[Homily: Ateneo de Davao University Pre-Christmas Advent Mass, Martinez Hall, Dec.18, 2015]
We come together today in celebration, even though we know there are concerns in our lives which argue against celebration: the horrible war in Syria and Iraq, the terrorist massacres in a Paris concert hall and at San Bernardino Christmas party, the murders of Lumads in Mindanao, the sadly yet unresolved Bangsamoro issue, the ongoing conflicts and disagreements which we have among ourselves, the many killed and homeless because of Typhoon Nona, the looming threat of Typhoon Onyok. But that may be the precise message of the Season of Advent, when we are invited to reflect on our real predicament of needing to wait, to pray, to anticipate, to hope for a Savior, even though what is characteristically Christmas in the Philippines begins as early as the first day of September with the joyful melodies of “Pasko Na!” and “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit.” Then, what is Advent is undermined by flickering Christmas lights and sentimental Christmas songs and Christmas excitement that insist on celebration now, not waiting, on partying now, not preparing, on playing out expected Christmas rites and rituals now, not praying. But reality sometimes brings out the wisdom of the liturgical season. As the memory of the wise magi may remind us, the secret of getting there is in the journeying, the secret of finding the way is following the star, and the secret of Christmas is finding – finding – God-with-us.
We are still in the season of Advent, and yet our Gospel proclaimed is already of Christmas. It is the remarkable story of Mary betrothed in love to Joseph, but found with child, not his. In his goodness, Joseph refuses to expose her to public shame, so undertakes to simply undo the betrothal. But he is told in a dream to take Mary as his wife into his home. “For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her,” the angel says. “She will bear a Son and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1: 20b-21). Joseph obeys, and the ancient expectation is fulfilled: “’The virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’ which means, “God is with us’” (Mt. 1:23).
God is with us. From the viewpoint of Ignatius, Emmanuel is the mystery of the Incarnation. Here we may recall “how the Three Persons were looking upon the whole extent and space of the earth filled with human beings. They see that all were going down into hell, and They decreed, in Their eternity that the Second Person should become man to save the human race.” Here we can recall God considering “different people on the face of the earth, so varied in dress and in behavior. Some are white and others black; some at peace and others at war; some weeping and others laughing, some well and others sick, some being born and others dying, etc.” We recall our own families and organizations, our own populations and constituencies, some congenial others obnoxious, some happy, others quarrelling; some crying others smiling, and some in life coming closer and closer to God, and others in life moving farther and farther away from him. It is this our situation which God does not turn his back on, but decides to enter through his Incarnation. It is a manifestation of his compassion, his love for us whom He created. Here God-with-us is God loving us, in love with us, redeeming us, holding on to us, refusing to let go, even at the cost of crucifixion. He is with us in our struggles, in our triumphs, in our defeats. He is in the sunrise and in the sunset, in the light and in the darkness, he is exulting with us in our victories and weeping with us in our pains, he is in our dark nights and in our sun-soaked noons. God is with us. For him, we have been longing. In Advent, we long. We wait. We have only to find him.
God-with-us is God’s act of love, his reaching out to us, his holding his hand to us to save us from drowning. We have only to stretch our hands out to him to find his, as Peter did, when his faith had faltered. To grasp God-with-us we have only to say, “Lord, save me!’” or “Lord, save us!” and hold on to his saving strength, his redeeming power, his overwhelming compassion. God-with-us from this viewpoint is our calling out for his transforming presence so that we might be healed: “Lord, that in my blindness, I may see!” “Lord, that in my deafness, I may hear!” “Lord, that in my paralysis, I may walk” “Lord, that in my frustration and anger, I may love.” God-with-us is what Jesus told John’s disciples to tell him: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. God-with-us is our finding God in faith, as in Advent we must.
The Virgin gave birth, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger. God-with-us was born in poverty and powerlessness. The Word of God-made-flesh, without whom nothing had been made, was born in a stable in utter weakness and dependence on others. It is an astounding manifestation of the style of this God-with-us, a style which leads eventually to the pain and shame of the Cross. God does not coerce, he does not use Kalashnikovs, grenade launchers, and bombs to insist on his truth. He does not organize human armies of violence, nor even heavenly armies of force. He does not coerce with human law, nor even with canon law. He does not haul dissenters to court. He does not insult nor disrespect non-believers. He does not use his power and divinity as a weapon or license for viciousness. Sometimes we do in a chilling perversion of God-with-us. “Do as I do, do as I say, for God is with us, not with you!” we say. “God is ours, not yours. We have God’s truth; all you have is darkness. We have God’s power; all you have is weakness. So, in God’s power, I can bully you; in God’s truth, I can rid the world of you, cut off your fingers, so you can no longer write your poetry; cut off your tongues, so you can no longer sing your songs, cut off you ears, so you can no longer hear of your ancient ways, cut off your heads so you can no longer think your beguiling thoughts. God-with-us, not God-with-you, gives us the power to destroy your bodies and rape your spirit; no need to respect you, no need to consult you, no need to talk to you. Dialogue? Hogwash! God is with us!
But from the viewpoint of today’s Gospel and the truth of the first Christmas, God with-us has a quite different style. Majesty is revealed in poverty, strength in powerlessness. Truth is revealed in subtlety. Certitude, in humility. Assent to truth is invited and waited for. It is a style of the divine earthy ciphers that we must learn in Advent.
So often we think God is with us, but have only ourselves; we think we have his truth, but we only have our non-sequiturs and shallowness. We think God is with us, but we only have our palaces and offices, our bank accounts and law firms. If God is with us, St. Paul had some important words with which we might check this:
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13: 1-7)
Passionate about making our projects and dreams come true, we recall: The Virgin bore a son. They named him Emmanuel: God-is-with-us. God is with us all, reaching out to us all. God is with us all, reaching out to him. God is love. He is not our violence, not our hatred, not our weapon. Waiting for him we know, without love, we are nothing. Nothing, we know we desperately need to find God-with-us.
Waiting for him, we pray our Christmas celebration be blessed.
 Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Meditation on the Incarnation, Week II.
 Cf. Matthew 14:26-33