as it may, there is a rise of persecutions against Christians, affronts to the dignity of marriage and family, renewed extrajudicial killings at many places, warped politics, and the like – all of them form as noisy violence. In the same context, we also experience the proliferation of fake news and biased media, which I collectively consider as a “silent killer” to a culture of life and vocations, where there is supposed to be a promotion of truth that brings purpose and justice. We might run the risk of celebrating Christmas that is apathetic to the current situations. We may also the run the risk of succumbing into ignorance by our rigorous and scrupulous obsession on the Rules of our congregation.
While there is Christmas rush going around us, the call to consciously renew ourselves as Rogationist religious remains intact. Next year, we will be celebrating the 2nd Provincial Chapter, which is an encounter among us to examine and discern our formative and pastoral itineraries, avenues in promoting and spreading the charism, renewed energies towards charity and missions, and administrative works. Let it be an opportunity to embody a hope that, while there are difficulties pressing in each of the Province’s realities, the Lord will regain control of our Province as well. It means bringing the Lord into the panorama of complexities of evaluation and planning.
I pray that we may be like “doves”, as pictured by the lover to his beloved (cf. Songs 1:15), intently fixing our gaze towards the Lord. As today’s prophets of the reign of God, to be single-minded is relevant and ever needed by the Lord’s harvest. The people are expecting us to be men of God and witnesses of the Gospel. Rather than communicating confusion, sowing division and apathy, and being distracted by daily affairs, we have to “bring God to the people” (cf. Is. 40:9), consistent with our vision as a Province: men of prayer, agents of the new evangelization, and stewards of God’s graces with preferential option for the poor. This is our focus today.
May we all bear the fruits of our sincere hopes this Christmas season, and the days to come! God bless!