Good afternoon.

Todayis the first of our traditional Simbang Gabi, a nine-day preparation for Christmas, and the organizers of the Paskuhan festivities to have our Paskuhan Mass here at the Q. Pav. because darkness hovers over the heavens.

The Christmas story begins in darkness as well. Not only was it night, but it was also dark for the Israelites as they were suffering as a conquered people. It was a night of confusion as people from all walks of life found themselves in the street to register for a universal taxation. It was a night of frustration and anger as people believed that violence should be the right path to take instead of faith. The first Christmas story was a night of weariness, exasperation, and despair.

Darkness looms over us, too.

Darkness looms when we allow precious lives destroyed by drugs, when we fail to hear the cries of the widows and children of thousands of men and women who were killed because of it, as well as the lament of the loved ones of honest law enforcers who died in their exercise of their duties.

Darkness looms when we fail to fix our criminal justice system and instead take the easier route to punish the law offenders by death, depriving them the opportunity to reform their lives and extinguish from them their sense of hope.

Darkness looms when we fail to tell the stories of the lives of those who generally fought for freedom, [against] the atrocities of martial rule, and allow incontrovertible facts of history replaced by imagined benevolence and illusions of power and grandeur.

Darkness looms when we allow the responsible use of social media to demonize those whose opinions differ from ours, when we share falsehood and lies, instead of ferreting our what is true and spreading what is good and useful.

Darkness looms when we promote the culture of impunity instead of cultivating the sense of accountability, honesty, and integrity in our personal and public lives.

Darkness looms when we ignore the sense of sin and deny our need for God.

But the Christmas story did not end in darkness. The beauty of the Christmas story is that in the midst of darkness, there came light. John the Baptist described the light as a burning and shining lamp, and in the words of the prophet Isaiah, it is the light that dawned on those walking and living in the land of deep darkness.

We all know that when we walk in the midst of darkness, when our lives seem to be an endless night, we need the light. When the world was in darkness, God became man.

This light allowed us not only to see the truth, but it also gave peace. The central message of the Christmas story is the message of peace. The angels announced to the shepherds that peace should reign on the Earth, but this peace is not just being nice to those who are disagreeable, it is not just simply a seccation of hostilities, it is not a balm that soothes the aches of our wounded selves. One author said that this peace broke the silence from God.

It is the peace that descended from the heavens to be with us. It is the peace that entered the world, troubled and divided. Peace is the serenity of the heart that believes that if God is present in our life, in the things that we do, all we be calm, all will be bright.

My dear Thomasians, as we go home and spend Christmas with our families, friends, and loved ones, I hope you share this sense of peace, peace that can only be with us if we remain proclaiming, celebrating and serving the Gospel of Life in every situation, peace that can only be with us if we learn to share the sorrows, the sense of loss and anguish of the victims of violence and support them in their search for justice. Peace can only be with us if only we continue narrating the stories of those who struggled for freedom and peace, freedom and democracy, so that it would never be stolen from us. Peace that can only be with us if we persist in searching for the common good instead of promoting our narrow and vested interests. Peace that can only be with us, if in our quest for truth, we learn to listen to other words even if these voices are different from ours.

Allow me to rephrase the words of the late Archbishop William Temple, who once said, “Christmas celebration should not be a withdrawal from the stress and sorrow of life. Christ was born in the real world, in a city where there was no room for Him, and into a country where Herod, the murderer of innocents, was the King.” He siad that Christ came to us not to shield us from the darkness and harshness of the world, but to give us the courage to bear it. not to protect us from the conflicts of life, but to give us peace, the peace by which we could steadfastly and calmly face the troubles of this life and bring to the troubled and torn and fractured world the healing that it so desires.

My dear Thomasians, I wish you peace. I wish you joy. Merry Christmas and a peaceful new year.