That Christmas Star

by Juan L. Mercado


“What are you looking for?” the wife asked as we rummaged through the storeroom. “A star,” we said. “The Christmas star.”

Today  is the first of four Advent Sundays, the liturgical run-up to Christmas. We’ve  set up the Advent wreath and dusted off our battered Christmas tree. Our belen  is up too.

The Christmas crib (crèche) dates back 1293. Francis of Assisi asked Messier Giovanni Velitta to set up a crib  at Greccio: ”for I want to enact the memory of the Infant who was born in a manger”.  Greccio became a new Bethlehem.  The crib came to us through galleons sailing from Acapulco in Mexico . “But where’s the star for the crib and the tree ?” our grandchildren will ask when they visit.

“We saw His star rise in the East and come to honor Him,” travel-weary men of regal bearing told the paranoid Herod: “(Then) the star went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the Child was with Mary His mother.”

Even today, the Christmas star puzzles scientists. “Was it a supernova or a comet?” asked Dr. Peter Andrews of University of Cambridge and Robert Massey of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich . A “stationary point of Jupiter,” perhaps?

In 5 B.C.  a combination of a bright nova and a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, in the constellation of Pisces, was seen. “Ancient Chinese astronomers recorded this as an unusually bright star that appeared in the eastern sky for 70 days. It was a rare sight.” That was also the year when Jesus was born, many scholars conclude.

“None of possible astronomical explanation has overwhelming evidence that it should be preferred to others,” Andrews and Massey conclude. But the nova, comet or variable star explanation “appears more likely.”  The astronomers’ debate continues. So does the puzzle over a vulnerable child who lighted a world, though born in a manger that clones our 2012 slums.

Here, 4.3 million households suffer “involuntary hunger” Social Weather Stations reported this October.   One out of eight today don’t get enough to eat  worldwide.  “Hunger knows no master than its feeder”. Yearly, the Philippines loses a million metric tons of already-harvested rice, from slipshod processing to shabby storage, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said. That’s double what we bought abroad this year. The country imported 860,000 tons in 2011.

Losses in cabbage can exceed a third of the harvest, research by University of the Philippines at Los Banos reveals. Spoilage for bananas spirals to 35 percent. In fisheries, losses amounted to 40 percent. Worldwide, fish spoilage exceeds 11 million tons yearly.

“To the ruler, the people are heaven;” an Asian proverb says. “To the people, food is heaven.” In Jakarta this July, an ASEAN and UN Industrial Organization workshop presented data documenting that rodents crunched through “the equivalent of food that 225 million Asians consume in a year. The price-tag for annual post-harvest losses is $5 billion.

“Food waste worldwide accounts for a third of all food production”, British Broadcasting Corporation notes. Recovering what is frittered away is essential . But a huge increase in agricultural investment is also needed. “If these fail to materialize, the consequences will be devastating.”

We have little wiggle room. Food reserves have been drawn down: rice by more than 40 percent, wheat by almost a third and corn by a half. “Even in a good year, we just about produce enough food to meet consumption needs.”

The world, meanwhile, is warming. Severe droughts carom into severe floods, then back, affecting rainfall — and harvests  Severe deprivation more than doubled in households where the head had only a primary-school education, Unicef says.

“We will need to produce 70 percent more food, by 2050, to feed the world’s expanding population.” Worldwatch Institute projects.The 1940 census tallied 19 million Filipinos. Come 2020, population will surge to 111.7 million , National Statistical Coordination Board projects.  That’s a five-fold increase. Every one, however, is entitled to adequate food. “To the hungry child, you can not say tomorrow. His name is today.”

The gauntlet that a child runs extends beyond  early years. Davao death squads copycat Brazil’s vigilante slaying of street children in the 1990s. They  targeted kids with records for petty crime.

“If you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for you are a legitimate target of assassination,” then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte told David McNeill of The Independent. Under daughter Mayor Sara Duterte, those who object get the “dirty finger” drill.

We are confronted by the unresolved the Maguindanao slaughter, desaparecidos like  Redemptorist Fr. Rudy Romero, activist Jonas Burgos, unsolved murders by Cebu vigilantes, to ill-fed mothers whose wizened babies start dying at birth.

Halina, Hesus (Come, Jesus) and save us from the terror and all the hells we create for our selves, we  beg  Advent after Advent. Fr. Catalino Arevalo of the Loyola House of Studies wrote. “And we believe that He came in answer to our asking,  even when nothing better seems to happen. And yet He has come: truly. Only we want Him to do what He didn’t intend to do. Not all by Himself, at any rate, but only with us, together with us. .To be with us, to enter “as immanently as possible” into our own life stories.

This point is also reflected in a Christmas 1937 poem titled: “Juan Hangs Up A Star.” A 20-year-old Horacio de la Costa, who became a historian and the first Filipino superior of Philippine Jesuits, wrote:

“For my house is thatched, and is leaky/There, Lady: the humble of heart/Poor men like the shepherds that sought Him/In Bethlehem far/Shall kneel round Him again; and my window/Shall have a Star.”


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