My dear Parishoners,
It occurred to me as I settled down to write this Christmas letter to you that the greatest thing we need in our lives, this and every season is to know that God the Father is with us. This surely is the message of Christmas and thus the message of our faith. I love the way Archbishop Charles Chaput puts it:
"What begins in the stable ends in our salvation. That's why we celebrate Christmas, and it's the best and only reason the human heart needs."
Jesus is with us! This is what our children really need to know. Jesus is not only the Babe of Bethlehem, but He is also the Son who was born to live for who was born to live for our righteousness, and to die for our sins. Christ is the missing piece to life. Without Him, our lives are incomplete. With Him, our lives, even in their most complex or disappointing parts, make sense.
Jesus is with us! This is what our middle and high school youth and college age young people need to know. In the middle of their trials, identity issues, betrayals by friends, struggles to find their way in the world, and dreams for a great future, the Babe of Bethlehem, now the enthroned Christ of all Creation, is with them. His salvation gives hope to them and to you. This is the message of hope to single people, and single-again people, and young marrieds, and families with children and families without children, empty-nesters and young retired folks and senior saints. The light we long for is the Light we have been given. To receive Him is to be warmed by that Light and shown a new way through the trials and sorrows and even joys that we have on our journey.
Jesus is with us! He is the Emmanuel. He is God-with-Us. He is present among us. That is why, Christmas is a time for family, relatives and friends to come together to celebrate. At Christmastime, presence is so much more important than presents! And that's the beauty of the Christmas story.
In ancient times, when our ancestors gazed at the skies and pondered the hard questions of life, when they were confronted with the mysteries of birth, and death, and illness, and wonder, they found their best comfort not in the tales of conquest and glory, nor in the lofty wisdom and rituals, but in a simple tale of divine presence: A disgraced pregnant maiden, a dreaming carpenter, an inglorious barnyard birth, and the earthy, simple claim that God is with us; God is among us; God is not far off where we couldn't reach, but around us and within.
The message of Christmas is that God does not remain in remote majesty and splendor, but becomes present in all our human travail, sharing our indignities, and outrage and shame. God is present in all our laughter, and love and in the satisfaction of a job well done. God with us! In that same old story, the angel names the child "Jesus," which means "God saves." And how does God save? By coming to us, being among us, walking beside us... and then commissioning us to go and do likewise.
There still aren't many sure answers to the hard questions of life: when a nation stands bitterly divided, when the doctor's news is bad, when the telephone rings in the middle of the night, when someone you love is angry, or bored, or scared and you don't know why. We have no easy answers in times like these. But we can do what God does in Jesus; we can show up in the flesh. There's a living presence that will not leave us or forsake us, come what may in the years ahead. There's a living presence that might just turn up at your doorstep with a casserole, for that's one thing it means when we say that God comes to us in the flesh. It's called "incarnation," this belief that God's presence somehow flooded Jesus' humanity giving us a glimpse of a human life filled with the holy. This is really what Christmas all comes down to: this belief that God enters into all the shame, and the blame, and the messiness of a beautiful and broken world. God is not far, but near. And we are called to be the same, getting our hands dirty, suffering with those who suffer, walking with the lonely.
Incarnation means reaching out in love to the disadvantaged, the sick, the aged, the very young, the helpless, and the hopeless, the anxious, the sad, perhaps even the least powerful of all! Stand with them, for this is how God stands with humanity in Christ.
Our journey as a church continues. And we are thankful to be on that journey with you. I thank God for you. This Christmas we want to again bow before Him with you, happy and confident that in Him all things turn out for our good and His glory.
Merry Christmas to you, Immaculate Conception Church. It's a joy to be walking alongside you!
-Fr. Manolo Punzalan