[Homily: Simbanggabi, ADDU GS, Dec. 24, 2012]
As the dawn of this morning vanquishes the night, and we celebrate the last of our Simbanggabi Masses, we are invited to reflect on another dawning that takes place on a more cosmic plane – not the dawn that brings light by rising “from below” – over a distant horizon – that repeats itself, day-in and day-in; not the dawn that brings relief to one who waits in the darkness like the sentinels of old who watched through the night waiting for the dawn, but another Dawn, the “Dawn from on high.”
Actually, in these modern times, we’ve largely become insensitive to the dawn, no longer experiencing its drama. For the genius of man has long learned to break the darkness of night, first with fire, fire that lit the ancient bonfires, then the candles, the tapers, and the torches, fire that blessed us with soft gentle light and dancing shadows. Eventually, man learned how to harness the energy bursting in the sky, and so from lightning developed the light bulb. Now bulbs of all sizes and shape light up the night – incandescent lights, neon lights, LED bulbs, CFL spirals, for desk lamps and floor lamps and table lamps, for street lights, and flood lights and spot lights and search lights, lights that dance, that glare, that flicker, that flash, lights that tell of commerce and trade, lights like the Parol that herald special seasons, even lights so intense they blind. Lights burning throughout the night, or lights alive 24/7, have become part of our lives. The lights of cities brighten up the night, creating a culture of night – bright with multicolored lights: night life, night markets, night minions of call-center and BPO workers, night industry and night revelry, the life of the graveyard shift. Within modern offices and condominiums and hotels and entertainment centers, and even many modern libraries, the lights don’t go off, day doesn’t turn into night. People need watches – not the sun and not the moon – to tell time. So no big deal about the dawn.
Unless you decide to make a big deal of it. Most sleep through the dawn, and don’t even notice it. I love to make a big deal of the sunrise with my camera. I’ve done it often. With the hope of capturing the perfect sunrise, I’ve gotten up at 3 or 4 am, and traveled far, to meet the dawn; I’ve done it in Eden, in Magsaysay Park, in Marikina, in Rome, in Germany, in Denver. I’ve waited and waited for the dawn, photographing the first rays, the unraveling colors, the clouds iridescent in golden hues and awesome shadows. I’ve never regretted meeting the dawn. Nowadays, to appreciate the dawn, you must leave the artificial lights of unending day and enter the night to rediscover it.
In the good news of this Mass, we are not focused on the dawn which comes “from below”, as suggestive, symbolic or even sacramental as today’s dawn might be. We are interested in another type of Dawn that breaks upon the lives of people “from above.” Zechariah points to this:
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet into the way of peace
There are people who live in darkness. Typhoon Pablo has left whole municipalities and whole provinces in darkness. But we are now not speaking about that kind of darkness. We speak of people living in darkness because life for them has lost brightness. In these people’s eyes there is no sparkle, in these people’s smiles there is no joy. These are often people who lack for nothing, who have everything, who enjoy the sparkle of Abreeza, the luster of Shoe Mart, the grandeur of modern skylines that light up the sky, yet they live in darkness. They loved once, but love no longer; they danced once, but dance no longer; they hoped once, but hope no longer, they lived once, but live now in an unending superficiality that is characteristically denied, covered over by fine clothes, and fine company, and fine dining and fine friends.
Thus, there are people who live in darkness, who are insensitive to the darkness. They have cultivated their working, partying, eating, playing to chase away the darkness. They have created things to drink and things to swallow to deny the darkness. They have cultivated friends who are friends in convincing each other that life is bright and cannot be otherwise. Like the perpetual lights that chased away the night, they chase away their darkness through the brightness that they fuel through their deftness, their influence, their position: through the powerful friend in Malacañang, through the loquacious woman in the Senate, the skilled manager in the bank, the plodding assistant in the Court. They chase away their darkness in plastic light.
It is on these people that the “Dawn from on high” breaks. Perhaps it is light in an insight as to how opaque life has actually become. Or light in a realization as to how life has degenerated into chronic widespread triviality. Or light in a dawning that even with all the multiplied relationships and personal experiments and intimate encounters, the yearning for love has really never yet been met. Sin is also darkness routinely denied. Acts in life that have injured, if not seriously damaged, the personal relation one has with the Almighty, are pushed out of consciousness, out of the realm where guilt can be felt, injuring or seriously damaging thereby the relationship one has with one’s self, one’s conscience, one’s sense of right and wrong. Sometimes with one’s great talent for rationalization, it takes the Dawn from on high to convince oneself that stealing is wrong, that cheating in love is wrong, that destroying the reputation of another person is wrong. That is another form of darkness: the lines between right and wrong have blurred, the perennially wrong has become the sometimes right, those individual exceptional troubled excursions into wrong, have become habitual exercises in personal rebelliousness, with conscience numbed by the repetition, and action guided not by rationality but by confusion.
The toll in life is immense. The cost? Not necessarily a season in jail, nor a session of public flogging, but the sparkle in one’s eyes, the joy in one’s smile, the brightness in one’s life. It is not the pain of a crucifixion, but the pang of a troubled conscience, and the quiet aching of a life whose compass has gone awry.
I think, when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a son whose name was “Jesus” (Lk 1:31), it was expression of the Father’s already having acted to save us. For that is what “Jesus” means: “Savior.” The Father was already acting not in dreadful anger, but in quiet compassion, an unfathomable suffering-with-us that drew forth from him his will to save, his plan of “redemption” (Lk 1:68). Thus the words of Zecharriah: “In the tender compassion of our God the Dawn from on high shall break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. And to guide our feet in the way of peace.” That is peace not only versus the external enemies of our well-being. It is more deeply peace against forces within that undermine the sparkle in our eyes and the joy in our smiles.
As dawn has broken the night in this last of the Simbanggabi Masses for this year, allow the Dawn from on high to break upon you, to shine on those areas in your life that are strongholds of darkness and the shadow of death. Allow the Word of a tender, compassionate God, the Word-made flesh, to enlighten, to heal, to restore, to redeem, to save; remember it was healing won through a Word of Compassion, spoken through an excruciating Passion and Death. Allow yourself the silence to be sensitive to the songs of his angels here with us – heard this morning in the songs of our Hummingbirds, our children’s – his signs of love in our lives, his heralds of Christmas peace. “Out of the mouths of babes,” (cf. Ps. 8.2) out of the mouths of our children, whose eyes glisten and whose smiles are filled with joy, our tender compassionate God may be speaking to us intimately, from within, bringing upon us a new Dawn from on high, inviting us only to respond, “Yes: Maranatha! – Come, Lord Jesus, come!”