Like You – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Christmas Eve 2018

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It was around this time of night many, many years ago, when I was little—littler—when a very rare electrical storm ripped through Davao City. Lightning and thunder looked and sounded like they were tearing each other apart. They say only thunder makes a sound, lightning doesn’t. But I remember lightning cracking like a whip and thunder, like, smashing boulders against the earth—one sound no less terrifying than the other. I was screaming and crying so bad our yaya had to finally telephone mom and dad. It’s interesting, by the way, how we remember terrible experiences long past like they happened only yesterday…because I remember how petrified I was. I was covering my ears while I screamed and cried. I must have called out for my father who seemed farther and farther away as lightning and thunder strove to out-frighten me.

I don’t have to tell you what it feels to try to reach for someone you need desperately in some peerless, bewildering night, only to end up grip-less and empty-handed. You’ve gone through something like that, haven’t you? When you just needed someone you would feel safe by, someone who doesn’t have to utter a word but just to be close, someone who might not even know the way out of the darkness, but whose handhold would be a great start for salvation. Someone real. Someone near.

2,018 years ago or so, on the first Christmas night, the shepherds didn’t need to be intellectuals to spot the contradiction in the angel’s announcement: “Today,” the angel said, “a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord,” in other words, a child of noble lineage, destined for greatness, and heroic. But then the contradiction: “You will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes,” “and lying in a manger,”.  In those days, shepherds were the poorest folk; hired hands who stayed with the flock day and night. So it wasn’t unusual for their pregnant wives to give birth in caves or shacks they shared with the sheep, goats, donkeys. So to be wrapped in swaddling clothes and be born in a manger? That didn’t have a ring of savior or Christ or Lord to it at all. That sounded like a shepherd’s son who would grow up and grow into a dead-end job like his shepherd-father. Surely, a savior and Christ and Lord could have been more high-born than that…

…And yes, that is true. He could have been more high-born. But his Father decidedly chose for his Son to be born (a) in the darkness of night, (b) to fretful parents who found nobody reachable at the time they needed most help, (c) in a manger, a feeder of all things, probably germy with droplets and spittle, and (d) in this whole ambience of contradiction. No less than the son of God would be taking his first whiff of the tragic, the frantic, the derelict, and the pathetic. But God wouldn’t have it any other way, no. God wanted it revealed and known to the whole world that anything and everything about God is nearness and everyday salvation. Anything and everything about God is nearness to us, and everyday salvation for us. “Look at the beginning of my son’s life,” we could almost hear God say. “My son is my Self. See the nearness of my son to you. Like you, he is familiar with darkness, that’s why he can be your light, your Counselor. Like you, he is familiar with reaching forth for someone but finding none, that’s why he can be your Hero. He is familiar with the warm, intensive care lavished on him by his parents in spite of their dearth, that’s why he can Father to you. And like you, he will live and reckon with life’s contradictions, that’s why he can be your very own Peace. Because there will always be darkness and desperate need. There will always be poverty and irreconcilable differences. So, my son, family to all these, is very near you, and from these, he will be your everyday salvation.”

How are you and the Lord? Do you feel the nearness of the Messiah? Or does he seem quite unreachable these days? What kind of saving are you desperately reaching for right now if you are? Is it a new burden? Or is it something you’ve been struggling with for a long time and every day? Is it something imposed from outside of you? Or is it mostly the burden of ego, of self? What does our Messiah need to be especially for you? Wonder Counselor, God Hero, Father Forever, or Prince of Peace? That’s what I notice about Jesus, sisters  and brothers. He is so promixate, so personal, he is willing to be anyone that we need him to be if that’s the way we shall be saved. He was born in the heart of all our mess, so that he could fix our mess…by fixing us.

Then, my dad finally broke into the room that night. He picked me up from bed and enveloped me in his arms. Then, he walked over and sat us down in a rocking chair. As he rocked this tragic, frantic, derelict and pathetic baby of a son, he whispered with soothing, reassuring tenderness: “Nandito na si daddy, anak. Tahan na. Shhhh, nandito na si daddy.” The selfsame words are said by our everyday Savior, dear sisters and brothers. “Nandito na ako. Tahan na, anak. Shhhhnandito na Jeesoos.”

 

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