December 24
  (from the book: Where is the Child? by Fr. R. Marcos (Makati: St Pauls); 

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First Reading:  2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16

After [King David] had taken up residence in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies on every side, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent!” Nathan answered the king, “Whatever is in your heart, go and do, for the Lord is with you.”But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell David my servant, Thus says the Lord: Is it you who would build me a house to dwell in?

I took you from the pasture, from following the flock, to become ruler over my people Israel. I was with you wherever you went, and I cut down all your enemies before you. And I will make your name like that of the greatest on earth.  I will assign a place for my people Israel and I will plant them in it to dwell there; they will never again be disturbed, nor shall the wicked ever again oppress them, as they did at the beginning, and from the day when I appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you: when your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.  Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.

A. Short Background on the First Reading

1. The context of the reading is the steady transfer of power and authority from the house of Saul to the reign of David. The stability of David’s power is assured by the presence of the Ark of the Covenant near his palace. It is a sign of God’s presence and protection for the king and his subjects.

David begins to think of a plan to build a temple for the Lord. The temple is not only a religious edifice but reflects the desire to provide a sign of social stratification and political centralization. The reading registers the thought of God through the prophet, indicating divine displeasure towards the temple’s construction. But this rejection of David’s design may also reflect the people’s resistance to the perpetuated presence of a monarchy at the time of the writing of this book.

2. Instead of agreeing to a holy sanctuary to boost God’s glory among men, the Lord recalls to David his munificence towards him: how it was he who established his name, calling him from a most insignificant rural occupation and elevating him at the head of the people. The Lord furthermore assures David that he will be under his protection and he will be given even more honor, and through him, the people of Israel.

In response to David’s plan, it is God instead who will build a house for the king. These words of the reading reinforce the blessings on a dynasty issuing from David’s line. Ultimately a king who will be the longed-for Messiah of Israel will come from the family of David.

B. Reflections on the First Reading

Reflection 1: Abundant Love

The relationship of God with the king of Israel is one of love and trust. No wonder, the king is also considered to be God’s son. In the message to David, God lets out a torrent of kindness, a flood of love, a love that is strong and generous. This is how God looked at David his chosen one, the one he ordained to rule after he has taken him from a humble background, because he saw the goodness in young David’s heart.

God’s love is not preoccupied with getting something in return. Instead, it is a love that only desires to give, to support, to assist his beloved. And David knew this firsthand. He enjoys authority, riches, victory—all signified by his grandiose palace—from the hand of the Almighty.

This Christmas, let us return to a meditation on the abundant love of God. Even in the Old Testament, God is love and his love is faithful. Let us pray that we may learn to love in the way God shows us. May we prove our true love by sharing and giving, and not by gaining benefits for ourselves alone.

Reflection 2: God’s Generosity

Surely, God must be happy to hear about David’s intention to dedicate a place of worship and honor to his divine majesty. It was to be the king’s gift, a masterpiece of his reign in Israel. God will have his own place among the people, his Ark will be enshrined there and his honor will be celebrated there. God delights when he is served well, adored, and glorified.

But it is shocking to hear the Lord’s displeasure, that he refused such act of homage. Why? It is because God is Love, and being Love, he does not delight in receiving for himself.  It is in his nature to give of himself even more.

This is the generosity of God, his true nature, and his revealed plan. In the life of David, this generosity is now seen in its beginning and initial stages. However, this will be manifested more fully when the Son of God is born of Mary. The figures of the Old Testament establish the continuity for the ongoing promises of God. But when Jesus comes, there will be a radical newness, a wonderful newness that nobody can surpass.

GOSPEL: Luke 1:67-79

Zechariah his father, filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption. He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant, even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old: salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to show mercy to our fathers and be mindful of his holy covenant and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that, rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and the death’s to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

A.           Short Background on the Gospel

1.  The song of Zechariah or the Benedictus happens after Zechariah’s tongue was released from the muteness imposed on him by the angel for his disbelief of the prophecy.  Now, Zechariah is filled with the Spirit, just as his wife was filled with the Spirit upon encounter with the pregnant Virgin Mary. He starts by praising the coming Savior, and proclaiming the benefits of his birth to the people who were waiting for a long time for their release from bondage. It can be recalled that in the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, the latter also spoke of the glories of Jesus.

Zechariah emphasizes the actions that God will take in delivering his people through Jesus, the Father’s Son. God is inaugurating his reign and his chosen people will be the first to experience this in its fullness. God is indeed faithful to his promises.

2. It is not strange for a father to envision every good thing for the future of his child. Zechariah rejoices in his own newly born son. After praising the Savior, he turns to delineate the path his son’s mission will take. The child will be a prophet of God Most High, at the service of the breaking dawn. He will prepare the path of the Savior. He will enlighten people about the call to salvation. He will invite them to repentance so that they may experience the forgiveness of sins.

And when the Messiah finally arrives after John, Jesus will dispel the darkness in men’s hearts and minds and will usher in a new era of peace for the world. This peace is not mere end of hostilities among nations but a universal climate full of many possibilities like prosperity, well-being, harmony, security and the love of one’s neighbor.

B.  Reflections on the Gospel

Reflection 1: No Waste

A foreign missionary I knew liked everything Filipino, except Simbang Gabi. He said it was a waste of time. Why sacrifice your much-needed rest to wake up before dawn and attend Mass? Why attend Mass when you are distracted there by a million things at this very strange time of day?

But if you ask any Filipino if he thinks he wasted his time on Simbang Gabi, he will surely tell you:  I lost some sleep, but it was well worth it. I gained joy, hope, peace, and many more blessings! Next year, I will return and the year after that, until I am old and wrinkled but still able to walk!

We have long-held traditions but we have also suited these to the changing times and circumstances of our lives. The important thing for us is that, as Filipino Christians, Christmas is certainly coming!  We are known for resiliency—and why should there be, so close to Christmas, a string of unfortunate events like typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, massacres, sinking ships? But whatever happens, as the refrain of a favorite song says, “Tuloy na tuloy pa rin ang Pasko” (Christmas is sure to come).

This is the confident feeling that also overwhelmed Zechariah in the Gospel. Beholding his son, whom he called prophet and forerunner of the Messiah, he was filled with the certainty that redemption has begun. God is blessing his people with freedom, salvation, protection, and mercy. The prophet is still a child but the plan of God is already unfolding through him. Make no mistake about it; God’s action is in the air!

In a few hours, it will be Christmas, and we know that whatever the externals may be for us, we will not be beaten or depressed. We will walk in faith and hope. It is not money or clothes or food that makes our celebration meaningful. It is God, family, friends, faith, community—these are the blessings that we count, and for which we thank the Lord. May we have the optimism of Zechariah, a figure of the old times, now awaiting the breaking of dawn, the conquest of the new. 

Reflection 2: The Dawn Comes

When does the day start? For many of us with distinct jobs and varying schedules, the day starts at different hours, too. It may be at the morning rush hour for the office employee and the factory worker. For the housekeeper, it is when the house is still dark and the people are still asleep. For the sick, it is when one has to get up to take some medicines. And for the vacationing kids and teenagers, the day starts close to lunchtime after an extended sleep.

But when does the day really start? It starts at dawn! It’s when the world slowly wakes up each day. Grandma sweeps the garden for fallen leaves.  Mother cooks early a delicious hot breakfast.  The fisherman returns to shore after a night out in the sea. The farmer treks to his land to tend to plants and livestock. Dawn is a silent moment but many things start to happen at dawn. Simbang Gabi historically was only celebrated at dawn.

Zechariah, an old man well into the sunset of his life, feels that something brand-new and pristine is about to come. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he feels a resurgence of hope within him. The dawn of God is coming in Jesus, who will be introduced to the world by John, his newborn son. Jesus will scatter the darkness of death and sin. Jesus will end the confusion and fear that engulfs many hearts and lead people by the hand towards the path of peace.

All this will happen because the promise of God is dawning, the oracles of old are unraveling, the hidden plan of the Lord is starting to be revealed. At dawn, the darkness and light are tugging at each other. Neither is it too dark nor too bright, just the right balance. But soon dark will give way to the vigor of dazzling light.

Let us pray to be like Zechariah who has sensitive eyes of faith to see and feel and know in his heart that love is going to be victorious. It may still be dawn but the day is fast approaching in Jesus our sunshine!

Reflection 3: The Holy Spirit in the Incarnation

Though we rarely focus on the Holy Spirit in the Simbang Gabi preaching, it is good to take note of the presence of the Third Person of the Trinity in the mystery of the incarnation.  Yes, at Christmas we celebrate the coming of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, into the world, but there is a close connection between the mission of Jesus and the mission of the Holy Spirit. Even in the infancy narratives, the Holy Spirit is subtly but powerfully accompanying the birth of the Savior and the people connected to this event.

Today we hear Zechariah described as filled with the Holy Spirit. This is what prompts him to sing out the Benedictus, his hymn of praise and prophecy for his son and for the One his son was meant to serve. As a priest in the temple, he was very close to God and obedient to God. He was also totally reliant on God, knowing his lack and misery in being childless. The Holy Spirit sustained him to persevere in his prayer and now, he sings with the strength of a young father over the birth of an infant.

When Mary visited Elizabeth, the Holy Spirit, too, touched Elizabeth upon hearing Mary’s voice. Mary was not the source of the Holy Spirit but it was the Child in her womb, whose presence was so powerful that John the Baptist leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. The Holy Spirit inspired Elizabeth to declare three times the “blessedness” of Mary. Truly she will be called “Blessed Virgin Mary” forever.

When the archangel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple, he explained God’s plan for his future son, John. Part of the blessings that John would experience is the possession of the Holy Spirit “from his mother’s womb.” Such is the detailed, careful preparation of God for the herald and forerunner of Jesus’ birth.  In the womb still, and yet he was already a spiritual person.

St. Joseph was assured by the same angel of the annunciation that it was God’s will that he take Mary as his wife and accept the child in his life as its earthly father. It must have made things easier for Joseph to hear that Mary’s Child was truly conceived “through the holy Spirit.” The Spirit touched the heart of this humble and just man to provide a human home for the divine Son of God.

And, of course, Mary experienced the full impact of the Holy Spirit’s presence when she gave her assent to the invitation to be the mother of the Savior. Puzzled that she was to conceive without any human intimacy, she learned from the angel of the creative power of the Holy Spirit who would make possible the impossible. At the annunciation, Mary became the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, grew in a constant familiarity with the Spirit of God. At the annunciation, he was identified as God’s Son by the Holy Spirit. In his ministry, his mission was outlined for him by the same Spirit.  In his passion, death, and resurrection, the Holy Spirit forged a unity between the Father and the Son that is unheard of before until Jesus himself at his resurrection, became the life-giving Spirit.

Might not this be our challenge at the end of Simbang Gabi, to be full of the Holy Spirit? Let us ask the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts so that with the right disposition we may appreciate a growth in our relationship with the Father’s gift of his only Son, Jesus the Lord!