Christmas is the most anticipated season in the Philippines. The fact that we start celebrating it as early as the first of September gives you a clear clue about how much we value it. By this time, it is not uncommon to see houses so brightly lit with parols hanging by the windows or porches, and Christmas lights tracing roofs, doors, and fences, as though stars had fallen down from heaven.

Mind you, this is also the season where people brave the horrendous Edsa traffic, going to and from the malls. We even go as far as shopping in the Divisoria jungle, if only to cross out every name on our lengthy Christmas list – family, teachers, classmates, friends, all included! And when the Christmas parties start, you realise how many subsets of people you will actually have to feast with over puto bumbong, bibingka, quezo de bola, hamon and fruitcake. (I’m starving just at the thought of it!) From the sights, smell, taste and the joyous sounds of the season–like waking up to the sound of your neighbor’s rendition of Jose Mari Chan Christmas songs–I’d say that nothing beats the joy this Pinoy kind of Christmas brings to our hearts.

But on top of this happy chaos of the season, we also can never close our eyes to the families we see living underneath the Edsa overpass, nor to the street kids constantly risking their lives jumping in and out of jeepneys to sing carols for some coins we can spare. We have our brothers and sisters in Marawi who are trying to rebuild their homes and lives at this time, as well as those who have experienced typhoons and calamities this year. The truth is that we don’t need to look very far to see that while the season calls for celebration, some of us just cannot do so because of different reasons. Maybe they are experiencing depression, the loss of a loved one, faith broken because of unanswered prayers, deferred hope for things that didn’t happen, doubts, discouragements, fear. How can we even think of partying when these things are happening in our midst?

Looking at Mary’s troubles and joy

Though I think there won’t be any all-encompassing answer for us, I take comfort in looking at the life of Mary before she conceived Jesus, right through the time when he was born.

Mary, a young virgin betrothed to her fiancé Joseph, received news that she was to become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now how does one react to something like that? How does one deal with something that was seen as so scandalous back then, that one could be stoned to death for immorality? I would probably panic if I were in Mary’s shoes, but she, on the other hand, responded in humility and took the posture of a servant.

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Not only that, but we can even see an evidence of joy. There was much of it that she could not help but burst into a song!

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; (Luke 1:46)

I imagine the months leading to the birth of Jesus were challenging for Mary. The situation wasn’t normal, and it probably wasn’t filled with breakthroughs and answered prayers. Yet she rejoiced in what God has given on Christmas, the perfect picture of joy that is not based on our past and present circumstances, nor focused on the things we have or don’t have. This kind of joy is drawn from the knowledge of the ultimate sacrifice: God becoming man, that we may experience the salvation of our soul and spirit, born to defeat fear, shame, depression, oppression, poverty, and all the problems of the world, not just for this year or the next, but for all of eternity.

My prayer is that this truth will speak into our hearts and cause us to overflow with joy at the grace given for free. We were gifted with a personal Savior in Christ and though sad circumstances may remain, my hope is that God will strengthen us in glad anticipation for the redemption He promises of His children in a world steeped in brokenness and sin.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls  (1 Peter 1:6-9)

And let me add that if we are near someone who is going through the most difficult time this Christmas, let us offer compassion and company. May we be led to share the joy we carry in our hearts, and give to those who may be having a hard time in finding it.