[Homily. Simbang Gabi. 16 December 2014.]
Waiting for Christmas is truly difficult. Why? Perhaps, it’s the twinkling lights, the parol aglow, the glittering Christmas trees that make the Season so long awaited. Perhaps its the long-anticipated day of distant relatives re-united, or of loved ones specially coming together, and celebrating – well – just the joy of loving one another – with something special on the medya noche table, and something extraordinary in a box wrapped in well-wishes and a wide Christmas smile! Long before the Advent Season, which officially awaits Christmas, the Filipinos are already waiting with the commencement of the -ber-months, when Filipino media waves already sound Christmas Carols. Already in September the ancient Advent hymn of “O Come, O Come, Emmanual” is drowned out by, “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” or, “Halina, Jesus, Halina!” with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.!” Even our coming together this morning – when most normal people are asleep – is another manifestation of how difficult it is to wait for Christmas. Ours is a special pre-Christmas Christmas, almost smuggled in to the Advent liturgy. “Simbang Gabi, Simula ng Pasko!” the song proclaims! Simula na ng Pasko! So, for this exceptional pre-dawn hour: away with the Advent purple! Put on the Christmas white! Enough of the suppressed Gloria! Burst forth in Christmas Praise: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of Good will!” (Lk. 2:14).
That’s the wonderful way we Filipinos are! There is no Church command to come to Simbang Gabi, no coercion at all! We come because we want to come. And we want to come, because of the people next to us, relatives and friends, students and teachers, brothers and sisters, fellow journeyers on life’s way, who somehow also cannot wait for the coming of Christmas.
Perhaps we can think about why it is so difficult to wait for Christmas. Part of it may be: in general we don’t like to wait. Time is precious. Life’s clock is ticking. Man is “here today and cast tomorrow in the oven” (Mt. 6;30), the bible says: a cute baby once, then a darling child, then a pimply teenager, then a college graduate, then a productive adult, then a venerated elder, then an etched name on a tombstone. Time is limited. And what is done within the strange limits of “one’s time” is precious, not to be wasted on waiting. Waiting in long lines. Waiting for delayed planes. Waiting for the phone call that never comes. “One’s time” – “the time of one’s life” – is, in the beginning, an array of exciting possibilities, in the middle, a bundle of stressful responsibilities, towards the end, a strange assortment of happy memories and lost opportunities, whose value in themselves seems so inexorably challenged by the end of “one’s time.” It all ends. So it is difficult to waste time waiting. If Christmas is coming, bring it on: let it come!
Let Christmas come! But not just for noche buena, and not just for the keso de bola, puto bumbong, sweetened ham and creamy fruit salad, not just for images of the white-bearded Santa Claus driving his sleigh, but for the coming of Jesus, born on Christmas Day.
That’s another thing we can think about. As we wait for Christmas, and wish for it to come, are we really waiting for Jesus? The long longed-for iPad, the long-desired pearl pendant, the long lost love-one? But the center of Christmas, the day Christ was born, is necessarily the Babe in the Manger – the greatest Gift the Father has ever given us. In our Gospel today we are reminded of John the Baptist. He knew people were waiting for their Savior, waiting for the Christ, the Messiah, and his mission was to prepare for his immanent coming. “Your waiting is almost over!” was his message. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Make straight his paths!” (Mk 1:3). Repent for your sins! Open your hearts! Prepare for the longed-for unexpected, the long-desired unimagined, the long-promised awaited – demanded! – by the vacuous void within our beings and in our being-with-each other: prepare for the entrance of the Lord into our lives!
Which brings us back to our focus on Advent waiting, to life-yet unfolding, and all that we long for in life. To great defining expectations – some abandoned, some yet pursued, some still the focus of our deepest yearning and most ardent passions: where sickness grips us, the longing for healing; where we have been seriously wronged, the longing for justice; where things have become bland and boring, the longing for meaning; where things are confused and frustrating, the longing for wisdom; where working relations or friendships or even marriages have been routinized and imprisoning, the longing for deep satisfying liberating love; where society has favored its elites and wronged its poor, the longing for a human family where every person and each person can flourish.
Responding to these longings we all apply our best efforts, but somehow always fall short – in human foibles, in human limitation, in human error. We have waited so long even in our frantic desperate efforts to end the waiting with fulfillment and success. But in the depth of our ongoing, continuing, unending life expectation, which surpasses our every achievement, and survives our every failing and sin, we know we cannot give rest to our restlessness, where success is never success enough, and full is never full enough. We know that where our sin has abounded, grace has abounded more, and holiness is never achieved but only gifted by abounding forgiveness, and continued waiting illumined now by profound humble gratitude. That is why we still wait in expectation and thanksgiving, awaiting our Messiah, our Savior, this Babe in the Manger, who comes we know to fulfill our deepest longings and still our deepest hungers. He comes, as he himself proclaimed, “to bring us life, and life to the full” (John 10:10).
It is in the gratuity of this fullness, that our Christmas spirit is defined. It is a fullness, not earned, but gifted. It is a fullness given to each of us, so that in its abundance we can give generously of the fullness of ourselves to each other. Even as we await life’s ending, life’s final outcome, in Christ we know, it doesn’t just end incomplete, frustrated, wasted… With Christ not only as our Alpha but as our Omega, our beginning and our end, despite all our faults and all our failures, in Christ’s fullness we can still give meaningfully of ourselves to each other – symbolized in Christmas surprises generously prepared, in Christmas celebrations lovingly orchestrated, in Christmas blessings generously shared.