December 25, 2007

Jolibee in Basilan

Christmas Eve Mass
Luke 2: 1-14 : “A Savior has been born for you”
December 24, 2007 / Ateneo de Zamboanga Chapel

When I first came here in Zamboanga City a month ago, many of my friends from Manila warned me not to go to Basilan. I smiled and said, “Did you know there is Jollibee sa Basilan?” It was a pleasant surprise to them, “Really? You are joking!” I smiled. “Come and see.” Such experience is not new to us; we are disappointed when tourists shy away from our country because of the CNN news. The images of Abu Sayaf, Payatas dump site, kidnappings, Trillianes in Manila Pen, street children all over, and graft corruption speaks a lot. This is journalism - highlighting the bad news by showing us images of bad news. Unfortunately, images speak louder than words. An image can say a thousand words.

The battle of evil and good now is in the arena of imagery. We are bombarded with the image of poverty, graft and corruption, war and crime. The evil is personified and highlighted through vivid images of people who plants chaos or victims of injustices – Osama Bin Laden. Sadam. Al-Qaeda. Iraq war. Trillianes. Abu Sayafs. Marinet. Sumilao Farmers. Evil has a very vivid and distinct face. We see too much evil everywhere.

Ironically, when we think of people that somehow epitomize good news, we find very few. We have some few in mind but they are dead (Cardinal Sin), forgotten (Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio), a boxer (Pacquiao), or a foreigner (Al Gore, Gandhi). We don’t have prominent good people in our fingertips! Bad news has faces. Good news has none. That is tragic. We need images of good people that will symbolize the good news.

The birth of Jesus is an image of “love in action.” A good news. The incarnation of word became flesh - A fulfillment of God’s love for us and the promise that He will be with us until the end of time. What is the importance of incarnation? Some people may say If God is God; there is no need to send his only Son to save mankind. All He needs to do is to say the magic word, “You are forgiven and save.” But this is not the essence of loving. Love is manifested in action and not in words. And since Jesus’ idea of salvation is to heal us, he needs to leave his God status and be vulnerable to humanity’s greatest mystery… suffering and death. He needs to feel. Anything that you can feel, you can heal. Anything we can feel, we can heal.

This is the call of Christmas for all of us - to have our own incarnation. To be like Jesus, to feel the pain of our family, to feel the pain of being not forgiven, the pain of hunger, being misunderstood, being lonely and broken, and being persecuted. When we can feel misery and pain of others, it is easier for us to understand others, and when we understand, we can heal people. Jesus became like in everything but sin, in order to feel us – what it means to be human. Jesus took of the clothes of his divinity and wore the clothes of humanity. To feel is to be there. Christmas then is PRESENCE – God is with us – Emmanuel.

We are surrounded by people who are hopeless, marginalized, abandoned, and suffering. Words are not enough to convince people around us about the love of God. They need warm and live images of “love in action.” They need our presence. The saddest Christmas for us is to celebrate it alone.

They are well fed with words of good news – bible, encyclicals, promises, visions and missions. What they need are warm bodies that will embody the good news. We need “living witnesses” and “snap shots” of what good news is. Not so much on doing great things. We need to start somewhere. Mother Teresa said, “In this life we cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” It is images and not words that really matters. Beautiful words may move us, but images of “love in action” give hope and convert people.

Forgive somebody and you will understand God’s forgiveness. Give your favorite shirt to the poor and they will understand God’s protection. Invite a poor family who has nothing to eat tonight in your noche Buena, and they will understand the meaning of feast in heaven. Visit somebody in the prison or hospital, and they will understand God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. Go out and spend Christmas season with your family and you will understand why Mary and Joseph need not to find a beautiful house for Jesus to be born. Do something extra ordinary this season, stretch your hands, smile to a stranger, spend more time with your family, give another chance, forgive yourself, play with your kids, hug your parents, say thank you to your parents. Beautiful words may move us, but images of “love in action” give hope and convert people

Christmas then is a call to wake up. God created us to become His presence and image of his goodness - To be the ongoing “incarnation of God.” God used Jesus to be His face on the first Christmas. Today, God wants us to be His face…here and now. You do not need to be Manny Pacquiao, or Oprah or Al Gore, or Jose Rizal to make a difference. Just be there for your family, for your friends and for our country. Just be there.

My friend’s view of Basilan changed when he learned there is Jollibee in Basilan. “It must be peaceful there.” Jollibee did the trick. But we are not a bees like jolibee, we are human be-ings!

This Christmas… its time to go home and bring the newly born Jesus to somebody who needs the savior … and allow them to see Jesus, not in your words but in your action. And when you finally see them smile and their eyes glow, you know it is Christmas!

Because Christmas is bringing a piece of heaven here on earth.

“We must become the change we want to see in the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

- Fr. Willy M. Samson,SJ

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