We celebrate today the Feast of the Sto Niño! If you have been following the liturgical celebration, it is comes at this time as something of an oddity.
In Advent, we focused on our waiting for a Savior, our desiring him, yearnng for him. Experiencing darkness in our own lives, the difficulty we have coming to terms with our weakness, foilbles and sinfulness, we became present in Advent to our waiting… our waiting for someone who would free us from darkness, our waiting for light. After Advent, we celebrated a series of theophanies, feasts which progressively manifest the presence of God in our world. With the coming of Christmas, we celebrated the Light born marvelously into our lives. Beneath the ubiquitous parol and blinking lights on houses, on fences, on bushes and on trees, we gazed at the central Christmas Light in the middle of the Belen, the Babe ministered to by Mary and Joseph, the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lain in a manger, and called “Emmanuel” – God with us. After Christmas, we celebrated the Epiphany, where the Child is presented to Three Kings or Three Wise Men who had come from different parts of the world, bearing him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrr. The importance of this feast is the celebration of the fact that this mysterious, messianic Child is there not only for the Jews, who have rejected him, but for all people’s of the world represented in the Three foreign Kings, for all peoples of the world including you and me. After the Epiphany we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus stands in solidarity with the sinners of this world seeking forgiveness of their sins. Suddenly, the heavens break open, a dove descends, and a voice from heaven declares, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear him.” With the introduction of the Son by the Father in the presence of the Holy Spirit in this remarkable theophany, the Christmas Season ends.
Last Sunday, the liturgy returned to the celebration of Ordinary Time.
That is why I said earlier that the celebration of the Feast of the Sto Niño in the Philippines comes as something of an oddity. The liturgical celebration of the incarnational theophanies is already finished with Jesus already having entered into his public ministry at about 30 years of age. Then, in the Philippines, we return back to the celebration of the Holy Child, the Sto. Niño, soon after the similarly odd, unchronological celebration before that of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo. It is almost our People’s devotional need to break the liturgy’s chronology to return to two images of God which allow them easiest access to him in prayer, the Black Nazarene and the Sto. Niño. The historical roots of these, our special national devotions to God, have been written about quite extensively. For now, it is enough to recall that the association of the image of the Cross with the conquering sword of the Spanish Lord, made it easier for the Filipino to pray to God either in front of the image of the oppressed, suffering Black Nazarene, with whose suffering the Filipino could easily identify, or in front of the warm and friendly image of the Sto Niño, to whom one easily could talk, since after all he was in this image still nothing but an easily accessible, unthreatening, disarming Child.
I think that is what we celebrate so gratefully on this Feast of Sto Niño – the many graces we as a local church and we as individuals have received through our having come closer to God praying before his remarkable image as a Child. For many of us, the Word of God’s love is best received, best heard in this simple image of a Child turned to us, smiling, despite our many adult mistakes and sins; in talking to him easily as a Child about our need for extraordinary blessings for our children or for our parents, our need for his guidance in our careers, our need for money, our need to rest, our need for healing, we have often felt our prayers heard, even answered. We see his loving image then in all things, the fulfillment of many human needs celebrated in his childlike image: the Sto Nino wearing red, the Sto Nino wearing green and holding a purse, the Sto. Nino carrying a fishing rod, the Sto. Nino dressed like a farmer, the Sto. Niño dressed like a doctor, even the Sto. Nino getting away from this madding world and taking a nap. This is a celebration of a privileged national closeness to God as a Child, to God as Emmanuel, God with us.
The Scripture for today speaks of people walking in darkness – that could be us! – seeing a bright light. With the light, sadness is broken, oppression is overcome, “For a child has been born to us, a son has been give to us. He shoulders responsibility, and is called Extraordinary Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6). That’s the Sto Niño, is it not? A child: wonderful, marvelous Counselor! A child: Mighty God. A child: Everlasting Father. A child: Prince of Peace.
The Good News for today’s extraorinary celebration does not demand that you become rich and powerful, or build a big house, or own a big car to be ultimately happy in entering the Kingdom of God. Jesus calls a child to himself and says: “Unless you turn around and become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt.18:3). Our oddly-placed Feast today is suggesting that we need to break out of our fixed routines – go out of our way – to recall that to be successful in life it may not be necessary to talk to the Mayor, nor to the Congressman, nor the Secretary of National Defense nor even to the President of the Republic. It may not be necessary to talk to the Captains of Capital, the Lords of Industry, nor the back-corridor brokers of power. It may not be necessary to talk to the priest nor the bishop nor even the Pope. It may be sufficient to talk simply to the Holy Child, the Sto. Niño, the unthreatenng, welcoming, smiling Child turned to us in love, and, in the conversation, to listen to what he has to say.