[REFLECTION] Christmas and the pursuit of happiness

[REFLECTION]  Christmas and the pursuit of happiness

By Msgr. Euly B. Belizar, Jr., SThD

December 6, 2022

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
Jn 15:11

1. It begins with a wish that unwraps a desire. The wish could be clothed in a variety of words. But the desire (happiness for ourselves and for others) appears obvious and even has a common word carrier. For instance, greet someone on any significant occasion and you hear yourself say the word “happy” to preface the greeting. “Happy birthday!” “Happy anniversary!” “Happy monthsary!” “Happy Foundation Day!” “Happy Fiesta!” Filipinos are especially adept in organizing social gatherings at the instance of any of the above occasions. And, likewise, they are perfectly capable of spending within and beyond their means to mark them. Author Ibylou Bandala makes an interesting observation on Filipino celebrations: “It is surprising how even those facing many problems in their day-today life set them aside and manage to participate in the preparations and actual festivities”. If this is not an indicator of the reality of the pursuit of happiness among us, I do not know what is.

2. At times it seems that, for a Pinoy, only a death anniversary is without the wish “Happy”. But let me go to my point. I find it perplexing to think of how we wish people “Happy Birthday” etc. but settle for only a “Merry Christmas”. Anyone could say that this is perhaps only a matter of semantics. Still, the question remains: How could we be so big on other less significant aspects of our life but so stingy and downright superficial on the birth of our Savior? Could it be that we are guilty of having reduced Christmas to externalities? The cheerful “ber” months, the lights, the decors, the (exchange of) gifts, the food and beverage (especially those), the carols, the tree, the star—most if not all of these seemingly dominate our idea of Christmas. Ironically, in most of these Christ Jesus, the reason for Christmas, is, in fact, set aside, ignored or is lost in translation. The tragedy of the season is Christmas without Christ.

3. It is not easy which in the crowds we see at the malls, houses, offices, shopping centers or parks, at the dawn or in the evening Masses de Aguinaldo are really pursuing and finding true happiness. But where does it lie and how is Christmas relevant to the pursuit? Echoing the psalmist’s conviction that joy is inseparable from the Lord in whom is “delight” (Ps 37:4), Pope Benedict XVI says that joy is “born from the heart’s wonder at seeing that God is so close to us, that God thinks of us, that God acts in history; it is therefore joy born from contemplating the face of that humble Child because we know that he is the Face of God present for us in humanity, for us and with us. Christmas is joy because at last we see and are certain that God is the goodness, life, and truth of human beings and that he stoops down to them to lift them up to him” (General Audience, 4 January 2012).

4. Happiness is then intertwined with the presence of God in Jesus. This truth we already get a hint of in the words of Elizabeth responding to the presence of Mary who has Jesus, God’s Son, in her womb: “The moment your greeting reached my ears the child in my womb leapt for joy” (Lk 1:44). At the birth of Jesus the angel could not hide the news: “Do not be afraid. I proclaim to you a great joy which will be for all. Today a Savior is born for you in the City of David: He is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). In other words, happiness is intertwined with God’s presence in his Son because that presence spells salvation. Real joy is the fruit of the Savior’s freeing us from the ultimate sources of unhappiness: sin and death.

5. The journey to joy does not end with liberation from sin and death. The Savior also makes sure we have what he has. Paul expresses this in his letter to the Galatians: “But when the fullness of time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that he might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons and daughters” (Gal 4:4-5). True happiness is incompatible with our worldly ideas of it, that is, those involving money or wealth, power, possessions, pleasure, prestige etc. If at all, these are, at best, signs of where they are from and where they should lead to—God himself in and through his Son. When our synthetic sources of happiness are treated as ends, they become gods, But, sadly, they are those who “have mouths but they cannot speak; they have eyes but they cannot see; they have ears but they cannot hear; and they have noses but they cannot smell” (Ps 115:5-6).

6. It is Christmas that first introduced us to Mary and Joseph, the closest human beings to Jesus. It is Mary who has given us Jesus the Savior. It is Joseph who took care of Mary and Jesus. But it is only Jesus—a privilege neither Mary nor Joseph would claim for themselves—who brings us the presence of God in whom is salvation, in whom is freedom from sin and death. In addition, that presence also brings freedom towards life, truth, justice that is righteousness, light and, above all, love. Christmas has provided us a bridge to real happiness: living with God but also living like God. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of an only-begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

7. The pursuit of happiness comes to full circle when, through Christmas and because of Christmas, we not only live with God in Jesus but also live like God who is Love. That simply means loving like God in Jesus who is God Incarnate. “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: Love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU” (Jn 15:11-12).

In his Angelus message of January 19, 2021, Pope Francis suggests that, inspired by the mystery of Christmas, the first act of love we can do is, in our difficult times, offer “a smiling and serene face”, to bring “the joy of Jesus, as Mary did with Elizabeth.”

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