[Homily: Christmas Midnight Mass, ADDU Assumption Chapel, 2016]
The Prayer of this Mass, I believe, expresses our special joy and sentiment at this Christmas Midnight Mass, “Father you make this Holy Night radiant with the splendor of Christ our light. We welcome him as Lord, the true light of the world.” The stress on this holy night is on light, the radiance of Christ’s light that vanquishes the darkness. That radiance we but try to reflect in the special lights of our Christmas culture: myriad flickering lights everywhere, strings of happy lights brightening houses and offices, gardens and trees magically, candles, lanterns, parol, even the lights of this chapel, celebrating ultimately the light of the Messiah. This is the theme of our First Reading: the light that overcomes darkness, the Messiah that vanquishes suffering and death in wisdom and power.
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (Is. 9:2).
Sadly, in our world, there is copious darkness. We are the people who walk in darkness. We are the people who live in a dark land.
We darken our lives with war, endless wars, many of which ironically are rooted in religion and in religious intolerance. We bomb our cities and kill our women and children then call out praise to a God of power and might. Recall the recent image of the mother from Aleppo wailing that all her children had perished when their bombed house fell on them. Recall the image of the shocked child covered in dust and blood, staring blankly at the person asking, “Are you okay, child?” Recall the image of the assassinated Russian ambassador in Turkey.
We darken our lives with terror. Bombs carried by suicide bombers killing innocents in night clubs, hospitals and sports events. The terrorists’ cargo truck running over innocents on the Promenade des Anglais of Nice, France, killing 86 people. The terrorists’ tractor trailer ramming into the Christmas Market in Breitsheidplatz, Berlin, killing twelve. The terrorist bomb exploded at our Roxas Night Market, killing 47, just in front of our chapel.
Darkness in the opulence and power of the few, and in the squalor and misery of the disenfranchised. Darkness in our compulsive consumption that overfeeds the rich, undernourishes the poor and destroys the environment. Darkness in fading cooperation among nations in the world today, where national interests trump the common good, walls are built to protect the privileged, and boundaries are breached to violate the helpless.
Darkness in two to four million people in the Philippines victimized by the drug lords and their international cartels, who profit from addicting people to murderous drugs. And darkness in people killed unjustly as the war on illegal drugs progresses.
Darkness in our yet unending conflicts between the Moros and the State, between leftists and the State. Darkness in social justice in the Philippines yet unattained, and in historical injustice unrectified.
Darkness as on the personal level we find ourselves separated from our loved ones by economic necessity or personal stupidity, or separated from God by sin, or worst, because of miscalculations, errors, and unconscionable decisions, darkness because we find ourselves alienated from ourselves.
We belong to the people in darkness. The Good News at this Midnight Mass:
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (ibid.).
Addressing the Messiah our reading proclaims:
“For you shall break the yoke of their burden…
“You shall break the rod of their oppressor…” (Is. 9:2).
For us oppressed, the Good News is:
“For a child [the Messiah] will be born to us,
a son will be given to us.
“And government will rest on his shoulders.
“And his name will be wonderful counselor, mighty God, eternal father, prince of peace.” (Is. 9:6).
Meaning: He will govern us with wisdom and power, he will treat us as a father his children, and he will bring us his peace.
It is in this context that we hear today’s Gospel. We look into the radiant light of the first Belen:
While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem. “she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in strips of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:7). They were in a stable, a shack for animals. And the manger was where they would usually place food for cows and oxen. Mary gave birth there, and she put her Child in the manger, eventually to be food for humankind. But it was this manger because in the inns of the merchants, the moneyed and the wise in the ways of the world, there was no room for him. As in our hearts within, there is often no room for him. We reject him, as did the innkeepers.
But the lowly shepherds did not. To them the good news that they had long longed for was finally announced: “…Today in the City of David a savior has been born to you who is Christ the Lord. You will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:11). They accepted the message. And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk. 2:14).
Christmas. Against the darkness in our lives, we hang up our parol, string up our lights, and turn on our floodlights, refusing to be defined by the darkness.
At this Midnight Mass radiant in the light of the newborn Messiah, we pray we be among the simple shepherds who welcomed him into our world, into our lives, and into our hearts. In our world brightened by the coming of the Messiah, may we be numbered among many shining witnesses to the light – who in fidelity to the light continue to celebrate his presence in our world today; not just the presence of wealthy relatives, of powerful personalities, of fatted bank accounts in their lives affecting ours, but the presence of God in our ever more secularized and profane world who was born in the poverty of a stable and lain in a manger to be for us light. May we be among the courageous witnesses to the light of God in the common good, who, to the extent that God has entrusted power and influence to us, work tirelessly for a resolution of our social problems, for peace in our world based on social justice and the rule of law, for the development of the international community and genuine inter-religious respect and dialogue. May we be among the happy witnesses to the light that God provides us within, leading us to genuine self respect based on a keen appreciation of his and other persons’ love for us, leading us then to pursue what is right and reject what is wrong, and to go out of our way to be of help to people. May Christmas then turn night into day as we more deeply appreciate its abiding message: “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.” (Lk. 1:79).