January 6, 2013
LESS IS MORE!
Today, we celebrate what used to be known as the “little Christmas.” In many European countries, the real gift-giving day is today, Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.
During the day of the “bigger” Christmas, I actually talked about what’s right with the gift-giving culture associated with Christmas. I shared with you something eminently personal, a deep experience that has touched me immensely, as I go on doing my ministry as priest, over the past 30 years!
Epiphany now calls me to reflect a little more on this topic, but this time, I focus on the essential – on the “little”, that is, on the lesser, which ultimately redounds to what is more, what is greater, what is higher.
The bigger Christmas, whether we like it or not, had to do with the more. We had more lights, more fun, more food, more celebrations, more parties, more everything. Prior to the big day, we even had more traffic-clogged roads, more people at malls, in the streets, and for us in the Philippines, a lot more people during Simbang Gabi (Misa da Gallo, both at dawn and at night), with more and more younger folks going to Church primarily to link up with friends, more than to attend Mass. (We had more people doing the “simbang tabi” rather than the real “simbang gabi.”)
Today, Epiphany Sunday teaches us so many things. But one of those teachings has to do precisely with its nature as the little Christmas. Gone now is the excitement and focus on the grand celebrations, the great expectations that Christmas Day is associated with all over the world. We now focus on the lesser aspects, on the less popular truths, on the less celebrated tenets that the whole Christmas mystery brings to humanity.
But less is more …
Let me tell you what this means … First, the romantic images of Christmas are no longer the central focus: angels singing, shepherds running in haste, the stable being emptied and then filled with the central object of our attention – the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. Second, the focus in more on a truth rather than images that can be easily represented in cute tinsel and foil: animals in a stable, poor shepherds giving homage to the newborn baby, and Mary and Joseph doting on a cute, little, and helpless baby about whom everyone seems to be excited, except of course, a King by the name of Herod.
But less is, indeed, more! That truth, it turns out, has many facets – the truth about the baby, the truth about the search for him that the Magi from the east set out for, including the truth about Jerusalem, for whom “light has come,” and upon whom “the glory of the Lord shines;” the truth, too, about that light symbolized by the rising star that led the wise men towards where he was; the truth about Christ the Light of all nations; the truth, too, about us and the new relationships among Jews and Gentiles, that his coming has brought to the world!
Less is indeed, more!
This is what happens when we simplify. This is what takes place when we focus on the essentials, when we take away the trimmings and trappings that have arisen owing to the progressive commercialization of Christmas. This is Christmas in its bare essentials … the story of God coming to be born as man, like us, in Jesus, the Christ … the story of the mystery of the Incarnation, so simple and yet so rich; so basic and yet so eminently so foundational as to have so many repercussions for each and everyone of us.
Less, indeed, is more!
So what does Christmas do to us? What does the lesser Christmas lead us to realize? … A lot, I would like to think!
For one, we, like Jerusalem, are enveloped in darkness … “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples.” We are a broken people; a sinful race. For all the things that we know, there’s more that we do not know. We are broken by divisiveness, by all forms of factionalism. Even Christians don’t see eye to eye on many issues; even Catholics are not united in what to believe, whom to follow, and which teachings to accept and which to reject. Many choose the path of least resistance – just follow the mainstream, which means what mainstream media would have us follow, thus becoming cherry pickers, or what is known as cafeteria catholics.
But this lesser Christmas is precisely for us who live in darkness, who cower in fear, and who wallow in sin. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” It has to do with a resounding message of hope.
What can be more simple than that? What can be lesser than this, that in its bare simplicity can teach us all we really need to know, and have?
Indeed, less is more! When we see the light shining, the star rising, and wise men coming from far away, we see hope … we see light … even in a dark tunnel … we see new life … we see endless possibilities … we see what we all are called to be … “co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3:6).
I saw that glimmer of hope two days before Christmas, when I anointed a young man whose death brought untold suffering to his family who almost solely depended on him. I saw it in suffering. I saw it in darkness, and apparent hopelessness. But I also saw a whole lot more. I saw the promise of new life and new hope even in the midst of seeming defeat. I saw the great and deep faith of his bereaved family who accepted their loss with Christian resignation and faith.
Indeed, less is more! Take heart my dear readers, the lesser Christmas is a promise of more … “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
P.S. I would like to inform my readers that I am leaving for Borongan, Eastern Samar tomorrow to attend the funeral of Renan Luteria, about whom I dedicated my Christmas Day homily. I go there to bring good news to his family, that so many had come forward to help Renan’s brother possibly regain his eyesight, and also to bring personally the little financial help that some friends who don’t even know Renan extended to the family. Thank you to all those who pledged help and support. Thank you, too, to all those who still go out of their way to help typhoon victims through me and the SDBs in Mati, Davao Oriental.
“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.!