[Homily: Simbang Gabi, ADDU GS Chapel, Matina. Dec. 24, 2013. 5:30 a.m.]
On the final day of Simbang Gabi – there is always a special joy. For those who have come to all of the Simbang Gabi Masses, the joy is in warranted pride; they can say “We have run the race, we have kept the faith.” But for those who made it at least for some of the Simbang Gabi Masses, or are here this morning even for the first time, there is still joy. These masses were not obliged, not required, not constrained. Yet you have come – as I said at the outset of the Simbang Gabi Masses – out of a certain out-of-of the-box love for Jesus, whose love for each and every one of us perfectly expresses the “out of the box” love of the Father for us. Just consider “the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lain in a manger.” That is the Messiah. God made man. Emmanuel: God with us. Is that not “out of the box”?
At this particular Mass, as proclaimed in the Gospel, the overpowering image has to be the dawn! Too often we sleep through it, we don’t even notice it; indeed, for many of life’s most priceless price-less moments, we are asleep. And yet, each and every morning, Light through bellowing clouds and livened vapors dividing into radiant hues of red, orange, silver and gold, proclaims the Good News: Light breaks the darkness, the day vanquishes the night, colors break the sadness, drama breaks the boredom and the warmth of God’s love fills a world we have haplessly made too cold.
It is this image – so pregnant with Good News – that we must appreciate today. The Gospel proclaims it: “The Dawn from on High shall break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
We will have to leave it to you to discern whether you are already living in resplendent light, and so exempt from urgent need of yet more light. Some people may by some special grace already be saints, and on earth already be living the Beatific Vision. In fact, many such people just think they are saints, bringing suffering on all who must bear their self-righteousness and lack of compassion. For them, there is no special joy in the Dawn. They think they are the Dawn, and curse the darkness they cannot break.
Others readily admit they dwell in darkness. This has nothing to do with their subdivision or their village; whether they live in a populous city or on a lonely hill; it has nothing to do with the frequency of brown-outs or the reliability of Davao Light. It has, however, everything to do with those whose dreams were once lively, and now shattered, or those who have fulfilled their dreams, but whose lives are now empty. These dwell in darkness. For them, light has become dark, vibrant colors have become drab, joy has become sadness. Life, once so simple, has become complicated. Relations, once so deep, have become shallow: a matter of “friending” or “unfriending.” And where in our world, but especially in our city, there is such an array of exciting, diverse, colorful people, the 2013 word of the year is “selfie.”
For such people the Good News of today is: “The dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death…” These are people at the edge, where darkness overpowers the light of life, and so envelops people in the shadow of death. The stubborn spiral of debt, the painful misunderstandings among loved-ones, the mud in which projects are mired, the diminished meaning in life pursuits: are these not ‘the shadow of death”? The Dawn from on high breaks this darkness. Not on the compulsion of darkness, but on the free initiative of the Light. The Dawn breaks upon us, even after we’ve despaired of the light. It breaks upon us, even when we’re so used to darkness, light hurts. Today, the Dawn in redeeming splendor shines in the face of a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
This is the light for which we, dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death, have been waiting. Hence, we pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus, do not delay, that those who trust in your compassion may find solace and relief in your coming.” We pray, “O radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice, come to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
After Zechariah disrespected the Angel Gabriel, and responded to the news of God’s power making the impossible possible in his life with cynicism and scorn, God’s punishment ultimately moved him to faith, and to the Light. At Advent, the Lord comes to us saying, “I, your Savior, am coming. I can set things right. I can make crooked straight. I can unbind your shackles. I can make sin love. I can show you a face of God that is tender and compassionate. You must only have faith. And believe in the message of the Child in the Manger.” Let us not respond with scorn and cynicism. Let us not ask, “How is this possible? How can you do this? I am advanced in age. I am advanced in wisdom. I am accomplished in life. I do not need you.”
It is upon you that the dawn from on high breaks. It is a dawn that allows you to see, where you have only groped in darkness; it allows you to care, where you have only known indifference. Where life has made you hard in hardship, this Dawn warms you to tenderness and invites you to compassion. It enables you to look in the eyes of an other and encounter not just a plastic face but a person needing God’s embrace in yours.
Light breaks the darkness. Color breaks the sadness. God breaks into our world. Hopefully throughout Advent we have prepared not to prefer the darkness and choose the sadness. Hopefully, at Christmas, we will all welcome the Dawn. The Dawn is life and redemption. The Dawn is Emmanuel – God with us.