Friday, 7 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we come together listening to the word of God in which we heard about the coming of God’s healing, mercy and forgiveness, which we heard from the prophet Isaiah, the Psalm and the Gospel passage of today. We ought to look up to the coming of God’s kingdom of peace, love and harmony and put our hope in Him, especially during the time of preparation in this season of Advent.

First of all, in the reading taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah we heard about the promise of liberation and salvation which would come to the people of God, Israel. It was a promise and hope that the people were looking forward to, especially if we understand the history and the context behind what the prophet Isaiah has proclaimed before the people of Israel.

At that time, during the latter years of the kingdom of Judah, the southern half and division of the ancient kingdom of Israel, while the kingdom was prosperous and led by the good and faithful king Hezekiah, but the northern kingdom of Israel has been destroyed and its people brought into exile and scattered by the Assyrians. And the Assyrians themselves came up all the way to Judah and besieged Jerusalem.

If not for God’s intervention that caused the Assyrians to leave the city of God aside after the Angel of God slaughtered almost the entire Assyrian army, the kingdom of Judah itself would have suffered the same fate as its northern brethren. And the kingdom and people of Judah also had many other often hostile and powerful neighbours who always sought for the opportunity to destroy them.

With the understanding of this historical context, now we should be able to appreciate better just how important and good the hope which the prophet Isaiah has given the people with what he proclaimed to them as recorded in the Book. That hope is anchored in the mind of the people of God with the expectation of the coming Messiah or Saviour that God has promised His people, the One Who was said that He would be the Son of David.

And in the Gospel passage today we heard just exactly what had been fulfilled in our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of David and Son of God, Who came into the world to fulfil the Lord’s promises to His people. He healed all those who came to Him with sicknesses and problems, those who have been possessed by evil spirits and in other forms of trouble. He healed them all and provided them the fullness of God’s love and compassionate mercy.

Thus in the readings we heard today, we heard all that we should reflect on throughout this blessed time of Advent, in the lead-up to Christmas. Advent is a time for us to reorientate ourselves and our lives, and to refocus our attention and focus on God, the One Whom all of us are expecting in this season. We remember both of His historical coming into this world as mentioned in the Gospel passage today, all that He has done, but also the upcoming eternal kingdom of God at the end of time.

All of us are people who are afflicted and in suffering, just as the people of Judah in Isaiah’s time suffered from the various conditions mentioned earlier in today’s discourse, and just as the blind men in the Gospel and the other people with various problems who came to Jesus for healing and mercy. We are afflicted like them, because of our sins. Sin is the worst affliction of all, as sin strikes at the deepest part of ourselves, and there is no healing for sin, except for the mercy and forgiveness from God.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, are we willing to go and seek God’s mercy, and reorientate our lives during the opportunity that God has given us during this season of Advent? Are we going to let this upcoming Christmas season be just like the other Christmas seasons that have passed, if we have not been celebrating it right, and with the wrong focus and intention? God is calling us to repent from our sins and to return to Him.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Ambrose, whose life and inspiration, whose dealings with sinners can be a good example for us to follow. St. Ambrose was the famous bishop of Milan, who was considered among the four original Doctors of the Church, for his great intellect and wisdom, his great leadership of the Church, both in Milan and beyond, and for his many other contributions to the Church.

St. Ambrose was born of a Roman noble family, and rose to the rank of governor of the province of what is now northern Italy, because of his many talents and good works. He was beloved by many of the people because of his great contributions and commitment to serve the people. And when the Arian heretic bishop of Milan died, St. Ambrose was chosen by acclamation to be the new bishop of Milan from all the people even when he was not even a priest yet.

St. Ambrose dedicated himself to the ministry of the episcopate and the shepherding of the people of God. He spoke out strongly against heresies and against all those who sought to oppose the good works of the Church. And in one notable event, St. Ambrose himself went up against the powerful Roman Emperor, Theodosius the Great, when the Emperor ordered a massacre in the city of Thessalonica in Greece.

St. Ambrose excommunicated the Emperor for the blatant act of sin in the massacre, in the killing of many innocents amidst the massacre. And the Emperor acceded to the demands of St. Ambrose for a public show of repentance and penance. The Emperor publicly admitted his errors in sackcloth, and was welcomed back into the Church by St. Ambrose, who thereafter continued to serve the people of God until his death.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called to prepare ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually to be closer again to God, as we prepare for the upcoming season of Christmas during this Advent. Let us all spend more time in prayer and devotion to God, looking up with hope towards God, in Whom alone lies the hope of eternal glory and salvation. May the Lord, through the intercession of His servant St. Ambrose, bring us ever closer to Him, that we may be worthy of the eternal life He has promised all those who are faithful to Him. Amen.

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