Christmas, a return to Paradise

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The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Third Week of Advent, Day 1 of Christmas Novena, 16 December 2022
Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8     ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>     John 5:33-36
Photo by author, 08 December 2022.

All roads lead to the church early today for the start of our traditional Christmas novena known as Missa de Aguinaldo or simply, Simbang Gabi. And this year, we are having a truly blessed Christmas because after two years in COVID pandemic, we are celebrating Christ’s birth face-to-face while still keeping basic health protocols like the wearing of face masks inside churches.

Christmas is essentially face-to-face. The Son of God became human like us in everything except sin so we may experience and meet God personally, face-to-face in Jesus Christ.

Everything in Christmas is face-to-face, from the Annunciation to Mary of Christ’s birth to the Visitation, the Nativity itself when shepherds and magi visited Jesus face-to-face until the presentation at the temple of Jesus when Simeon and Anna saw and carried him while a child.

According to Pope emeritus Benedict VI, what Jesus really did in his coming was to bring God closest to us humans. In that sense, Christmas is then a return to Paradise, to Eden — of the Son of God fetching us back to the Father.

That is why on the first week of Advent, we claimed this season is a Sabbath when we go back to God to rest in him, to be breathed on by him and be filled with his life and spirit.

Photo by author, 2021.

Christmas is a return to paradise which we have lost after the Fall when Adam and Eve turned away from God. And that is why we find the word sabbath twice in our first reading on this first day of our Christmas novena.

Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, the son of man who holds to it; who keeps the sabbath free from profanation, and his hand from any evil doing… all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offering and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-7

This Christmas 2022 when God willed that we celebrate his Son’s birth on a Sunday is very special because he wants us to go back to him, to stop playing God. On this Simbang Gabi, we are invited to return to Eden to be the image of God once again – loving and kind, beautiful and free as his children doing what is right.

Christmas as a sabbath is rediscovering the rhythm of time like the time of creation, the time of birth, the time of everything centered on God. On this Simbang Gabi as we go back to God, it is hoped that we discover anew our own rhythm of time too! How sad that the more we get so centered with ourselves, pursuing everything in life with so many excuses and alibis of not being able to celebrate Masses or even pray, the more we get lost. And the more we get sick physically and most of all, emotionally drained and practically empty, no matter how much money and gadgets we may have. There is always that feeling of emptiness within. A kind of discontentment, of someone of something so great missing in our lives.

That is God who comes to us through our family and friends.

God reminds us through Isaiah to go back to him, to be rooted in him again which means simply being good and holy. Being holy is not being sinless – being holy is being filled with God. Being aware we are his children, he is our Father to whom we must always go home to, touch base with. Just like in the family, we are never complete without one another. Though we are separated by great distances, we still try to get connected once in a while not only to express our love for them but because deep inside, we miss them, we long them. We know we are not complete without our mom and dad, brothers and sisters – no matter how much pains they may have done to us. They are a part of our very selves and we can never be complete without them.

No wonder, it is during this time of the year when we have all kinds of get together and reunions as families and friends, classmates and colleagues in work. Let us not forget the lessons of 2020 when COVID first came and forced us to separate from one another physically. Now we have realized that the meaning of life can only be found in another person, not in one’s self. Let us seek and follow Jesus this Christmas in one another, especially our family and church.

From Facebook 2019.
Our dearest Lord Jesus Christ,
as we prepare for your birthday,
let us seek you in our hearts,
in the sacraments especially
the Eucharist and Confession,
let us recognize you on the face
of every person we meet,
on those we miss so much,
and on those we have hurt
or have caused us pains;
help us go back to the Father
and may his face shine on us;
most of all, dear Jesus,
let us not be stuck with all those 
glitters and lights of this season:
let us rest in you,
feel you
and experience you
in those great and little things
you have been doing for us
especially when we are lost
and empty.  Amen.
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