This morning Mr 7 and I woke up at 4am and made our way to simbang gabe.
When I was young, the novena of dawn masses held in the 9 day lead up to Christmas were just as much a part of my family’s tradition as putting up the Christmas tree and wrapping presents.
We’d pile into my parent’s Prado in the early morning darkness, the air cool and muggy, then listen to Filipino Christmas carols on the way to church. I’d struggle to keep my eyes open through the homily, but after Mass was done we’d gather with the congregation to tuck into all the best of Filipino breakfast dishes: pandesal, lugaw, sopas, Spanish bread, puto, or (if we got lucky) champorado, bibingka or biko. Weird as it was to eat such a dense, sugar-laden meal as the light of the summer sun was just kissing eucalyptus leaves goodmorning, this was always how we’d begin the days leading up to Christmas day.
Communion with God, and with the community.
With young kids, it’s hard to attend simbang gabe – no one really enjoys waking up at 4am at the best of times, let alone when it stuffs up a toddler’s sleep routine. But this morning, Mr 7 was keen to go, and I’m so glad we did.
We drove through empty streets but walked into a packed out church. Even with extra rows of chairs set out in the foyer, some people had to stand outside.
The priest spoke about preparing our hearts for God. That it’s not us who builds a temple or a house for Him, but He who transforms us into His dwelling place. That as soon as Zachariah trusted in God’s plan, his silence was broken and he was able to speak. That even though we have many plans – from what we cook or wear to our Christmas parties, to the bigger plans and anxieties we have for our lives – His plan is always so much greater and so much better than what we have in mind. The moment we trust and lean into His plan, everything else in life makes sense. Like Zachariah, it’s in those moments that we find our voice.
Today, as we physically prepare our house to host our family tomorrow night, I want to remember this morning. To remember what a privilege it is to create a new tradition with my children… that there was a time in my life when I prayed for what I have now, and that it is truly because of God’s love and grace that I have any of it. To remember God who chose to meet us where we are, who arrived in a humble way and needs nothing from us but our presence. To remember that this season is the very reason I can confidently say that the best is yet to come.
Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones.