Heavens Deep – Arnel Aquino, SJ


Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord

As a child, I used to love the Christmas tree. But the older I got, the parol very naturally supplanted the tree,  and became for me the symbol for Christmas; especially the simpler ones, the parol ribbed with kawayan, skinned with papel de hapon or cellophane, & with the flowing buntot reminiscent of Bulacan pastillas, na sa tuwing hinihipan ng hangin, lumalagaslas na parang mga dahon! The fabulous Christmas tree sits in a designated place in our homes. The parol, however, it hangs outside, mostly alone. But to me, it hangs with quiet splendor, watching over us. The tree is mostly Scandinavian and doesn’t bring you back to Bethlehem. The parol is truly ours, truly Pinoy; and the star will forever beam memories back to the first Christmas.

The last time I saw a dust storm of stars was in Culion, Palawan, 26 years ago. Every night, they turned off all the generators on the island at 10. Then the stars almost suddenly come out to play, wide-eyed and sparkling. The darker the island, the brighter the stars. Iniisip ko nga, sana madala ninyo ang mga bata sa kung saan kaunti pa lang ang ilaw, para malaman nila kung ano talaga ang sinasabing “starry, starry night.”

For hundreds of years, travelers charted their journeys according to the stars. In fact, the word “dis-aster” comes from the Latin which literally means to lose one’s star, to drift from your star-charted course, or to be ill-starred. And for hundreds of years, people have divined the future by the stars, which is why we have the horoscope or astrology, the “logic” of the stars. Today, we know that stars are really suns, each with a solar system. So a star actually holds together a rosary of planets that float nicely together, yet also nicely apart. In a sense, stars fasten the universe in cosmic stasis. Today, however, many stars seem to have vanished because there’s just too much light that outshines them in the cities. But, oh, they’re still there. They’ve been there far, far longer than humans. In fact, many stars we see today are the very same stars our ancestors also beheld. Can you imagine? Long after humanity blows itself out, the stars will remain in the same quiet magnificence; God proving to us yet again that true beauty is heavens deep.

Our humble parol reminds us Christmas after Christmas that we have one such star, the one true Star, in fact. And it’s not Ate Guy, the superstar; the star for all seasons, Ate Vi; nor megastar Ate Shawie. True to his mission, our one true Star persistently shows us, travellers, the way…even if we deliberately lose our Star sometimes when we are drawn by the glare of our own accomplishments, our blazing ego, our blinding control issues. Secondly, our humble parol reminds us that it’s not how our stars are fixed that sways our fortune. The fault does not lie in our stars, sisters and brothers. No, it’s how we arrange our lives according to the one true Star that governs our future. I have yet to meet anyone whose life changed for the better because he consulted his horoscope daily. I do know that many of us here, we’ve discovered our deepest sense of purpose because, though we fail many times, we still try to chart our course according to the movement of the Star of Bethlehem. Thirdly, many times unbeknownst to us, our one true Star persists in holding humanity in mysterious equilibrium. Humanity left to itself, we would alter the laws of gravity and make ourselves the center. Our Star, however, has the steady hands of the divine and holds us with loving care.

Sisters and brothers, don’t you feel that now, more than ever, we need our Star desperately? In tonight’s readings, Isaiah and Paul could very well have been talking about us: “a people who walk in darkness,” a people who frantically need “to see the great light,” waiting for God’s glory “to deliver us from all lawlessness.” Marami na pong nagtanong sa akin, “Father, what are we going to do? We must do something!” At nahihiya po ako dahil hindi ko po alam ang sagot. Matagal na pong lumipas ‘yung mga panahon na ang pari may sagot sa lahat ng bagay. Like you, I’m staggering in the dark for an answer. There’s so much I don’t know, so much I no longer know, and honestly, there are things that I don’t want to know. What I do know very well is that if your way is violence in word and deed, then you cannot be the way. You do not know the way. And if you’re constantly smoldering with anger and resentment and vendetta, and are even proud of it, then you are light-years away from the truth. And if your idea of brightening up the future is snuffing out human life and bringing back men who have once already darkened our history, then you do not bring light, you bring darkness. You are darkness.

Surely, it was heartbreaking for Joseph and Mary to have brought Jesus into the world in such harsh conditions, through no fault of theirs. Even the national situation was terrible then. This census that governor Quirinius imposed on Judeans, this was the beginning of the Roman occupation of Judah. Judah was once a kingdom: free, sovereign, and glorious. Now, Judeans were about to devolve into 2nd class citizens in their own land. Who knew what deeper horrors the Romans had in store for them?

So, the Messiah is no stranger to darkness, to dictatorship, and to bloodshed—to history repeating itself, in other words. But I’ve always believed that humanity is God’s biography. That’s what God has done in the Incarnation. We are God’s life-story. Niloob ng Diyos na maging kwentong-buhay niya ang kwentong-buhay ng sangkatauhan, kwentong-buhay natin. So even if many times, human history repeats itself because we never seem to learn from the past, the Messiah will never tire of repeating divine history either: by exorcising us of evil, by healing sick people and sick societies, by lifting up the poor and the weak, by and shining the light of truth onto its searchers, and making straight what the crooked have diverted, and vindicating the oppressed.

We know ourselves, sisters and brothers, we know that we don’t deserve such an honor. But for some strange reason, in spite of ourselves, we are the star to our one true Star. In his eyes, humanity’s beauty is heaven’s deep, for some strange reason. So, as we celebrate the birth of our Star, we give thanks and praise, we trust and entrust, and most of all, we persevere in praying for the Light. Amen.

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