Wednesday, 6 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the readings of the Holy Scriptures telling us all about the love which the Lord, Our God, has shown us all His people, and the coming of the time when He will bring us into an eternity of joy and grace, no more sorrows and tears, at the time of His own choosing. We believe that this time will come in the future just as He has promised us.

And we see God as a loving and caring God as He is, for He is Our Shepherd, Our Loving Father, Our Master and Creator. God did not create us mankind for no reason or purpose, or just for fun. God created each and every one of us in His image, because He loves us, and He wants to share the love that is in Him, for He is love, with all of us.

God has no need for our love in the first place, because He is already perfect in love. In the Most Holy Trinity He has been united with perfect love, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Yet, He wants to love us, and thus He created us and the whole world. But unfortunately, we mankind chose to follow the devil’s advice and temptation instead, and fell into disobedience and therefore, sin.

Yet, He still loves each and every one of us without exception. Sin is an obstacle that had to be overcome before we can be reconciled with Him, for sin brings about death, and also separation from Him, Who is the Lord and Master of life. And that is why, as the Lord Himself made it clear in the famous verse from the Gospel of St. John, chapter 3, ‘God so loved the world that He sent us His Most Beloved Son, that all who believe in Him will not perish but enter into eternal life.’

Thus, it is why a centre tenet of our faith is that God Himself has come down upon us and dwelled with us, as He has prophesied through the prophet Isaiah, that a Son would be born of the Virgin, and His Name will be Emmanuel, or ‘God is with us’. Jesus Christ, Our Lord, is the fulfilment of that prophecy, the Son of God, the Divine Word Who is God, with God since time immemorial, incarnate through His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to be the Son of Man.

And through Jesus, God showed His extraordinary love to us, His people, all of mankind. In the Gospel passage today, when the people who followed Jesus were hungry, four thousand men and many thousands more of women and children, He showed compassion and love for them, and wanted to feed them Himself. With seven loaves of bread and some fishes He blessed and multiplied, all the multitudes of them received food and were filled to satisfaction, with much excess to spare.

This, and another occasion of feeding of the five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fishes, and the many other miracles, healing wonders and all that the Lord had done among His people, showed His tender love and compassion for us, as our Shepherd, Who has been saddened by our waywardness, and in fact, He was angry also, at our stubbornness and refusal to believe in Him, as what He showed to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who persistently opposed Him and His works.

God wants us to be reconciled with Him so much, and He desires to love us so much to the point that, as we know, He was willing to lay down His life for us. He Himself said, that there is no greater love than for one to lay down his life for his friends, and that was exactly what the Lord Jesus had done. He accepted death willingly, death on the cross, to suffer torture, whips and lashes, the heavy burden of the cross, bearing all of our sins, and die on that cross, so that all of us may be saved through Him and in Him.

And this, brothers and sisters in Christ, is why we celebrate Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of the birthday of Our Lord Jesus, but it will have no greater meaning should it not be linked to the very reason why Christmas existed in the first place. Why did God choose to be born as a Man? No other gods in other pantheons and traditions, false as they are, chose to humble themselves in this manner. No, only God, the Lord and Master of the universe, Our God, chose to do so. And that is because of His pure love for each one of us as I mentioned.

But sadly, as we have been discussing in the past few days of Advent, in our celebrations and preparations for the celebrations of Christmas, God Himself has often been forgotten and put aside, replaced by the commercial and worldly ways of Christmas celebrations and revelries. We all know of the dramatic commercialisation, materialism and secularism that surround much of our Christmas celebrations today, throughout the world.

That said, there are of course still places where we can see the true meaning of Christmas being celebrated, as there are still those who truly place Christ at the centre of their Christmas celebrations. Yet, the temptations can be truly great for us to conform with the ways of the world, and all the excesses of partying and celebrations, the desires for Christmas gifts, joys and pleasures, forgetting about Christ, the true focus of our celebrations.

Take for example, the extensive commercialisation of the figure now known as identical and symbolic of our modern day Christmas celebrations, namely Santa Claus, whose origins in fact came about from the saint of the Church whose feast day we celebrate today. We always remember Santa Claus as the old man with big belly and dressed in red and white thick sweater, with a matching pointy hat, and a thick white moustache and beard, which is now ubiquitous throughout the world and immediately identifiable with Christmas.

And we see Santa Claus as a figure who delivers presents and gifts for people, especially children, riding on a magical carriage pulled by flying reindeers through the sky, entering through the chimneys of houses to put the gifts discreetly through the fireplaces. But do we all know, that Santa Claus is a horrible misrepresentation of a real person, and one who is a faithful and zealous defender of the faith, St. Nicholas (San Nicolaus – the origin of the name of Santa Claus) of Myra?

St. Nicholas of Myra was a bishop of the church in Myra, in what is now modern day Asian portion of Turkey, and he was known to be a loving and devout old man, always caring for his flock, and also known for his gifts to young children, through which the tradition of Santa Claus eventually came about through folklore and traditions twisted to suit what the world needs. But they choose what they want to see and believe, and not representing wholly who St. Nicholas of Myra truly was.

First and foremost, St. Nicholas of Myra is a staunch defender of the faith, who is a contemporary of the famous heretic, Arius. Arius was a very popular and charismatic preacher, who preached the heresy of Arianism, named after him, which basically stated the belief that Jesus Christ Our Lord, is not equal to God the Father, but was begotten and created by God. He denied the equality between each members of the Holy Trinity, a clear breach and break from the true teachings of the Church.

And unfortunately, many people were swayed to the teachings of Arius, and even quite a few priests and bishops as well. So much so that the heresy of Arianism lasted quite a few hundred years before it was finally defeated completely. And at the time of the inception of this heresy, the Church wanted to settle this issue once and for all, at the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, where the bishops of the Church, including St. Nicholas of Myra gathered to discuss about the many matters of the faith, including the teachings of Arius.

It was told that, when Arius spoke about his teachings and defended his ideas before the Ecumenical Council, St. Nicholas of Myra was so inflamed with zeal and righteous anger, that he went forward and punched the heretic Arius in the face for his blasphemy and false teachings of the faith, which had subverted and caused the loss of so many of the souls of the faithful.

Through what we have seen in the examples of St. Nicholas of Myra, we can see the real Santa Claus, and who he should have been, not the false image projected by the world as ‘Father Christmas’, engineered to further the materialistic attitude and distractions to keep us from finding the true focus and purpose of our Christmas joy and celebrations, that is Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Following in the footsteps of St. Nicholas of Myra, all of us as Christians should rediscover the purpose of our rejoicing and celebration this Christmas and from now on. We should indeed be happy and rejoice, together with our families and friends, but shall we now rejoice with the right purpose and intention, that is to remember just how much God has loved us, that He was willing to give us His only beloved Son, to be our Saviour and Redeemer?

Let us go through this season of Advent with a renewed faith and zeal, and prepare ourselves wholeheartedly, in our hearts, minds, souls, bodies, and indeed our whole beings, that we may appreciate much better from now on, the significance of Christmas to our salvation. For it was at Christmas, that God, Who had willingly made Himself to be like one of us, entered the world, and then later on, offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice on Calvary, on the cross, that through His loving sacrifice, all of us are saved through Him.

May the Lord bless each and every one of us, and may He empower all of us to live in accordance with His ways, so that in everything we do, we may always strive to bring glory to God and His Name. And may He also bless our Advent season, that for each one of us, this time will be fruitful and meaningful, for us to prepare ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually, to have a very wonderful and blessed Christmas in a few weeks time. St. Nicholas of Myra, the true Santa Claus, pray for all of us. Amen.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Matthew 15 : 29-37

At that time, from the place where Jesus healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman, He went to the shore of Lake Galilee, and then went up into hills, where He sat down. Great crowds came to Him, bringing the dumb, the blind, the lame, the crippled, and many with other infirmities. People carried them to the feet of Jesus, and He healed them.

All were astonished when they saw the dumb speaking, the lame walking, the crippled healed, and the blind able to see; and they glorified the God of Israel. Jesus called His disciples and said to them, “I am filled with compassion for these people; they have already followed Me for three days and now have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away fasting, or they may faint on the way.”

His disciples said to Him, “And where shall we find enough bread in this wilderness to feed such a crowd?” Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They answered, “Seven, and a few small fish.”

Jesus ordered the people to sit on the ground. Then, He took the seven loaves and the small fish, and gave thanks to God. He broke them and gave them to His disciples, who distributed them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the leftover pieces filled seven wicker baskets.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Psalm 22 : 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.

He guides me through the right paths for His Name’s sake. Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are beside me : Your rod and Your staff comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of my foes. You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.

Goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life. I shall dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Isaiah 25 : 6-10a

On this mountain YHVH Sabaoth will prepare for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, meat full of marrow, fine wine strained. On this mountain He will destroy the pall cast over all peoples, this very shroud spread over all nations, and death will be no more. The Lord YHVH will wipe away the tears from all cheeks and eyes; He will take away the humiliation of His people all over the world : for YHVH has spoken.

On that day you will say : This is our God. We have waited for Him to save us, let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation. For on this mountain the hand of YHVH rests.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, we heard from the Scriptures first of all, from the prophet Isaiah who prophesied about the coming of the Messiah which was promised by God to His people through His messengers. The prophet Isaiah mentioned how the Messiah would come from the house of David, as a fulfilment of all the promises that God had made with His people, and with David, His faithful servant.

He also mentioned how the Messiah would be filled with the Spirit of God and with His wisdom, and He would reveal to all the people, the will and desires of God, and He would bring about a great era of joy and peace. He would reveal the light of God to a world darkened by sin and disobedience, and bring about a renewal of all God’s people. And as Christians, all of us believe that all of these have been perfectly fulfilled with the coming of God’s promised Messiah, Jesus Christ Our Lord.

And in this Messiah we do not just have a mere Man, but instead as He Himself had revealed, God Who has been incarnated in the flesh of Man, and both God and Man equally, He is the One through Whom the salvation of this world, and all of us His people have been brought to the hope of reconciliation and renewal. And in the Gospel today, we heard the joy of the Lord, Who proclaimed to all His disciples, the truth about Himself, and how He had brought salvation and joy to all of them.

In this time of Advent, as we continue to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas, we should reflect on what we have just heard and discussed. Let us ask ourselves, what is the meaning of Christmas to us? Is Christmas merely just another holiday and merrymaking period? Is Christmas merely just a time for us to rest from our work and to dress nicely, and to party and be merry with our friends?

Is Christmas a time for us to show off to our friends and relatives, by competing and showing who is able to decorate our houses the best, or who is able to give the most expensive gifts and make the best parties? No, our answers for all of these should be a resounding no. We may indeed be joyful, be merry and be happy as indeed we should. But at the same time, we must not let all these worldly celebrations to distract us from our true focus, that is Our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the essence of Christmas must be understood by all of us. Let us first of all remember that each and every one of us are sinners, who have been absolved and forgiven by God, because of His wonderful love and mercy, through none other than the provision of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, by His sacrifice and death on the cross, and by His glorious resurrection from the dead.

If we can understand all of these, then we will surely rethink how we should be celebrating Christmas, with Christ Himself at the centre and as the focus of all or our joys and our merrymaking. That is how we should celebrate Christmas, and in this season of Advent, we should then prepare ourselves so that we may worthily celebrate it, with the right intention, with the right meaning, so that the Lord’s grace may truly work its wonders among us.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us from today onwards, recommit ourselves to the Lord and seek to renew our efforts to live faithfully, by doing what He has commanded us to do, and by trusting in Him, Our Lord and Saviour, that the way He has shown us, is the way for us to go through, for our salvation and redemption into eternal happiness with Him. May the Lord be with us always and may He always grant us His blessings and graces. Amen.