Today we come to the last of our Simbanggabi Masses with thanksgiving and with special joy. We thank the Lord for the grace of these Simbanggabi Masses. Every day, God turns the night into day. You have allowed night turning into day to especially help you with your preparation for the coming of the Lord.
You in your lives know the night: not just the daily darkness that follows the sunset, but the times when you knew yourselves separated from the Light, through your distancing yourselves decidedly from God, through your turning inward in selfishness, through your actions inconsistent with a relationship with a compassionate Lord. You yourselves have experienced darkness in our world: the violence and death that come with peoples trying to dominate other peoples, with the abuse of political power, with the corruption and decay of practices that used to keep us healthy and whole. During this Simbanggabi we have not forgotten the darkness.
But during this Simbanggabi we have been reminded of the venerable stories of how God breaks the darkness and turns night into day. We recalled the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, the Davidic lineage of Jesus from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian Exile, from the Babylonian exile to the coming of the Christ. We recalled the role of Joseph, how he had to discover that the woman to whom he was betrothed was pregnant, yet accepted that this pregnancy was by the power the Holy Spirit, so bowed to the unfolding of the divine plan. Then, there were two divine disclosures coming through the Angel, Gabriel. The first was the announcement to Zachariah that his old and barren wife would have a child; Zachariah responded in incredulity and cynicism, and for this, he was struck dumb. The second was the annunciation to Mary, a virgin, that she would bear a child, Jesus, who would be great and called the Son of God; her questions were of belief seeking understanding, and to the angel, she responded with her “Yes, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” We recalled how Mary visited Elizabeth, Mary pregnant with Jesus and Elisabeth with John, and how at the coming together of these to woman, the infant in Elisabeth’s womb “leaped for joy” in nearness to the infant in Mary’s womb. We remembered the beautiful manner in which Mary proclaimed the greatness of the Lord in her Magnificat. And yesterday we recalled how the old and reputedly barren Sarah, as the angel had foretold, finally gave birth. There was an argument as to what name the child would have, the relatives suggesting names within the family. But Sarah said the child should be named according to the instructions of the angel, and when the relatives seemed to ignore her, Zechariah called for a tablet, and in obedience to the angel writes, “John is his name.” And with that, his tongue is loosed.
Our Gospel for today are the beautiful words of the canticle of Zechariah. They are words of praise for the God of Israel who comes to his people and sets them free, saves them from enemies who did not share their commitment to serve but one God, and enables them to worship him without fear. He recognizes the special role the son of his old age, John, will play in preparation for the coming of the Messiah: “You my child shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins.”
Then there follows among the most beautiful of scriptural passages in the New Testament, the announcement of the coming of Jesus in the metaphor of the Dawn. The words are to be savored in full appreciation of the length of the night, and of the intensity of the darkness with which we must in life contend. They are to be savored because in this long night we have never been abandoned, we have never suffered alone, because God, the Father, took notice of us and “suffered with” us.
He did not stand aside; he did not stand apart. He entered into the lives of his people; where they suffered poverty, he also suffered the pain of poverty with them. Where they suffered injustice, he felt the sting of injustice with them. Where they suffered hatred, rejection, and violence, he suffered with them.
That is what “compassionate” means: suffering with us. “In the tender compassion of our God, in God tenderly suffering with us, 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.”
In your celebrating Simbanggabi over these past nine days, you have allowed the dawn to accompany you in your preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Today, we learn, that Dawn is the Messiah. “…the Dawn from on high has broken upon us to shine on us who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The Dawn dispels the darkness from your life; even death is no longer darkness but light. Let the Dawn return you to the joy of the children of the Gospel, and guide your feet in a dance of peace!