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The Christmas message: Emmanuel, God is with us

MERRY Christmas to everyone! “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us” (Matthew 1: 23). Indeed, the life and ministry of Christ was an embodiment of the name bestowed upon him. Jesus becoming man was primarily God’s work. While he was truly human through his birth from Mary, he was truly the Son of God through the Holy Spirit. And, that through him God’s love and presence shall be felt for all ages.

What’s in the name? Our identity and sense of dignity is what’s in our names! We are known, recognized and acknowledged by our family, friends and peers by the names we possess. And, it is often said that the etymology of our names is a clear manifestation of our character. Our parents would even select a second name derived from a popular saint or angel that would serve as our guides in life.

We value our “family’s name” and would never allow anyone to tarnish its good reputation for somehow it represents a long-standing tradition and sense of worth. But if we value our names so much, why can’t we value the same name given to us at baptism? Remember … the name called “Christians”? We are indeed Christians by name but are we as such in our words and deeds?

If we are true Christians, we are also “Emmanuel”; God is with us, for we have become God’s loving presence amidst people. In his book, “Life’s Work”, Francis Kong shares this beautiful story of authentic Christianity: A small-orphaned boy lived with his grandmother. One night their house caught fire. While trying to rescue the little boy who was sleeping upstairs, the grandmother died in the smoke and flames. A crowd gathered around the burning house, where the boy’s cries for help could be heard above the blaze. No one knew what to do.

Suddenly, a man rushed from the crowd and circled to the back where he spotted an iron pipe that reached an upstairs window. He disappeared for a minute, and then reappeared with the boy in his arms. Amid the cheers of the crowd, he climbed down the hot pipe as the boy held on to his neck. Weeks after, a public hearing was held in the town hall to determine in whose custody the boy would be places. Since no relative was left to take care of the boy, city legislation requires that the boy be given up for adoption only to highly qualified persons. Each person interested in adopting the boy was allowed to speak briefly.

One man said, “I have a big farm. Everybody needs the out-of-doors.” Another boasted of his work: “I’m a teacher. I have a large library. He would get a good education.” The richest man in the community spoke last and topped it all with, “I could give the boy everything mentioned tonight. The farm, education and more, including money and travel. I’d like him in my home.” When the chairman asked if anyone else wanted to say anything before he closed the session, a stranger rose from the back. As he walked toward the front, deep suffering showed on his face. Once in front, he stood directly in front of the little boy. Slowly the stranger removed his hands from his pockets. The crowed gasped and when he looked up, so did the little boy.

Makati City Pabakuna

The man’s hands were terribly scarred. Suddenly the boy gave out a cry of recognition-this was the man who saved his life. His hands were scarred from climbing up and down the hot pipe. The boy leaped up, threw himself around the stranger, and held on for life. The farmer rose and left. So did the teacher. Then the rich man. The stranger had won the boy without a word. His hands spoke more effectively than any words could have.

Our day-to-day lives should be an awakening to the true nature of our names as Christians. Will our acts of faith (e.g. the masses we attend; the Christian celebrations we indulge in, the prayers we do, etc.) prompt an active response in us? Will it bring us closer to God, to the members of our family, to our neighbors, to the people with whom we meet each day? And, will they feel through us, an awakened conscience, and Jesus’ message of peace, humility and forgiveness?

“In Jesus, God himself becomes Emmanuel, God-with-us, the God who walks alongside us, who gets involved in our lives, in our homes, in the midst of our ‘pots and pans,’ as St. Teresa (of Avila) liked to say. Jesus still walks our streets, and he is part of the lives of his people. Go out and meet others where they really are, not where we think they should be”(cf. Pope Francis remarked in a September 2015 homily in New York’s Madison Square Garden).


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