[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
Ateneo de Manila University
A Christmas Message from the President
THE NATIVITY STORY
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
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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