Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today this Sunday we mark the beginning of a new liturgical year as well as the season of Advent, the time of preparation and spiritual purification for us to prepare ourselves properly for the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Now is a time of reconciliation between us and God, and for us to reexamine our way of life thus far.
As we mark the beginning a new year cycle and this blessed season of preparation, we enter into a time of reconfiguration of our lives and when we also take stock of what we have done and what we are going to do from now on, as we are about to celebrate once again, the joyous celebrations of our Saviour’s birth into this world. Is it going to be just yet another Christmas and another celebration for us? Another season and time of merry-making and fun, but not accompanied by true and profound change of heart, brothers and sisters in Christ?
Many of us have been seeing Christmas and its celebration all around us especially from the lenses of secular and worldly celebrations, as I am very sure that the Christmas festivities have already been in full force by now. As early as October and early November shops, shopping malls and many other places have been decked with plenty of Christmas decorations, themes and various other activities that are meant to prepare everyone for the festivities of the Christmas season.
However, many have easily forgotten of the true meaning of Christmas, where Christmas becomes just another holiday and time of merry-making that is bereft of its true intention and purpose. To many of us, Christmas is about exchanges of gifts, great food and tantalising meals, celebrations and parties. And while of course it is perfectly well and fine to celebrate, but we have often forgotten why it is that we are celebrating in Christmas.
We all knew well that Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, and Our God. But, how many of us actually internalise that fact and understand how it is so important and significant for us? Too many of us have treated Christmas, year after year, again and again, just as a season and time to be merry and happy, in tandem with what the world has done, in their secular celebrations.
Do we really appreciate just how important Christmas is to all of us? Christmas, along with Easter that is to come in a few months’ time, together celebrate the very important event in our history, that is the salvation of mankind and the fulfilment of God’s long-held promises for each and every one of us, through Christ, His beloved Son, sent into the world as the ultimate gift for all of us. Without Christmas, there will be no Easter and its significance, and at the same time, without Easter, Christmas itself would have been of little importance.
Why is that so? That is because through Christmas, the Son of God and Saviour of all entered into this world, incarnate into flesh, born as the Son of Man through His mother Mary. At Christmas, we celebrate this newborn Baby, born the Saviour of the world and King of kings, the Divine Word Incarnate, Who was to be the One to make a New Covenant between God and His people, through none other than His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. Without Easter and the Passion that happened before it, then Christmas will be just another birthday of another man. It is Easter that gave Christmas its full meaning and significance.
That is because here we have the Son of God born and uniting Himself into the humanity He willingly took, that would eventually unite our sufferings and sins, and bearing all that burden together on His Cross that Christ became the source of all our salvation, our hope and the Light that dispels the darkness of this world surrounding us. Yes, and that is why, on this First Sunday of Advent, we focus on the theme of Hope, out of the four themes of Advent, ‘Hope’, ‘Peace’, ‘Joy’ and ‘Love’.
Our Christmas joy must always be accompanied by Hope, for Hope is what has been re-enkindled in our hearts following the birth of Christ, and in Him we see once again the Light of God’s hope, amidst our wretched conditions, the despair and darkness that are surrounding us. Once, by our sins we should have been destroyed and condemned to eternal suffering, but God showed that His love and compassion triumph even over all of these, and He has made His love manifested to us, through none other than His Son.
Do you all remember the most famous phrase from the Gospel of St. John, ‘That God so loved the world that He gave us all His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life?’. In these words spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself to Nicodemus the Pharisee, we heard of the proclamation of God’s love and His desire to see us freed and liberated from whatever chains and bondage that had been holding us back, that is the chains of sin and the bondage of death.
It is because of the Lord that we can hope once again, that beyond the sufferings due to sin and death, there is Light that dispels the falsehoods of evil and the despair and fear of darkness. There is Hope because God’s love has been made manifest in the flesh before us, that what was once intangible has become tangible, that God has truly loved us from the very beginning, and has always still loved us, always. And we also look forward to His Second Coming, when He shall return as promised to gather us all His faithful ones.
And now that we know all of these, how should we then proceed with our Christmas celebrations and festivities? It is not wrong to celebrate and be merry, as we should indeed and rightfully be joyful because of Christmas. However, we really need to ask ourselves, what our Christmas celebrations are all about. Is it about ourselves and our desires for good things, for expensive gifts and wonderful, tantalising meals and food, or is it about our joy because of the Hope that Our Lord Jesus Christ has brought us through His birth?
You see, brothers and sisters in Christ, that without the right mindset and focus, we can easily end up losing the entire meaning and purpose of our Christmas celebrations and joy. We can celebrate very well, but without appreciating the true and full meaning and importance of Christmas, then our celebrations are meaningless and empty. Christmas becomes mundane and ordinary just like how year after year people celebrate Christmas in a secular and worldly way, buying gifts and trying to outdo each other in decorating their houses and places.
As Christians, our Christmas celebration is especially important and meaningful because we celebrate this very crucial and pivotal moment in our salvation as mentioned and discussed just earlier. And consequently, our mindset and focus must properly reflect of this, or else we will end up falling into the same trap of commercialised and worldly Christmas celebrations, just as we have certainly been bombarded with all around us these past few weeks.
That is why, during this season of Advent that we begin today, we have to prepare ourselves, not just in material terms and physically like in preparing for all the parties and celebrations, but even more importantly, we have to spiritually prepare ourselves, for the Advent, or the coming of Our Lord. For it is this expectation of the coming of the Lord that gave this season its Name, from the term ‘Adventus’ which means ‘coming and appearing’. We have to focus on that Hope that Christ has brought us with His birth, and share that same Hope to one another, the Hope in the salvation of Our God.
How do we do this, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is by reaching out to one another and sharing the Hope that Christ has brought to us, be it to our fellow Christians or to any other out there, our friends and relatives, our acquaintances and even strangers and others we encounter in our daily lives. And this year in particular had been especially difficult and tough for so many people out there, enduring and suffering the extended effects of the pandemic, the economic troubles and other conflicts between nations that we are surely very familiar of all throughout this year.
Can we, as Christians, be bearers of Hope for the world, for our less fortunate brothers and sisters? If we ourselves have suffered and laboured in suffering this year, do not forget that there are definitely those others who have suffered even more and in even worse state than we are now. Let us restore the hope in others, by reaching out to them and helping one another in even small, little ways that we can do, to show the Hope of Christ through our actions.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, those are just some ways that we can begin our Advent preparations well, and there are many other ways that we can make our blessed season of Advent meaningful, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas together. And this year, being known for its limitations and restrictions due to the pandemic, is perhaps a good time for us to reflect on our usual Christmas practices and celebrations, to ask ourselves once again, the fundamental questions of, ‘Why do we celebrate this Christmas?’ and ‘What is the meaning of Christmas to me and my family?’
Let us all enter into this season of Advent with solemnity and internal reflection, and let us refocus our attention in life, that we turn our gaze and focus once again on the Lord and the hope that He has brought to us, that in Him alone lies our salvation, and through Him, we can overcome the darkness that are affecting us, and through Him, our sufferings and pains, our troubles and difficulties will eventually be gone, and in Him, we shall enjoy one day, the eternal glory and true happiness with Him, forevermore. May God bless us all and our Advent activities. Amen.