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Challenges of 2018 and of life

Allow me to share here excerpts from a homily written by Jurgette Honculada, a friend in the women’s group Pilipina, for the New Year service of her local church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). May this shared meditation help see us through the continuing challenges of 2018!

The theme I have chosen tonight is not original.  It is taken from a meditation book [where] the meditation on Christmas Day focuses on three challenges. First is the challenge of the desert or deserts that each of us must go through in life. Second is the star that prods us onward. And third is the new birth in Jesus Christ offered to each of us, which is quite literally our birthright—others would call it being born again.

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[The Magi] were not kings as we commonly believe but learned men, probably scientists who studied many things including the skies. That is how they came to behold the Star of Bethlehem.

It was people who were not Jews, who knew nothing about the Jewish God who, in fact, read the signs correctly. When they beheld the star—of such beauty and luminosity—they knew they had to drop everything and leave everything to follow and to find that Star.

It reminds me of the parable of the pearl of great price and let me quote, again from Matthew: The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

I have traveled through a few deserts in my lifetime. In 1971 Bong and I were newly married and less than three years later he was taken by military agents and jailed for

six months in Fort Bonifacio. Seven years later—in 1981—he was put under an Asso or arrest, search and seizure order, meaning that he could be abducted anytime by the military. His crime was that he had been organizing workers in Zamboanga City. Part of my desert was that I had to spend time in Manila where it was safest for Bong who, understandably, did not want a second prison term. But I had two small children in Zamboanga, Nur, a toddler of three, and Maia, still a baby. Each time I had to leave them, it tore me apart. My heart was such a wilderness.

But what prods us on, what sustains us, through days, weeks, months of searing heat and biting cold? It is the pearl of great price, it is the Star of Bethlehem, it is our faith in a “fairest Lord Jesus” whom we shall cherish, honor and adore—very much like the wise men who had not read Jewish or Christian scripture, but who chose to follow their hearts and their souls when they saw the Star of Bethlehem.

It is no accident that the first worshippers were not Jews but foreigners—men from the east—and neither were they the elite—they were poor shepherds most probably, mabaho, walang ligo, amoy karnero. But they, Magi and shepherds, were chosen

because they were ready to drop everything, leave everything, when they saw the Star or heard about the birth of the Baby.

The Star of Bethlehem for me has been my Christian faith—interwoven with and enriched by other beliefs such as feminism and environmental advocacy.  Through the good times and bad times in my life, the Star has never failed me.

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Now I must turn to my third and final point: being born again.

If our God and our faith can lead us through the wilderness and bring forth rivers in the desert, how much more can our God and our faith make something new out of us, make us born again?

To develop our best selves, we have two guides: text and context. Text, of course, refers to Scripture, and the prophet Micah sums up the task for us very well: to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. Context refers to what is happening around us. Is the slaughter of 13,000 mostly young and mostly poor people doing justly? Is creating thousands of young widows and orphans loving mercy?

And so, dear sisters and brothers, as the old year bade us farewell and the new year says “hello,” let me sum up my threefold message: first, to be ready to travel through the desert, or deserts, of life; second, to follow the Star, whether it burns bright or dimly, and to never leave it; and third, to let our fairest Lord Jesus call us to new life, to being born again, to be the best—and not the worst—of ourselves, as persons—to cherish life and not to cherish death; and as institutions—as a church, not to say “yes” to a half-truth or a half-lie because the end justifies the means, but always and ever to follow the Jesus who shines fairer, the Jesus who shines purer.

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TAGS: Christmas, Homily, Star of Bethlehem, UCCP, women’s group Pilipina
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