Merry Christmas everyone!
Greetings from me and my family to yours.
Today is Christmas day. But let us not forget that according to the Christian calendar there are twelve days of this season that ends on the 5th of January. All our preparations like the advent Sundays and Misa de Gallo or the Simbang Gabi in the Philippines have already ended, of course. We should however remind ourselves that the Christmas season has just started. So, what do we do for the rest of the eleven days of Christmas?
I suggest that for each day of this season, we will do our daily reflections.
Today, let us begin with the Christmas message of the Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, The Most Revd Rhee M. Timbang.
TO DEARLY BELOVED PEOPLE OF GOD
In the Iglesia Filipina Independiente
 The opening verse of the first reading in tonight’s Christmas Eve Service says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined” (Isa 9:2). The church had used the imagery of darkness to preface the birth of God’s son which we celebrate in Christmas. The first Christmas happened in the dark of the night; it took place amidst a darkened life of God’s people factored by long years of misery under slavery, oppression, injustice, and subjugation.
 This imagery of darkness is so familiar to us Filipinos as we celebrate this year’s Christmas. Our people are literally in darkness today as certain areas in our country continue to remain with no electric power and communications, with no homes to shelter, with no churches to say the Christ’s Mass, and worse, with no foods to eat and clean water to drink. Typhoon Odette has left us a kind of devastation in certain areas in Northeastern Mindanao, Central Visayas, and Palawan comparable to the ravages in 2013 caused by Typhoon Yolanda and in 1984 by Typhoon Nitang.
 The calamity compounded further our darkened life as people and nation. We are going through darkness in our collective life as the socio-economic and political situation in our country has nosedived to the detriment of the well-being of the majority of our people. This darkness is sustained by the conditions of poverty, social injustice, violence, and unpeace in our midst; it lingered the wailing of those who fell victims to worsening human rights violations and extra-judicial killings brought about by the senseless wars against drugs and terrorism; it exposed the incompetent manner the covid crisis is continuously managed and the unbridled corruption of those in the government is blatantly tolerated. It gives us the specter of continuing gloom as election approaches with those who were responsible for our national predicament are making their come-back or holding on in their government position.
 As people and nation, we literally “walked in darkness” and figuratively “lived in deep darkness”, so to speak. And indeed, the ambiance in the first Christmas is persisting in this year’s Christmas. However, in the midst of this misery, we hear the prophetic words ring loudly in our ears assuring us of great hope and joy. Prophet Isaiah booms in his declaration that people crushed in their burden “have seen a great light” and out from their afflicted land “on them light has shined.” That light, as symbolized by the center candle we have lighted this evening, radiates that great hope and joy that we anticipate and celebrate. The second reading puts it clearly the wonder that light brings: it manifests “the grace of God (which) has appeared, bringing salvation to all” as Apostle Paul declares (Titus 2:11).
 But it is in the gospel reading that this grace of salvation is made more profound as the Evangelist Luke narrates the angelic announcement before the group of terrified shepherds. The angel had said to them: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). Who is spoken about as the light and the grace is born, Jesus the Lord upon whom is expected that “God saves” and “God is with us,” the Emmanuel. The announcement repeats the earlier words of the angel spoken to Mary and Joseph. It recollects all the prophecies about this God-made man, “a child has been born for us, a son is given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
 We, therefore, celebrate in Christmas the great hope and joy that the Lord Jesus brings. This is the spirit of the first Christmas, and the same remains even in our time today. We all look toward this great hope and live in the joy that we have a God in Jesus who saves and stays beside us. In Jesus, we have a God who cares, whoever we are and wherever we are situated. And because God cares, we too – who are sustained by this great hope and nourished by this enormous joy – are expected to be the source of hope and joy to our people especially those who “walked in darkness” and “lived in deep darkness.” By this great hope and joy, Christmas.
 And so in this Christmas, may it be our firmed resolve to make of ourselves as vessels of the Lord’s great hope and joy. For millions of our people who are in great difficulty to survive and overcome their miserable situation, let us as a church provide them hope and joy. Let us be the loud voice of the voiceless and make ourselves as living testament of their presence in a society that marginalized them. As church, let us reinvent ourselves to be a better version of an inclusive, caring, and compassionate community of faith, and be an enabling companion in their cause and struggle as they journey towards the fullness of life which the Lord Jesus inaugurates in the first Christmas.
 And to the thousands who are affected by Typhoon Odette, may we be touched by their situation and be transformed to become renewing agents of hope and joy. As church, we must respond to their needs, and respond we must as one body. Let us call ourselves to journey with them in these dark moments. Concretely, through our Appeal Campaign, we will respond to the relief needs of the twelve  dioceses and their communities and downsize it later to the most gravely affected dioceses, then we will hopefully go for rehabilitation efforts. We have mobilized the Obispado Maximo’s IFI CARES Program Service as our church’s machinery to respond to the situation and get in touch with our local churches. We ask our non-affected dioceses and church members to respond to the ongoing Appeal Campaign and make true that Christmas is loving, giving, and sharing. We ask everyone to remember that the true spirit of Christmas lies in our heart, for, as Mother Theresa once said: “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
 Despite the gloom that shrouds our Christmas this year, we celebrate it with hope and joy. We call then each church member to find ways to go to church and attend the Holy Mass because this is where we as a church begin to celebrate Christmas in Christ’s Mass where we mark his coming to live, serve and die for us. And let us make our hearts Christ’s home, and all the homes radiate his presence. For after all “Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home” (Louisa May Alcott). A safe and Merry Christmas to all of us and let us fill the air with hope and joy.