Christmas is reflecting Jesus, the Light of the world

Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Day 1, 16 December 2021
Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8   ><]]]]*> + <*[[[[><   John 5:33-36
Photo by author at San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

The Parol or lantern is a uniquely Filipino sign and reminder of Christmas. When we were in elementary school, we used to make our own parol with colorful papel de japon as part of our subject “work education”. The most beautiful parol submitted was usually the one hanged above the Belen like that star pointing to the Child Jesus born in Bethlehem at the first Christmas.

And that is the truth about the beautiful and colorful parol – a sign leading to Jesus Christ like John the Baptist.

“He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”

John 5:35-36

Since the second and third Sundays of Advent, we have been introduced to the person and mission of John the Baptist. As we begin our nine-day novena to Christmas with our Simbang Gabi, we are reminded again of that important role we have in becoming another John who not only prepares the way of the Lord but must also be very sign of Christ’s presence.

All routes lead to churches every December 16, a beautiful sight to behold with so many devotees trying to fulfill their vows of completing the Simbang Gabi for so many reasons, from thanksgiving to favors granted and for more wishes for the coming year!

But, like other novenas, Simbang Gabi in itself will not make one a better or holier person. It takes a lot of prayer and hard work on our part to be like John the Baptist, a parol “burning and shining” pointing to Jesus who had come 2000 years ago, who comes daily in our lives, and will come again at the end of time.

In our gospel we heard Jesus praising John who did a wonderful job preparing the people for his coming because in his very life, they have found hope and inspiration to strive in what is good and just. In fact, the people felt as if John was already the Messiah they were waiting for!

It was very clear to John that he was not the Messiah, that he was merely the Precursor of the Lord, not even worthy to untie his sandals. This is what we must pray for in every Simbang Gabi, specially at this time of the pandemic: that we beam more of the light of Jesus who is like the sun while we are the moon. What we share is the Light itself – Jesus Christ – not our own light that can sometimes be misleading and not really that bright at all.

Photo by author, National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 08 December 2021.

To reflect the light of Jesus Christ is to be like him, good and kind, just and merciful, exactly what we heard from the first reading which is a call to personal conversion; we cannot convert others to Jesus unless they see first we are converted in Christ.

Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just… All who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold on to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer.

Isaiah 56:1, 6

No matter how good or “holy” as we can be, we are not the Light; our mission is to bring people closer to Jesus and be “conformed to his image” (Rom. 8:29).

How sad these days when “credit-grabbing” has become a hobby and a national past-time not only among those in power but even with everybody else specially those in social media trying to draw attention to themselves to earn precious statistics to be known as “influencers”.

This is our second Christmas in the pandemic: last year was more difficult than this year and we have so much to be thankful to God in tremendously blessing us since last year. We are still alive, many still have their jobs with steady income, others have started to pick up the pieces of their lives but moving on personally, spiritually, emotionally and even financially. Kids still go to school no matter how difficult online classes may be.

We have so many things to thank God this Christmas – first among them are the many John the Baptists who were like a “burning and shining lamp” to us, guiding us and inspiring us to move on with life amid the darkness and gloom of this pandemic

Yes, Christmas this year like last year is still difficult, so unlike the other Christmases we have experienced in the past. Perhaps the only other worst Christmas than we ever had in 2020 and 2021 were the Christmasses experienced by our parents and grandparents during the Japanese occupation at World War II. Ours pale in comparison with those wartime years.

During this Simbang Gabi, let us ask ourselves how much have we changed and matured in our experience of Christmas since the start of the pandemic last year? Do we now have Jesus in our hearts or, are we back to our old selves of having that “Christmas rush” for material things, forgetting Jesus Christ is Christmas himself?

Let the light of Christ burn and shine in you! Amen.

Photo by author at San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

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