The manger (Christmas) and the cross (Crucifixion) are two of the greatest symbols of Christianity. The first is to prove that the King that was born is not of this world (and its standards) and the second is to prove His love by dying in a public death with arms outstretched on the cross- to prove His love for all mankind.
It had to be a public death so that Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday would not just be a fisher woman’s tall tales ( with apologies to our fisher folks). But without a birth,first- there is no resurrection -two reasons why the most celebrated feasts in Christendom are: Christmas and Easter Sunday.
Reading a powerful book titled “The Good and Beautiful God” came at a time when we finished watching on Imax Theaters a scintillating science -fiction movie titled “Interstellar”. In one cinematic moment of grandeur -when the movie showed a few seconds of the image of what space looked and felt amid the vastness of the universe, one cannot but be awed by the power of God.
How His Goodness had put so much order and beauty in the huge galaxy and found a tiny dot (planet earth) to place humans, born to His image and likeness and to whom He sent His Only Son to deliver from sin-is awe-inspiring. How sweet it is ,indeed, to be loved by a “Good and Beautiful God”.
Our God is not a performance -oriented God where he blesses only those who do good and punishes those who do evil- in the material sense. Mathhew 5:4-5 says “He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous”.
The missionaries ,who are deprived of all the minimum of human,decent comfort -find peace and joy in their hearts which the evil rich will never have.
The spiteful, greedy, and mean rich may appear in luxury- but left alone, they are gripped with “guilt, loneliness,remorse and self-hatred”. How many billionaires and celebrities ,indeed, had taken their lives (suicide) -and realized “it is loneliest at the top”?
The “Prosperity Gospel” is often flawed as corrupt, evil men live like kings while the most devoted Catholics are found living among the squatters who live on dried fish and noodles all day long. In the Philippines, the joke can be reality- God loved the poor so much, – that He made so many of them.
But God is good -all the time;and all the time- God is good. A woman ranted that ten years she had prayed all the novenas and rosaries she can muster so that the family can migrate to the great America but remains here. Never is God late in answering- He already answered with a “No” ten years ago because their separation could lead to a divorce and children not raised in true Christian ethics in a more modern, hedonistic USA.Man blames God for an answer he does not want.
God has answered the question as to how man can be like Him and answered: “Take up your cross daily and come follow me.” Trials and tribulations are part of being human-and they are meant to build one’s endurance, then character leading to a faith and maturity-that makes a man complete-lacking in nothing (James:1:2-4). A man lost all his possession in a major fire: “When I lost everything, it was the day I realized that God is enough.”
One wit said” The greatest abundance is to want nothing.”
It is joyful to watch pictures of a smiling Christ -rather than that of a stern, punishing God. It is vitally important that the image we have of God is Someone who is trustworthy-always protecting our best interests at all times. In good times and bad- we must always trust in Him. How is this depicted-say in a Yolanda aftermath?
The storm victims realized that nothing that we possess we ever owned -but were given by God- to be taken away at any time. We can never out give God. What about the gift of life, our eyes-that the rich would pay millions to repair one eye, the gift of family and Nature-are they now meaningless because we lost our homes through flooding? The givers realized their own relative fortune and give off their kitchen and cabinets- making them their brother’s keepers.
When the givers in one moment of charity-feels a light shine in their own eyes-then they realize they,too, were created in God’s image. And realizing that the phrase:”it is better to give than to receive” is not just a figure of speech.
A trustworthy God is pleased when we express that trust -by not focusing on our “cups”-,namely, our sufferings and needs but on God’s countless blessings. Just sit down today and list of things you are blessed with and worthy of praising then-you might ran out of paper space.
In a past forum in a Manila college, a Filipino doctor in psychology based in Switzerland explained that we can all become a “grateful people” just by doing a simple daily exercise for 60 days. At night time, we are asked to write three simple things we can be thankful for the day -a dog that greeted you more enthusiastically today, the three-day rain that gave way to the smiling sun, an easy time getting a jeepney ride home, or the birds that perched on your window pane today. In 2 months, it will transform one into a Happy Man, through the “Praise Habit”,says the doctor.
Forget those priests and pastors who perpetually talk about the “punishing God who will rain fire and brimstone on us since we are all sinners -ready to go to the lakes of fire”. “ “Fear and guilt have never been lasting, effective motivation” for a good moral behavior.
But knowing God is generous with His abundance and mercy- is.
One Bible parable speaks of a landowner who pays workers who toil for 8 hours and those who toil for 2 hours -and paying them the same amount of money. He explained that he hired the first in the flow of his abundance and the second out of his compassion.
Sinners -that we all are- need not be unduly fearful of a vindictive, unforgiving God. Jesus’ act of dining with Matthew, the tax collector -Jesus told the Pharisees- was an example of His role to get back the sinners, not just the righteous. The Prodigal Son,who came back repentant was welcomed with open arms and fiesta galore by a forgiving father, to the anger of the elder son who stayed behind.
The Pharisees and the elder son are representative of some of today’s society who are self-centered, self-righteous and with with a fault sense of entitlement. God’s love is for all-as articulated by our current Pope Francis who would liken the church as a hospital-ready to accept and heal the wounded. “You do not ask a dying person why he has high cholesterol level”. The Church -and Christ-just heal because it is in their nature to be so.
The Jesus to be born yesterday December 25, wants all men to be happy- “What is Mine is all yours”- all of nature, His Love ,His Mercy. The United Nations and the World Bank had said that the world has sufficient land and food for everyone that no one need not be hungry. It is an indictment of the human race-that there is starvation and famine in many places -and that is not about God’s sense of justice and fairness.
This man Jesus lived an ordinary man’s life to show his solidarity with the majority of people who are without wealth and power. But He did promise-the Gates of Heaven- to those who will take up their cross daily and obey His Commandments.
Christmas is Jesus’ birth anniversary. It is a time to rejoice-Alleluia, alleluia!
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