It’s uncanny how we, on one hand, extol Lapu-Lapu as a hero for resisting a Magellan-led foreign invasion. Enough evidence points to him being a Muslim native of Borneo. Besides, in 1521 there was no Filipino nation yet. So, what shaky logic props up the claim that Lapu-Lapu was our first Filipino hero?
On the other hand, we are about to joyfully and ever so gratefully celebrate 500 years of the invaders’ gift of Christianity. Which is just as uncanny for if we go beyond skimming the surface of our history, we would know that the cross of the friars was the carrot and the sword of the soldiers the stick that together brought us down on our knees before mighty Spain.
Our ancestors could not have seen the contradiction between gifting a people with Christianity, a religion of love, and depriving that people, unjustly hence unchristianly, of their native land, their dignity and their lives.
We don’t seem to see it either. We still use Jesus and the saints as replacement spiritism idols we run to for solace from the aches and pains of living under incompetent and corrupt political, business and even religious lords who control an unjust socio-economic order that is the ironic legacy of Christian colonial masters.
The incarnation we celebrate on Christmas day is the first phase of God’s saving act. He came to live with us to redeem us from our selfishness by teaching us the central or core Christian message: “love your neighbor as yourself.”
But what did our colonial masters do that their successors, today’s political, business and religious leaders continue to do? They put Christ back in heaven to be merely a source of solace for a people who are deprived of a fair share of the country’s resources and who instead are merely promised with “your reward will be great in heaven.”
By becoming man Christ joins us in our humanity and lives in us. Thus, the primary form of worship is to heed his call to “love your neighbor as yourself” and touch base with him in a neighbor in need. He is not in an altar in Church to whom we run and on whom we dump the problems of our troubled lives.
It’s time we receive Christ under the terms and conditions of contemporary life. This means welcoming not the replacement Christ of the Spanish friars and their successors but the genuine Christ who joins and strengthens us in our Christian mission of establishing justice and peace on earth.
May we welcome the true Christ this Christmas and every day and be strengthened by him in our resolve to build God’s kingdom of justice and peace in our country. May we stop putting him back on Church altars, our places of refuge in this veritable valley of tears.
In only that sense, “Merry Christmas, everybody.”