CERTAINTY, SURETY, PAGEANTRY, & MYSTERY
Christmas Day Year A
December 25, 2010
Midnight Mass: Is 9:1-6 / Titus 2:11-14 / Lk 2:1-14 Day Mass: Is 52:7-10 / Heb 1:1-6 / Jn 1:1-5.9-14
Preaching on Christmas day is doubly difficult, at least in the culture I am most familiar with, Philippine culture. Although I have spent more than enough Christmas seasons outside of my home country to know the difference, preaching is a little more challenging in my home country for a variety of reasons. For one, most people who are in front of me right now have been at it for nine days – attending Mass and doing the Simbang Gabi (Misa de Gallo) either at early dawn or late evening – everywhere in the world, where there are Filipinos! Secondly, with so many last minute Christmas parties galore everywhere there is a semblance of a group or club, or clan, or work-related associations and assemblages, (not to mention hordes of balikbayan relatives to do family reunions with!), people are generally tired, weary, and sleepy on Christmas day itself. Thirdly, especially for the early Christmas morning masses, armies of excited kids, and wide-eyed youngsters take the Churches by storm, before they attack their harried godparents, to get their wherewithal to spend the rest of Christmas day with, in the many bursting Malls all over the country!
Let us face it … your attention span is close to zero by this time! And the chattering, blubbering kids, each one with his or her own story to tell, does not help this equally harassed preacher and presider any!
But as priest, prophet, and king, albeit unworthily, but truly, ontologically – in an analogical and participative sense like unto Christ the Supreme High Priest, the Prophet and King par excellence, I have to do my duty today, the second most important feast of the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar.
Now, let me wax a little more theological … After all, this is what the liturgies of Midnight Mass and Mass during the day tell us, each one with its own focus and slant. The Midnight Mass gives us all the elements that make for pageantry: crèche, swaddling clothes, fully occupied inns, shepherds keeping watch at night, manger, and animals for good measure!
But behind the seeming pageantry, and poetry of Christmas night, the readings evoke certainty and surety! “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” This light is not like the tentative, oftentimes fleeting light that the moon showed last week during the much awaited lunar eclipse. Many of my friends in California were frustrated. After staying up all night, they failed to see the eclipse, for the simple reason that rain clouds covered the show of almost four centuries! Not even those who saw the live stream webcast saw the whole proceedings with surety and certainty.
Christmas midnight Mass revels, as much in surety and certainty, as in pageantry! Yes … quite unlike the lunar eclipse last week, the light shone … with definitiveness, with certainty, and with surety! This is the certainty of faith that sees, notwithstanding the seeming signs to the contrary, the outcome. This is the surety of a faith that comes from Him, who fulfills His promises of old … promises that we heard repeatedly over the past nine morning or evening Masses!
But lest we get lost in mere pageantry, and miss the forest for a tree, sort of, the Mass during the day, takes us further out into deep waters, or higher up the mountain of mystery, as the case may be. Yes, mystery takes the place of shallow pageantry on Christmas morn. And it is simply ironic that when the Church revels in mystery, and proclaims the depths of the meaning of Christmas, she does so just when noisy, ebullient, and energetic kids are on the prowl for their godparents, and their older counterparts wistfully longing for the comforts of bed to recover all the lost energies of the frenetic pre-Christmas novena period in the Philippines!
For the sake of the richness of the liturgy of Christmas, let us ask ourselves: what exactly is this mystery all about? The first reading from Isaiah puts us right into the heart of it all … salvation! “The Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.”
Why is this “mystery” a “mystery” at all? John answers this for us … it reveals and hides all at one and the same time. It gives away clues, but it does not and cannot give it all away all at once, for it something so profound, so vast, and so far-reaching that we need a lifetime and a day to fathom it, yet not fully … John speaks about the Word … the Divine utterance taking on flesh. The big word for it is INCARNATION … It also talks about light … “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Whilst the Midnight Mass liturgy revels in pageantry, the Christmas Day Mass glories in mystery. It builds on an event. It bases itself on a fact of the birth of the most awaited one. It builds on history. It rallies on the majesty of a newborn King, but the Christmas Day liturgy tops it all up with a word on mystery.
But mystery, per se, does not mean abstruse and incomprehensible. It does not mean something vague and unbelievable. It is something that reveals, even if the fullness of what it reveals is not yet perceivable and perceptible, not on account of its being unintelligible, but on account of our human debility and finitude.
We celebrate Christmas year in and year out. And despite the “repetitiveness” of it all, we never tire of it. The child in us never ceases to wonder. And it is in the wondering that faith is enkindled all over again, so that its light shines even brighter and clearer, even in the new forms of darkness that envelopes the same world we belong to – a world in search, a world in waiting, a world in expectation that the certainty and surety of all this pageantry-cum-mystery, would one day bloom into unspeakable reality, untold glory, and utter majesty!
The angels knew it. The shepherds felt it. The animals in the manger proclaimed it. And the whole Church militant now cries: GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO, ET IN TERRA PAX HOMINIBUS BONAE VOLUNTATIS!
And yes … did I mention it? MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ONE AND ALL!
Postscript: The Salesian Philippine Province of the North welcomed the pilgrim relic of St. John Bosco yesterday. I would like repost the montage of images on Don Bosco with the official hymn for this momentous visit of the Father, Friend, Teacher and Intercessor of the Young to his beloved young people of the Philippines and the world in over 130 different countries!