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Going outside boxes is hard. Leaving our comfort zones? Equally hard. The Magi’s quest took over two years, border-crossing, in search of a child, a complete stranger; a stranger they believed would liberate his people from oppression. Crossing boundaries, discarding prejudices, tearing down walls: very, very hard. And very, very scary! And taking another road back is hard and scary, as well. The Magi went against the orders of Herod the King and innocent children were massacred. More often than not, then and now, when the Powerful are threatened, the most powerless get hurt. Who among us have flown on airplanes? Who among us have looked out the windows of those airplanes and seen the land masses below? What did you see? Did you see the lines, the borders that separated one nation from another? Did you see the markers that identified each country's territory apart from another? Like in our maps? The boxes we make, our comfort zones, our prejudices, the thick and high walls around our homes and even our churches, our accurate maps, even that Apartheid Wall in Israel, the borders that separate us are all man-made. We put them up, which means we can tear them down!
When Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Visayas, we saw the borders created by the political lines: the Cojuangcos and Roxases, and the Romualdezes and Marcoses; the national and local government; international relief organizations and the DSWD; the survivors who have no choice but to remain in Tacloban and the survivors who were able to leave immediately because they had homes elsewhere. But we have also seen how volunteers from different sectors, of different ages, and from different races cross boundaries and go where many of them, where many of us, have never gone before. The international community have crossed the lines and broken the walls to express compassion for and solidarity with our Filipino sisters and brothers, more than what our government has done. In the verses that we have been reflecting on from the first chapters of Matthew and of Luke since December 16, one element is crystal clear. Except for Mary and Joseph, all the characters who come together to celebrate the birth of the Messiah are strangers. Complete Strangers. Empires and Kingdoms create systems and lifestyles that create strangers, that divide, that pit one against the other, whether the division is based on class, race, creed, gender, religion… The birth of the Messiah, the fulfilment of the promise of Immanuel, the coming of Yeshua—which means Yahweh Liberates—brings complete strangers together, births community! The birth of the Messiah, my dear friends, can tear down walls. If you read your Bible and pray every day you will grow, grow, grow in the realization that the Gospel of Matthew starts and ends with Immanuel, God-with-us. And today’s lectionary reading, Matthew 25: 31-46, is Immanuel in Action… Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger. How many times have we spent waiting for God’s presence, Immanuel, in our lives… The key is not to wait for Immanuel but to be Immanuel to those who need God the most, to those whose only hope is God! Today, as people struggle for life in places like Tacloban and many towns in the Visayas, each of us is invited to be active participants in the quest for a just and lasting peace, to be agents of love and faith and hope in the healing of our world, to tear down the walls that divide the fed and the hungry, the healthy and the sick, the rich and the poor… Despite the tragedies that have befallen our country, many of us here tonight have much to be thankful for. God has been good to us. But thanksgiving unless shared and celebrated with those whose only hope is God is not really thanksgiving, it is investing, waiting for returns. The Magi gave their very best. They did not go to Bethlehem to have an exchange gift or monito-monita. To be thankful is to share, to take risks, to cross borders, to tear down walls and thus encounter the stranger. Scary? Yes. Hard? Yes. Dangerous? Yes. But this is what the incarnation is all about. No one deserves to be alone so God took the first step. God crossed borders. God left heaven to be with us. God chose to be one of us. God took sides. And God took the side of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized… those who are totally different from us. And we, those who confess to follow God, should do the same. My friends, as we welcome 2014, I invite us all to cross borders like the Magi, to tear down walls that divide, to be God’s presence in others’ lives, to change our ways and take another road. And like the Magi, by taking another road, the road less traveled, let us participate in the healing of our world and in our own healing. Happy New Year! [NEW YEAR'S EVE HOMILY,PCCL UNIVERSITY CHURCH]
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