The Real Countdown Begins

We hear it often: 100 days to Christmas! 77 days to Christmas! 15 days to Christmas! Yes, we have been so accustomed to the Christmas countdown because that is what we see and hear in the media.

But for Filipino Catholics, the real countdown begins tonight. We have started to wait and prepare for the Christmas season through the season of Advent, a time of joyful anticipation but also of patient and reflective waiting. Too bad, many people do not feel Advent at all. Many people jump into the Christmas spirit or the Christmas feeling too early because of the lures of commercialism. How many people I know shop for gifts in October or start their caroling as early as the calendar turns to December 1.

The countdown gives a sense of excitement. But the countdown is a commercial device meant to induce panic in buying, spending and hoarding goods.

With this Mass, however, we can truly say that the countdown is on for Christmas. After starting Advent, we are now in late Advent season, very close to Christmas. This makes every Catholic in our country truly excited, truly joyful. And we express these sentiments by going to Mass, by celebrating our faith.

The countdown is on this Simbang Gabi, the 9 days of Masses leading to Christmas. Like the previous years, do we intend to complete our devotion? Can we really give time to go to church each day when staying in bed or being glued to the telenovelas is a really more enticing prospect? As in previous years, if there’s a will, there’s a way!

Our Filipino preparation becomes truly special with Simbang Gabi. We are the only people in the world serious about this practice. It has become part of our culture and tradition. But what does it truly mean? Why is it continuously important for us?

SIMBA – that word which means, to attend Mass, gives us the key. Of course, there are many jokes about people going to church only during Simbang Gabi. But simba – celebrating the Eucharist – is the center of all our preparations. We are waiting for Jesus’ birthday and more profoundly for His coming, and what better way than to wait for Him in the Eucharistic feast.

As we celebrate the Eucharist, we are fed with the biblical readings and message, we receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood. We prepare our hearts in worship and praise.

Waiting for the Lord is not mere practice, culture or tradition. It is all about worship and thanksgiving. It is about prayer and intercession. It is all about recognizing that He is in fact already here with us in the mystery of this sacrament.

In this sacrament, Jesus offers Himself to the Father for our salvation – thus, the power of this sacrament to cleanse us and give us new life. It is also in this sacrament, that we receive the power to make Jesus present in our hearts and to share Him with others. The Eucharist is a lesson in God’s love that touches our hearts so that we in turn can love.

I know that many of us, like in previous Simbang Gabi, are wishing for something special tonight. Many people have something in their heart they wish to bring to God during Simbang Gabi.

This morning, I saw a young person off to the hospital for her medication. She is only 12 years old and was diagnosed with cancer. I’m sure her Simbang Gabi and that of her family and friends will be a prayer for her healing. Others among us will pray for help in finances or relationships, job opportunities or healing of relationships. Others, still suffering the loss brought about by the killer typhoons and floods of recent events, will pray for restoration of what they have lost. Whatever it is we are praying for, we know that God is here listening to us and taking us seriously by loving us so much as to give His Son to us as our Brother.

This Simbang gabi, we start the countdown to the Birth of the Lord and we do this through the Eucharist that assures us that He is here with us whenever we gather and pray.

May your Eucharist be truly fruitful and prayerful. May your heart’s desire be fulfilled by the Lord Who listens to us and distributes bountiful blessings on all His children.