‘Someone Who will lead us, heal us, encourage us, accompany us, and walk with us’

The bishop anticipates Christmas with the Filipino community 

On Dec. 23, Bishop Raica celebrated a Simbang Gabi Mass with the Filipino community at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Hoover. Simbang Gabi is a series, or a novena, of nine Masses in preparation for Christmas. The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a distinct honor for me to be here with our Filipino community for this Simbang Gabi Mass, the last of the novena of Masses preparing for the Nativity of the Lord. I’m particularly struck by the fact that certain cultures prepare for our high religious holy days with very special preparations. The universality and the diversity of the people of God in their expressions can aid and inform all of us to take a new look at, refresh our perspective, and reconsider from different aspects and cultures the gift given to us at Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ in the stable in Bethlehem, the Savior of the world.

In addition, I add a word of gratitude for Father Vernon and the St. Peter community here in Birmingham for their extraordinary hospitality to welcome Simbang Gabi this year. What a blessing and what a gift to all of us! 

The Old Testament highlights through different individuals and prophecies the anticipation of the coming of a Messiah. They helped keep everyone focused on the goal. The coming of the Messiah at Christmas would be a great day indeed, but there was an unknown. They didn’t know when it would occur or how it would occur. Fortunately for us, we know that part of the story now. Every year, we seek to relive the gift of God that was fulfilled in God’s time, not ours. It just so happened that certain astrological and earthly events providentially coincided with the Lord’s birth as if it were to have always been that way. We think of the star that shown overhead or that guided the Magi coming from the east. We also think of the fact, as it is recorded, that the world was “at peace” when the Lord made His entrance into the world. 

Perhaps those in the Old Testament who contemplated a savior didn’t quite know what to expect. Would he come as a sort of commander in chief, a dictator to show everyone who’s boss, or an efficient manager to get everyone in their places, or a master teacher who will convince everyone by soaring rhetoric and discourse, or a healer who would eradicate illness and disease that came from our first parents? Well, we now know, that He snuck into our world, almost when we weren’t looking. He was spotted by the shepherds and those in the hill country. Mary and Joseph had their own challenges of getting to the place of the census. 

He came in a way that was attractive, innocent, and lovable. Someone Who reminded us of the immense love of God for each of us.

Today, like those of old, we must read the clues and recognize the that coming of Christ is closer now than when we first accepted the faith. As Christ came to dispel the darkness of the night and bring us into the daylight as the true light of the world, we, too, can begin to connect with and line up with Jesus Who ultimately came for you and me.

In today’s readings, the messengers, sent ahead by God as the advance team with the Elijah in the Old Testament and the birth of John the Baptist in the New Testament, help to prepare the way by reminding us to get ready. It’s going to happen soon and very soon. 

It seems as though we may have forgotten about God. With all of our social media instant news, it seems like the world is running amok. From wars, lack of respect for one another, not knowing how to disagree, canceling those who disagree, to expressions of unfettered power to silence others, seeking the higher good through constructive dialogue seems to have gone on the trash heap of our culture.

Our message is clear through these days of intense preparation for the birth of Christ: “Lift up your heads and see … The Lord is near!” The message still rings through the confusion of our time. Christ the Lord is born - born for you and born for me! He is the Wonder-Counselor and Prince of Peace. He is exactly what we’ve been waiting for - someone Who will lead us, heal us, encourage us, accompany us, and walk with us in all mercy and tenderness.

My dear friends, our redemption is near at hand. May God bless you all!