'The real Christmas wished by God'

MANILA, Philippines – Pregnant with her first child, a woman in labor begs for a place to give birth. Her husband, who is not the child's father, goes house to house with her. Everyone turns them away.

The poor couple ends up in a stable – with beasts, not neighbors; bunches of straw, not flowery décor; animal manure, not food on the table. The woman named Mary delivers this child, Jesus, in the worst of human conditions.

Like their family, more than 16 million Filipinos experienced the worst conditions this year. In 2013, major disasters killed more than 6,400 of us and affected around a fifth of our population: 

What's the point of Christmas this year?

Precisely, we celebrate Christmas because Jesus, too, came in the face of rejection, suffering, and fear. We celebrate because the baby in the manger gives us hope – and compels us to help – in the face of disaster.

The new president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, says the "nightmare typhoon" brings a "different kind of Christmas." He writes in his Christmas message:

The first Christmas was not a feast, it was born from sacrifice

Mary and Joseph were by themselves in the stillness of the night

The first Christmas was only love, the greatest story ever told

The Father's only begotten is with us, beyond silver above all gold

The Christmas lantern is not by the window, but in every loving soul

Orphaned children sing Christmas lullabies we see the mystery unfold

The Christmas tree has no gifts because the gift Himself is God

It is a different kind of Christmas, the real Christmas wished by God

“Let us not forget the Christ-child," Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle says in his own message. "Beholding, contemplating, and adoring Jesus, who is truly God’s presence among us, let us be transformed into signs of his coming."

"Christmas 2013 should be a Christmas of solidarity and communion," he adds. "But this will happen only with serious soul-searching, review of values, reordering of priorities, and commitment to God, neighbor, country, and creation.”

The cardinal says, “The survivors of recent disasters will teach us how to see the Child promised by God with fresh eyes of faith and hope."

Reeling from back-to-back disasters, we celebrate because this is the point of Christmas: to honor the humble Jesus by helping the poor. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.