“What is Christmas?” – we are always asked. What is its real meaning in a world that speaks only of the commercial value of this great Christian holy day?

There is a picture that reminded me of the real meaning of Christmas.

Lola Aurelia’s husband, Lolo Luis, who was suffering from dementia, left the house and was missing for two weeks. Unsatisfied by reports that said the old man was seen here and there and by the slow success of the search, Lola Aurelia, took matters into her own hands. She would look for him herself, roaming the streets of Manila with flyers of “missing person” pinned on the front and back of her clothes. She also handed to passersby other copies of the flyers.

One day, a young photojournalist took the picture of a weary Lola Aurelia seated on a pavement, tired after a day’s search. The picture landed on Facebook. With the spread of sympathy for her sacrifices, Lola would soon have a definite reunion with her husband, who was located through Facebook.

Finally they re-united. What was that meeting like? Was it like this idealized, rosy picture of young lovers?

No it was not. It was better a thousand times over. It was more spontaneous, more natural, more real. And this is how it looked:

The search is over. Lola Aurelia has found the one man she loves! And she was full of emotions and she shed copious tears as she hugged the man whose picture adorned her clothes day after day during her tireless search.

I believe that in this picture, we see the spirit of Christmas. Christmas is about a serious search initiated by the Great Lover, God, to find his children who were lost by sin, pride and disobedience. Lola Aurelia symbolizes the great love that will not count the cost, that will not spare every effort, that will defy all obstacles just to be reunited with the beloved.

Christmas is God looking for us through his Son Jesus Christ. Christmas is Jesus entering our world as a helpless infant to starting his lifelong crusade of leading us back to the Father’s merciful and forgiving embrace.

We celebrate this day, but the first to celebrate is in fact, God himself. Today he celebrates his love. He celebrates his total devotion for the good of each one of his children, even at the cost of losing his eternal Son at his side.

Christmas reveals to us the true face of our God: he will go to great lengths, do everything humanly impossible, just to bring us close to him again. He is the God of love!

After preparing ourselves for this feast through the Simbang Gabi, through Advent reflections and activities, do you feel God’s love for you?

It is easy to believe in love if everything is like a bed of roses. Love is more credible if events in our lives are running smoothly. We are readily convinced of love when we are happy and satisfied, in good mood and feeling of bliss.

But what if life turns out to be the opposite? What if we come across tragedies, like the recent one wrought by Typhoon Sendong right in the middle of Simbang Gabi in Mindanao? Why does it always have to happen when Christmas is right across the bend?

Where is love in entire villages destroyed overnight…

how do you feel it when you are holding a cold, lifeless body in your arms…

how can you rejoice when you are surrounded by grief…

Where is God and his love in all these? If God is all around us, surrounding us with his love, why the evil, the disorder, the pain in the world and in human hearts?

If Jesus came to bring salvation, why did he not put and end to all misery?

We can all identify with the people of Mindanao. Each one of us has an experience of Typhoon Sendong in our lives. We have events that fill us with sadness and pain, with fears and anxieties.

What is your typhoon – a spouse who committed infidelity? A child in constant rebellion? A friend who betrayed you? dreams that seem so remotely possible? Enemies that wait for you to fail? loved ones who do not reciprocate your love? secret and cyclical sins and vices that eat you up?

But wait… Jesus is born today… where?

It is exactly right in the middle of all these human tragedies that Jesus is born for us today. This is precisely the reason that God visits us and decides to remain with us in spite of the imperfect world we live in.

Real love is not proven by empty words, sweet words, consoling promises. Real love is proven by a Lola Aurelia who leaves the comfort of her home to search for her lost husband under the heat of the sun. Real love is proven by a God who leaves behind the security of heaven by risking all in the company of human beings…

So that he can share their life…

So that he can touch them where they are hurting…

So that he can stay close to them and assure them that he understands…

This is God’s love on Christmas day. Not a party-throwing, gift-giving, merry-making, feel-good love, but a consoling, concrete, suffering love… and this is more real. This is what we truly need. Because this is when love becomes evermore real!

Jesus’ humble, peaceful, beautiful birth was the mere start of everything…

Yes, he is God-with-us! But he did not remain a child forever. His own life was an experience of all our experiences – joys and pains, tears and laughters, successes and defeats, falls and recoveries, darkness and light.

The God of Christmas knows how to love not by being born in a stable but by dying on the Cross…

The God of Christmas lives his love by being with his people today in the most intimate way possible, specially in the Eucharist, from which comes our hope and strength to carry the trials of life.

We are here to celebrate, not because Christmas has dissolved all our problems. We are here to celebrate that our God is not a distant God who is indifferent to our situations. He is a God who loves us and knows us, because he has assumed all our broken situations and joined us as our hope and our gladness as we daily struggle to find meaning. To have him is to have meaning for our lives.

Because of this day, we know that we will never be alone. There is someone who always listens to us, helps us, guides us, strengthens us, embraces us every moment, if only we are aware of his constant presence.

God has found us again today! His search is over when we surrender to him our lives and when we allow him to enter into every area of our existence. Do you feel it? In fact, it is more than a feeling. It is an assurance, it is a truth that we can always hold on to. We say thank you to the Lord. We bow down before the mystery of such great love…

Merry Christmas!