Welcome to the 7th Simbang Gabi. We are now into the 7th day of our Christmas academy. I hope our reflections in this Christmas academy continue to deepen your understanding of the meaning of the incarnation of Jesus–the original event of Christmas.
In today’s readings we hear words of thanksgivings from both the first reading and the gospel. It is a celebration of thanks to the Lord, who does great things to humble people who trust in God. In the first reading, from the 1st book of Samuel, Hannah gives thanks to God because he has given her a son, Samuel. She dedicates him to God. Samuel will be a very great prophet of the Lord. In the gospel, Mary, a young, humble, unassuming girl boldly sings out her joy and thanks to God who will upset the world’s values through Jesus, the Son to be born from her. With Hannah and Mary we sing out our joy and thanks to God.
Both of these thanksgivings, on the lips of women, mothers, anticipate what God will do through the agency of their sons. Both image God’s saving activity concretely as toppling unjust structures and disarming oppressive regimes. “The bows of the mighty are broken,” declares Hannah, and Mary echoes, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones.” “The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,” Hannah says, and Mary answers, “He has filled the hungry with good things.” These are songs of the anawim, the poor who have no recourse or resource of their own and must wait for God to save them.
Indeed, these thanksgivings echoes the Christmas carols of joy and gratitude we hear during this season. The magnificat, the song of Mary, however, expresses more than just gratitude and joy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed by the Nazis for his opposition to Hitler, comments that the magnificat of Mary has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth.
In the magnificat, Mary becomes an emblem of hope and a sign of God’s care for the oppressed and downtrodden throughout the world. Through Mary, most virgin and purest of all, stripped of all power, wealth, fame, prestige and position, the power of God was proclaimed in the magnificat.
Mary’s magnificat highlights the social repercussions of Christmas. Christmas cannot be separated from the situation that Mary and Joseph found themselves in at the time of Jesus’ birth. Today it cannot be separated from the real situation in our our own communities and the larger society especially of those who live on the margins. Christmas is not an escapist occasion that numbs us and just let us forget all about the pain and sorrow in this life. The joy of Christmas is not the fleeting joy that serves as an escape from the sad reality of our lives, which sadly has been the scourge for many of our people come every Christmas.
We cannot just ignore the underlying political and social implications of Christmas. The new king wasn’t born in a palace, his birth wasn’t hailed by heralds fanning out to every corner of the empire. Instead, his family were refugees: They couldn’t find room at the inn; Mary gave birth in a stable; and the child had to rest in a manger. The message of Christmas is, inescapably, a message about the poor, about the little ones, about those who are pushed to the margins of society. They are the ones God chooses, the ones He looks to first. It is no wonder that the first people to experience the coming of the savior were shepherds, those lowly, uneducated ones who lived among the animals
It’s been the convention of many Christians to turn Christmas into a safe holiday that asks little of us. But this ignores the prophetic, subversive life of Jesus. Jesus brought the margins to the center and welcomed outcasts to the table.
In a homily he gave on Christmas eve in 1978, the recently canonized saint, St. Oscar Romero, the martyr bishop who was murdered while celebrating mass due to his active defense and solidarity with the poor in El Salvador, proclaimed that we need to become poor in order that we can truly celebrate Christmas:
No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God—for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God. Emmanuel. God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.
In another homily St. Oscar Romero gave on December 3, 1978, he expounds on the social implications of advent, of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ into our lives.
Advent should admonish us to discover
in each brother or sister that we greet,
in each friend whose hand we shake,
in each beggar who asks for bread,
in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union,
in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves,
the face of Christ.
Then it would not be possible to rob them,
to cheat them,
to deny them their rights.
They are Christ,
and whatever is done to them
Christ will take as done to himself.
This is what Advent is:
Christ living among us.
The celebration of Christmas is an invitation for us to sing, proclaim and live Mary’s magnificat. We can truly sing and live the magnificat if like Mary we humble ourselves to the power of God, to allow God to be God. Like Mary we can proclaim the power of God by becoming poor in material and spirit, living in solidarity with the poor and marginalized and our active involvement and participation in the building of God’s new social order which Mary sang in the magnificat.
The Christmas story continues … Abangan ang susunod na kabanata, bukas! (watch out for the next chapter tomorrow).
Here is the schedule of Simbang Gabi at the Baclaran Shrine (Philippine Time). All Simbang Gabi masses at the shrine, both evening and early morning, are streamed live. Click this link to watch and listen to the Simbang Gabi at the shrine.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer as quoted in Elizabeth Johnson, “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,” Catholic Magazine, December 2003 (Vol. 68, No. 12, pg. 12).