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The 4 challenges of Christmas

What is the challenge of Christmas in this time of pandemic? Ano ba ang hamon ng Kapaskuhan sa ating panahon ngayon? There are four challenges that we can gather from a brief reflection on Luke 2:1-7.

The first challenge can be found in verses 1-3: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register.”

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When Caesar decreed that a census be taken of the entire Roman world, he helped fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me, one who will be ruler over Israel.”

At that time, Joseph and Mary were living in Nazareth. They were forced to travel to Bethlehem, 110 kms away from Nazareth. By our modern standards, 110 kilometers is not far away. But back then, it took at least three days to travel.

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Also, bear in mind Mary’s condition. Kabuwanan na niya. The journey was uncomfortable and exhausting for Mary.

The first challenge is—God is at work in the events of our day. God’s purposes in the world are being accomplished and realized not only by the church but even by secular governments and leaders. In our country God used an inexperienced person, a housewife, to dismantle the Marcos dictatorship in February 1986 and to rebuild the democratic foundations once again.

The second challenge is found in verses 4-5: “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

All the four gospel writers tell us very little about this couple. Compared to other biblical characters, Joseph and Mary don’t stand out. There’s Moses, David, Daniel, Esther, and Ruth. But who are Joseph and Mary? They are just like us, simple folks. The second challenge—God uses ordinary people to accomplish his extraordinary purposes in the world.

What was important was their simple obedience to God. Because of their simple faith, Joseph and Mary became major participants in one of the greatest events of our history—the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The third challenge of Christmas is in verses 6 and 7: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

In chapter 1, verses 31-33, we come across his name as told by the angel Gabriel: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great, will be called the son of the Most High… His kingdom will never end.”

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Contrast these verses with the verses in our passage (Luke 2:1-7)—the baby, born of poor unknown parents, born in a manger. What a stark contrast! There is always a gap between the prophetic statement and its fulfillment, between vision and reality. The baby is actually the mighty king, the one born in the manger is the creator of heaven and earth, the one born of poor parents is the son of God.

The third challenge—We need to see with the eyes of faith. To have faith, to believe in the name of God, we need to exercise our imagination. It is hard to imagine that the baby born in the manger is actually the King of kings, the Lord of lords.

And we come now to the fourth challenge as found in verse 7: “Because there was no room for them in the inn.”

The Christmas season usually finds us busy—putting up Christmas decor, shopping for gifts, preparing for parties and noche buenas. We may be too caught up with all the preparations that we lose sight of the event itself. In our busyness, we neglect or gloss over the more important things in the celebration. The Christmas rush could be the modern equivalent of “there was no room for them in the inn.”

Let us not be preoccupied with the props and trimmings of the season and lose sight of the real meaning and significance of the advent. Advent, by the way, means the arrival of an important person, event, or development. May this time of the year find us not only joyous and cheerful but also reflective and thankful.

The fourth challenge is—Let us prepare a room for Jesus in our hearts and minds. May we not be like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who were with Jesus and yet did not recognize him (Luke 24:13-32).

May we experience the Immanuel, which means “God is with us,” in our lives once again this Yuletide season. Maligayang Pasko sa ating lahat!

J. Silvestre C. Gonzales is a fellow of the Institute of Studies in Asian Church and Culture (ISACC). He finished AB Journalism at UP in 1977.

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TAGS: Celebration, challenges, Christmas, Christmas 2020, COVID-19, health, pandemic
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