A PILGRIM PEOPLE IN GREAT REJOICING

Catholic Homily/Reflection
Christmas Midnight Mass
N.B. I am posting here a homily I preached last year in Waldorf, MD

All our preparations for Christmas pays off tonight … the sleepless nights, the patient waiting in lines at shops, or in our traffic-clogged thoroughfares, our participation (at least for many, many Filipinos all over the world) at the now fabled and proverbial “simbang gabi” (done everywhere there are enough Filipinos, as it is done in Dubai with a nightly attendance of no less than 4,000 people!). We are a people in deep rejoicing … from the hovels and palatial homes in and around Manila, to the snow-covered and chilly “maisons au ville du Montreal,” from cold and chilly majestic Milan churches, to more humble, but no less gaily decorated chapels at Marilao in Bulacan, or Mendez in Cavite, and beyond … yes, even in Metuchen, NJ, and that city by the Hudson river that is home to Philippine Bread House that is responsible for most of those ubiquitous “pan de sal” and “ensaymada” eaten by many Filipino-Americans all over – Jersey City!

We Christians are a rejoicing people. We Christians are a community of hoping people. And we are a people whose specialty is in the art and the practice of waiting expectantly in hope. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” Isaiah confidently proclaims (1st Reading). What was promised of old by Isaiah, today is fulfilled: “Today a Savior is born for us; Christ the Lord!” (Responsorial Psalm). We may be led here to Church (much more than ordinary Sundays and feast days) for the great cultural pull of custom and habit, deeply ingrained in us through the centuries. We may be here tonight for less than the ideal and right motivations. We may be here simply because it is Christmas, and there is nothing better on Christmas night to do than be seen, be felt, and be heard – together with others – singing or praising, or just quietly watching the goings on in church or chapel from Batanes to Busuanga, from Caloocan to Copenhagen.

But the glaring fact is … we are here. We are here for big or small reasons. Allow me to enumerate some of those reasons that bring us here – if you will – the reason for the season!

First and foremost, the more than 4,000 Filipinos in Dubai who attend Simbang Gabi at the Cathedral church every night, could not be there solely because it is “the most wonderful time of the year.” I would like to believe that they are there, primarily because they are in awe, and in deep gratitude to God, for they find themselves part of the hordes of what the Philippine government loves to call “bagong bayani ng bayan” (modern-day heroes). They may not be real heroes for the nation, but they are heroes all the same … heroes for their equally heroic families back home who sacrifice a lot in the present, to assure a whole lot more in the future. We Christian believers are not only “forward looking.” We not only dream about tomorrow, or wait passively for something vague about what’s probably coming up ahead. No … we are also a “forward-moving” people. We dream for family. We dream for our nation and people. We dream for a better tomorrow. But we also dare and do. We go places. We are a pilgrim people, like the more than 175 million migrants all over the world as of last year. Did I tell you that we Filipinos are present in at least 95 out of about 130 sovereign nations all over the world?

There are pilgrims tonight who also dream, dare, and do like us Christian believers. Angels tonight are sent out in full force. They are “messengers” sent by God. They are not around to give more messages to Joseph and Mary. They are there to proclaim the glory of God who has wrought wonders through Joseph and Mary’s acceptance of messages given through Gabriel. “You will conceive and bear a son.” “Fear not about taking Mary as your wife.” The pilgrim angels are here around to sing the praises and the glory of God, “[who] has come and redeemed His people.” They sing “Hosanna in excelsis … Glory to God in the highest!” Their mission … to sing the glory of God, to proclaim His glory for “a people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

There are pilgrim shepherds around, too. In this ordinary night, made extraordinary by very ordinary folks who could only afford to get lodging in a cave, and lay their child in a manger, it was pilgrim shepherds who followed the guidance of pilgrim angels. Although originally afraid, they were the first to have the privilege of beholding the glory of God-made-man. “A savior has been born for you, who is Christ and Lord.” The shepherds, originally more like vagrants leading their hungry flock, now become migrants of hope, whose lives changed forever – changed by a pilgrim-God who came, who “migrated” of his own volition into our sinful world, “who became like us in everything except sin.”

There are wise men in pilgrimage, too, on this night. Learned though they most likely were, they went down from their lofty pedestals of knowledge. The pilgrim wise men were on a pilgrimage of truth. They were in search for the truth-in-person. For guidance, they followed no despot, no ruler, no ambitious – and blinded – power-that-be like Herod, who only pretended to be in search. He was really out for a witch hunt … out to crush truth taking-on-flesh in the person of the little boy-child laid in a manger.

But most of all, there is this pilgrim-family of Joseph and Mary-with-child, migrants from Nazareth, roused to movement from a decree of a census from Caesar Augustus.
“And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child” (Gospel). Like many Filipino families now, all over the world, the Holy Family was a family of migrants. They left their hometown, forced by circumstances beyond their control.

We are a people in pilgrimage. We are a people of great rejoicing because our God, too, was in a pilgrimage of salvation-redemption on behalf of His beloved people. Angels were pilgrims with a message. Now they are pilgrims with, not just a message, but a proclamation: “Hosanna in excelsis!” Shepherds, too, were on pilgrimage. What was originally lowly work became lofty worship. “The glory of the Lord shone around them.” The Holy Family are pilgrims-in-mission. They moved. They traveled to Bethlehem to bring forth the fulfillment of promises of old. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

And the rest is history that now influences the story of each and everyone of us. God’s dream for us that brought His own Son to sinful humanity in a pilgrimage of salvation has become reality for us this Christmas night.

We cannot pretend to do more than the pilgrim-angels did, but neither can we afford to do less. We are a rejoicing people. In pilgrimage, though we still are, on the way to our heavenly Jerusalem, we are never alone in our journey. In the desert situation that our life-as-pilgrimage basically is in this world, God has come down to us in Christ, and “pitched his tent in our midst” (Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis). And so tonight, together with all fellow pilgrims in heaven and on earth, we cry out in sheer rejoicing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

And yes … did I mention it? MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ONE AND ALL!

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