[Blueboard] Christmas Message from the Ateneo de Manila University President

Romeo A. Dalandan, Jr. rdalandan at ateneo.edu
Tue Dec 19 13:35:53 PHT 2006

Christmas 2006



Ateneo de Manila University

A Christmas Message from the President



Bienvenido F. Nebres, SJ
December 18, 2006

I n the movie "The Nativity Story" now showing in Manila theaters, we 
see Herod troubled about prophecies of a coming King of the Jews. He 
asks his followers to look out for this possible rival, expecting that 
he would come as a great prince or a powerful warrior. The census, where 
every man and his family must go back to his ancestral home to be 
registered, is presented as a ploy to flush out this rival king, who 
according to prophecy should be going to Bethlehem. Thus as Joseph and 
Mary enter Jerusalem, Herod's soldiers give Joseph a thorough body 
search – but then the soldiers look at each other and say, "Not this 
one." When the Magi come on the scene, Herod invites them to dinner and 
finds to his shock and surprise that the king they are looking for is a 
child. We take it so much for granted that God came to us in a child. 
But when we come to think of it, it is really rather unbelievable – 
except that it is true.

In fact, the great power of this movie "The Nativity Story" is how much 
like us everyone is in the Gospel story. Mary enters as a young teenage 
girl, playing with her teenage friends, doing the usual household chores 
of drawing water and helping in the house. Joseph, probably in his late 
20s, would be like any carpenter or manual laborer today. Joachim and 
Anna are ordinary, hardworking, loving, sometimes authoritarian parents. 
In a truly memorable scene, Mary comes back from visiting Elizabeth, 
obviously very pregnant, and the neighbors start to murmur and to 
gossip. And we realize that it must have been like that, they were very 
much like us.

They were very much like us – but some were called to a difficult 
journey of faith and trust. And what makes them extraordinary is that 
they say "yes". We see Mary suffering the anger and disbelief of Joachim 
and Anna, their fear of what might happen to her. She sees the pain, the 
doubts, the struggle of Joseph. But she holds firm to her faith in the 
angel's message and to the consequences of her "yes". We see Joseph, in 
pain and not knowing what to do, but ultimately saying: "I will make no 
accusation, so there will be no trial for Mary." And when the angel 
finally speaks to him in a dream, he becomes her protector and pillar of 
strength. He too gives his "yes." In the journey to Bethlehem, there is 
an evening scene where Joseph and Mary eat and talk alone in the cold 
night. They recall the words of the angel, "He will be great and will be 
called Son of the Most High." Mary says, "I wonder how we will know. 
Will it be something he says." And Joseph says, "I wonder if I can teach 
him anything."

We too have our own calls and our own invitations to say "yes". The call 
is often to something very ordinary and simple. Like the call to the 
shepherds. As they enter Bethlehem, an elderly shepherd stops them and 
says to Joseph, "Your young wife looks very cold," and invites them to 
warm themselves by his little fire before they move on. He gives the one 
little gift he has, the warmth of his fire. Through this his simple 
"yes", he becomes part of the great Christmas story.

When finally the birth of Jesus comes, Joseph wipes the perspiration 
from Mary's face and says, "You are a strong woman." Mary clasps his 
hand and says, "My strength comes from God," and then turning her gaze 
to Joseph, she adds "and from you." Our own "yes" goes back to the "yes" 
of Mary and Joseph and we see that in our struggles to say and live out 
our "yes", we gain strength from the God who calls us and from one another.

Some years ago I recall discussing questions asked by some Ateneo first 
year high school boys of their religion teacher. They asked: "Did God 
really talk to Abraham, did He really talk to Moses? If so, does He 
still talk to us today? And if He does, how would we know?"

I will not try to fully answer these questions, though I strongly 
suggest that you see "The Nativity Story" and ask these questions 
yourselves. What I do know is that I still see many of us giving our 
generous "yes" to the call of the Lord. I see this in our students 
contributing to and preparing food packages for the poor communities we 
work with and for the victims of Typhoon Reming in Bicol. I met some of 
them on their way to packing relief goods for Bicol last week and they 
went on to say: "We will be going to Bicol to help rebuild homes next 
week." I see this in the earnestness with which our students ask what it 
means for them to be a "person for others" and beyond that to be a 
"professional for others" – how they may use their gifts and their 
careers to build a better life for others. I see too how we truly give 
strength to one another because of shared vision, passion and caring.

Ordinary people, very much like us, becoming extraordinary because they 
say "yes". People like us who find in God and in one another the 
strength day by day to live out their "yes". This is the story of Mary 
and Joseph, of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joachim and Anna, of the 
shepherds and the Magi, as told in "The Nativity Story." It is the story 
of the first Jesuit Companions recalled by Fr. Danny Huang in his essay 
on our 147th anniversary last December 10, " A balcony, a tomb, a 
letter: The gifts of the first Jesuits and formation at the Ateneo 
It is our story too and the great gift the Lord gives us this Christmas 
is His continuing invitation for us to say and live our "yes" and become 
part of the greatest story ever told.

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