By Danilo S. Venida
By tradition, Christmas is a time for giving and receiving, a time of loving and being loved, a time of great expectations and meeting them. Christmas is a celebration of fulfillment. Yet, in this season, many are empty and wanting.
When there is so much hate in the world, Christmas seems meaningless. And amid terror and counterterror, in the depths of poverty amid plenty, it is time to go back to the first Christmas and know that in that silent night, when the Child was born, the greatest wish came to be: Peace on earth, goodwill to men. Gloria in excelsis Deo!
The first Christmas was not about religion; it was about presence. It was not about power and might; it was about empowerment of the lowly, the poor. It was about encountering: shepherds and kings. There were conflicts and human dynamics centering on power play, including the denial of a room in the inn for a family in dire need of a place to stay. The images of contrast project light and darkness, a chiaroscuro. But by and large, peace and joy were the overriding messages on that first Christmas night.
And the Child grew up. A “kingdom not of this world” He proclaimed. There is constancy in the message. The true reality of being human transcends the conditions that manifest in the world. Being human is never an excuse for deprivation or greed. Being human presumes intrinsic and boundless greatness in every person. There is power in the Person of Jesus, not power by conquest but power by affirmation. The universal salutation: Peace! Shalom! As-Salaam-Alaikum!
The wish for peace continues for this Christmas. This is a perpetual Christmas wish for the country and for the world, for all generations.
Election campaign 2016 is the primary concern in the Philippines going toward the first six months of next year. It is opportune to wish that peace rule the duration of this political exercise. The challenges going against peace are great. The accusations among the candidates are getting very deep and personal. High stakes are building up on the table. Vested interests are actively in play. Appeals to emotion are being pursued, getting the contending camps riled up. The dominant determinant of action: surveys and spin.
For peace to have a chance, going back to the basics, to the truth of the candidates and their supporters, is called for. The foundation of peace is deeply personal. The song hit it right on the head: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Authentic peace can be realized only when every person finds personal peace. And how can this happen? Through self-awareness. Knowing who one really is inevitably brings peace. The Child in Bethlehem, in the manger, knew who He was. He was whole, not wanting, and He shared the good news that all are as He is. For this, the world crucified Him. And He proclaimed that He and every person are One, He is the vine and we are the branches.
And the world crucified many who believed, and continues to crucify believers.
The world misses its real identity when it defines itself in terms of power and wealth, pleasure and fame. The crisis in the world is one of identity. If only every person can proceed from the Truth of the Child that is the reason for the season, that we are all one under and in One God, the world will be at peace. War becomes meaningless.
John Lennon’s imagery of “all the people, sharing all the world” becomes real. Elitism is the root of all conflicts in the world. Haves and have-nots, powerful and powerless are distinguished, and social classes established. Structures that abet the differences that seem to define peoples create blinders. They hide the real identities that otherwise will show: that we are all equal, circumstances notwithstanding. All men and women are created equal. It is a sad twist of fate that inequality has become humanity’s dominant preoccupation since time immemorial.
Last Dec. 12, I traveled to Nakar, Quezon, with Bernardo Villegas, Jesus Estanislao, Florencio Orendain, Ciriaco Reyes and Ricardo Pascua in a bus along with other professionals and experts in coconut, livestock, bamboo, township development, management, and social engineering, among others. We met with close to 1,000 coconut farmers who, with about 5,000 more, own 15,000 hectares of coconut land in the area. We were joined by Quezon Gov. David Suarez and Nakar Mayor Leovigildo Ruzol and community leaders. Together, we provided the faces that will form The Nakar Initiative, the Experimental Living Community of Tomorrow (Elcot). Together, we will work and beat poverty, first in Nakar, then in the province of Quezon, and then in the country. We will partner with overseas Filipino workers as investors for the Initiative.
Dreaming makes sense. This is a Christmas wish: that men and women of goodwill can join hands, in peace, and uplift one another. Coconut farmers are among the poorest in Philippine society. By our first encounter in Nakar, that has changed. The Nakar coconut farmers are no longer alone. A diversified communal enterprise based on coconut will be worked out with and for them by professional groups motivated by the message of the first Christmas: presence, empowerment of the lowly and the poor, encountering one another in the spirit of our one humanity.
The Child in Bethlehem constantly challenges every human being to do as He did: to go and share of oneself and spread the message of peace. That is the only call that matters. A blessed Christmas to all!
This article was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on December 17, 2015