[Homily. Concluding Simbanggabi Mass, ADDU Matina, 12.24.15, 5:30 am.]
It is the last day of Advent. And the last day of our Simbanggabi. All of God’s blessings on you who have stayed the course, who have gotten up early during these past nine days, to prepare yourselves specially for the coming of the Lord. At this last Mass, we look back on our morning sacrifice not in haughtiness over what we have accomplished and others have not, in a type of self-congratulatory pride that can actually undermine the deep value of what we have done, but in grateful realization of how much in our lives we wait for the Lord. And need him. We wait for him, because we do not yet have him. We need him, because without him we have only ourselves.
We wait for the Lord coming as Christ the King, Judge of Universe, at the end of time. We wait for what is only true. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them from one another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Then he will judge the nations, and judge each one of us. For those of us who have longed in life to understand why those who do good appear pitiable and disadvantaged, and why those who do evil seem so rewarded and privileged, they wait for the Last Judgment as a triumph of God’s love and justice. On that day, the King shall in his justice uplift the downtrodden lovingly; to those who have lived, or yet live, lives cheated of justice and happiness, he shall bring “life in abundance, life to the full” (Jn 10:10). “Come you who are blessed by my Father. (Mt 26:34a). He will surprise them with his personal appreciation of all they have done and never received recognition for. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…” (Mt 26:35-36). “Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 26:35b).
In love, he will establish justice. As he consoles the poor and the excluded and “fills them with good things”(Lk 1:53), he will shock those who have lived in selfishness, bullied the weak, neglected the needy, destroyed the environment, blocked peace, murdered the Lumad; he shall simply state all they have not done. “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and imprisoned and you did not care for me” (Mt 26:42). The punishment shall be dire, the just reward for their failures: “Depart from me, you accursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 26:41b) And those who have waited long for justice and delivery will be satisfied.
In Advent we have recalled the just Judge, not in fear and trembling because of our history of stupidity and sin, but in hope and great expectation because of the manner we have been transformed in Emmanuel, God with us, to faith in him in word and deed. Or in Advent, we have looked at our foibles, our failures, our lovelessness, our lust, our sin, our inability to help ourselves despite so many resolutions to change our ways, and have longed for a Savior.
Hopefully, in our Simbanggabi, we have found the sacred space to consider the intimate ways God works in our personal lives to lead us away from our obstinacy, pride and selfishness, to deeper personal faith, freedom and love. Parallel to our recollection of the Angel Gabriel’s annunciation to a virgin of the Lord’s birth, and Mary’s humble acceptance in faith of her role in God’s plan, we have recalled the story of the birth of John the Baptist, how his birth to a old lady, Elisabeth, barren throughout her life, was revealed by the Angel Gabriel to Zechariah. We recalled how Zechariah responded in incredulity, rationality and cynicism: Sarah was too old to get pregnant and bear a child. He was too old to get her pregnant! We recalled how God dealt with him as he often deals with us; he punished him, suspending his ability to talk down the Word and power of God with his unbelieving attitude, sterile rationality and experience only of his many failures in life and love. We recalled how in the silence God imposed on him, Zechariah repented, returned to faith, freed his mind from the confines only of the rationally possible, and opened himself in faith to accept that with God nothing is impossible. He then aligned himself with the truth of God’s word, and stood for this truth. Before all in his family who wanted to name the child after him or another of his relatives, as was the custom, he aligned himself with the truth of the Angel’s message: “John is his name.” (Lk 1:63)
Our Gospel today repeats the beautiful canticle of praise, repeated every day in our official liturgy.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; / he has come to his people and set them free. / He has raised up for us a mighty Savior / born of the house of his servant David. / Through his holy prophets he promised of old that he would save us from our enemies, for the hands of all who hate us. / He promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant. / This was the oath that he promised to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hand of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.
In an age where great prosperity is contrasted by profound exclusion, where materialism rejects God and scorns those who worship him, but where also some religions demean God’s power and diminish human dignity by rejecting all forms of worship other than their own, the proclaimed freedom to worship God without fear is yet urgently longed for.
To the mysterious child whom on the Angel’s instructions he had just named John, Zechariah speaks in his now famous canticle (cf. Lk 1:68-79), recognizing his special role in salvation history:
You my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; / for hou will go before the Lord to prepare his way, / to give his people knowledge of salvation / by the forgiveness of sin.
Then come Zechariah’s beautiful words which to those dwelling in darkness, proclaim the coming of the light, the Messiah:
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.
The dark night of the soul, the dark shadows of our disagreements, our quarreling, our frustration, depression, violence, warring and death, is broken by the Dawn from on high. The long waiting of Advent is ended by the Light in a manger, the Dawn of a new day, the morning Star, the bright Sun of a new age, the incarnated Son of a tender, compassionate and self-emptying God: Emmanuel, God with us, on Christmas.