Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin, SJ
Nativity of the Lord (Midnight Mass)
December 24, 2017
In climate science, we are often asked how is it that we can predict next year or the next decade or even the next century when we cannot even forecast what will happen tomorrow?
The short answer is: climate is not weather, not the day-to-day variation of hot and cold, wet and dry. Climate is the average or general pattern of these variations and when one takes away these weder-weder variations, you can discern some signals that enable you to see what the next month or year or decade will be like. I can for instance tell you that this coming January will be colder on average than this December, or that January 2025 will probably be warmer than January 2018. On average.
Even stock investors know this. If you’re in for the long-term, you can bet on an upward trend. If you’re in for the short-term, with its highs and lows, fasten your seatbelts for a wild ride. If you want adventure, try investing in bitcoin or in anything that can grow to a bubble and burst unpredictably.
It is hard to see tomorrow. Tomorrow is made opaque by weder-weder, the present volatilities we see around us. If the barometer swings dramatically from day to day, we won’t know what tomorrow will be like. Same too for mood swings or even policy fluctuations in governance. The consistent inconsistencies can make tomorrow no less nebulous than today. These vacillations can be exasperating, exhausting, and draining.
Tomorrow will be more translucent if we can take out the day-to-day noise and transient disturbances. Of course, the key here is to know what is noise and what is not, what is short-term and what is not. I must confess though that it is easier to remove these weder-weder variations in climate than in human beings or social affairs. Some of us panic when these swings hit us. We are left guessing whether these erratic swings (in our psyche or society) are the new normal or not. Some dive into depression, believing that the short-term is for the long haul or that this present is as good as it gets.
Christmas helps us see tomorrow by pushing the swings and the panic to the side. Christmas helps us to face tomorrow only because there is a Child in a manger who makes us wonder about tomorrow. In truth, every child has this power. Every child makes us wonder about tomorrow. Every child makes us promise to prepare for tomorrow. Every child makes us brave to face and shape tomorrow. (I am only recently a granduncle. When I see my grandniece Carys (who is now six months old and is here tonight), I am often made to wonder about tomorrow. When I see her, I quietly promise inside that I will work hard for tomorrow to be better for her.)
Every Christmas, the Child of Bethlehem helps us to remember tomorrow. It is this memory of the future, what Gabriel Marcel calls hope, that enables us to endure the ambient noise and inconsistencies of today. It is this memory of the future that empowers us to let go of the vagaries of seasons past and present. It is this hope that allows us to hold on to what we have seen before, the things that do not fade, that truly matter, which we long to see again tomorrow.
This we remember about tomorrow: as God has loved us from the beginning, so will he love us tomorrow. If we are to hope at all, it is when we remember God loving us not for what we were in the past, but for what we will be in the future. Our hope rests in our remembrance of God loving us again and again tomorrow.
Because of Christmas, we remember again that God’s love does not vacillate in purpose and direction and intensity. In the Incarnation, God reveals himself as love in the flesh, love with a human face. From this Child in a manger, we remember again that God can speak and does speak to us in our own words. Fro this Child, we can remember again that God can see, and he will see us through with eyes that have been washed with human tears. From the manger, we remember again that God can hold us, and he will hold on to us with arms that have learned to carry our cross to the very end. Thus can we see and remember tomorrow. From this Child in a manger, we can see tomorrow.
Pope Francis, in his TED Talk this year, tells us:
“To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow…”
Indeed, hope is the virtue of a heart that can see tomorrow. Conversely, we can say that despair is the vice of a heart that can see no tomorrow, a heart that locks itself in the dark, imprisons itself in the past, the delusion of a heart that merely goes through the motions of the present. This Christmas we remember once more how easily we can slide and swing into this dysfunctional condition of captivity. Yet we can also choose to remember tonight how readily and resolutely God enters into our lives to deliver us from our anxieties and fears about tomorrow.
From this Child in a manger, we learn to let go of the noise and the inconsistencies that prevent us from seeing tomorrow. From the manger, we learn to hold on to what stays, we learn to keep the love that is constant and faithful to the very end.
From this Child in a manger, we can see tomorrow. And we can remember that tomorrow has a name and its name is hope.