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.

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