Sunday, 27 December 2020 : Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Genesis 15 : 1-6 and Genesis 21 : 1-3

After this the word of YHVH was spoken to Abram in a vision : “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your Shield; your reward will be very great!”

Abram said, “My Lord YHVH, where are Your promises? I am still childless and all I have will go to Eliezer of Damascus. You have given me no children, so a slave of mine will be my heir.”

Then the word of YHVH was spoken to him again, “Eliezer will not be your heir, but a child born of you (your own flesh and blood) will be your heir.” Then YHVH brought him outside and said to him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can. Your descendants will be like that.

Abram believed YHVH Who, because of this, held him to be an upright man. YHVH was kind to Sarah as He had said, and fulfilled His promise to her. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time YHVH had promised. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son that Sarah bore him.

Saturday, 26 December 2020 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today on the day after Christmas the Church marks the celebration of the Feast of St. Stephen, the Protomartyr or the very first Martyr of the Church. St. Stephen was the very first one to die for his faith in the Lord, as a Christian, which is what the definition of a martyr is. St. Stephen was killed in cold blood by those who refused to believe in the Lord and in all the testimony of faith that he has passionately made before all the assembly of the people.

We may then be wondering why is it that we celebrate the feast of a Martyr and his painful death at the hands of the enemies of the Lord and the faithful when it is just right the day after the joyous celebration of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord or Christmas day. In fact, we are still within the joyful season of Christmas that began just yesterday with Christmas day. Then why do we celebrate this feast of the first martyr of the Church? That is because it serves as an important reminder for us that while we rejoice this Christmas season we must not forget what Christmas stands for.

St. Stephen suffered and died because of his courage and dedication in standing up for the truth, for his belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, His salvation and Resurrection. He testified courageously of the Lord and His mission, His truth and salvation before the many people who were assembled before him as described in our first reading passage today. He was accused falsely of blasphemy and other wrongdoings by his enemies who produced false witnesses and testimonies, much like how the Lord Himself had suffered.

Yet, despite the mounting opposition against him and the anger of those who had opposed him and his ministry, St. Stephen remained steadfast and courageous, and spoke with great wisdom, of the Holy Spirit to all those gathered. He spoke openly of all that the Lord had promised and then fulfilled through Christ, the same Jesus Christ Who had been condemned to death, crucified and then later on Risen from the dead. He testified before everyone that everything are true and are exactly as promised by the Lord.

For this faith, dedication and courage, St. Stephen was attacked by those who still hardened their hearts against God, who refused to accept the Lord Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. He was condemned to death and was stoned by all the people who wanted him dead. With his last breath, St. Stephen imitated the Lord’s example, forgiving all those who have killed him and made him suffer, praying to God not to hold their sins against them. And hence, St. Stephen passed on into heavenly glory, received the crown of glory and immortality for his steadfast defence of his faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all these are reminders for us that while we rejoice greatly this Christmas, we must not lose focus on what Christmas is all about. Christmas is all about Christ, His salvation and the love that He has shown us. He was willing to come to us, to share in our humanity and to dwell among us. He reached out to us and touched our hearts and minds, seeking His lost sheep, all of us, from among the nations. And we celebrate this joy He brought into the world by His birth in Bethlehem.

Those who stoned St. Stephen to death refused to accept the truth that Jesus was the Messiah or Saviour of the world, and many of them even considered Him as a blasphemer and sinner. But this was because of their stubbornness and refusal to open their hearts and minds to God. If only that they had opened themselves to the Lord, then they might have accepted Him and embraced Him. Nonetheless, as we can see, both the Lord and St. Stephen forgave all of them and prayed for their sake. In the end, everyone even the worst of sinners and those who have disobeyed the Lord, are still deserving of God’s forgiveness and mercy.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we go through this season of Christmas, are we making our lives as Christ-centric as possible? Have we been proclaiming our Lord Jesus Christ through our lives and through how we have been celebrating Christmas? If our celebrations have been mostly about ourselves and about the glamour of worldly, secular Christmas, then we should remind ourselves of the courage with which St. Stephen had lived his life and carried out his Christian ministry. Can we follow in his footsteps and be inspired by his zeal and faith, brethren?

Let us all make our Christmas celebrations be less about ourselves but rather more of a celebration of God’s love, and let us all share the joy that we have with each other especially with those who have difficulty celebrating Christmas and all those who have been sorrowful and despairing during this year. Let us lift one another and encourage each other through these difficult times, and make our Christmas a more meaningful and truly joyful one by embracing fully our Christian faith and reorientate our celebration and focus on Christ.

May the Lord be with us always, and be our Guide through this Christmas season and beyond. And may St. Stephen be our intercessor and role model always, in everything, that we may draw ever closer to the Lord by imitating and following the examples of courage, wisdom and dedication that St. Stephen had shown for his Lord and Saviour, the same Christ born and celebrated in Christmas. Amen.

Saturday, 26 December 2020 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 10 : 17-22

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Be on your guard with people, for they will hand you over to their courts, and they will flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought to trial before rulers and kings because of Me, so you may witness to them and the pagans.”

“But when you are arrested, do not worry about what you are to say, or how you are to say it; when the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say. For it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father in you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child; children will turn again parents and have them put to death.”

“Everyone will hate you because of Me, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Saturday, 26 December 2020 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 30 : 3cd-4, 6 and 8ab, 16bc and 17

Be a Rock of refuge for me, a Fortress for my safety. For You are my Rock and my Stronghold, lead me for Your Name’s sake.

Into Your hands I commend my spirit; You have redeemed me, o Lord, faithful God. I will rejoice and be glad in Your love, for You have seen my affliction.

Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, from those after my skin. Make Your face shine upon Your servant; save me in Your love.

Saturday, 26 December 2020 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Acts 6 : 8-10 and Acts 7 : 54-59

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Some persons then came forward, who belonged to the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. They argued with Stephen but they could not match the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

When the Council heard the reproach Stephen made against them, they were enraged and they gnashed their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus at God’s right hand, so he declared : “I see the heavens open and the Son of Man at the right hand of God.”

But they shouted and covered their ears with their hands and rushed together upon him. They brought him out of the city and stoned him, and the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen prayed saying : “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Friday, 25 December 2020 : Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we have come together to celebrate the great Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is better known as Christmas. Christmas is one of the two most important celebrations of our Christian faith together with Easter. After approximately four weeks of preparation throughout the season of Advent, we finally begin this most joyful season and celebration of Christmas beginning today.

As mentioned earlier, the celebration and season of Christmas are very important together with that of Easter, and the celebration of the birth of Our Lord and Saviour at Christmas cannot indeed be separated from the Passion, death and resurrection of the Lord at Holy Week and Easter. Without Christmas, there can be no Easter and without Easter, then Christmas would have been a meaningless celebration and event.

For without Christmas, then there can be no salvation for all of us mankind, as it was through Christmas that each and every one of us see the salvation of God in Jesus Christ, the salvation of God in the Baby born in Bethlehem in Judea two millennia ago, the Son of Mary born in the city of David. Through Him, God was no longer intangible and unreachable by mankind, for in Jesus, the Lord has bridged the gap between us and Him.

Through this very important event of the Nativity that is the birth of Our Lord into this world, the Lord Himself has chosen to adopt our humanity, and uniting our humanity to Himself, He became the personification of God’s love, the Divine Word Incarnate. The Word of God and only Begotten Son of God has assumed our human nature to become the Son of Man. In Jesus Christ therefore, we have the One God incarnate, two natures, divine and human, distinct but inseparably united in Him.

Then, when I said earlier that Christmas cannot be separated and meaningless without Easter, it means that if the One born at Christmas was just a mere man, the son of a woman and not of divine origin, then Christ could not have saved the world, for the suffering and the sacrifice He would undergo on the Cross at Calvary would have been meaningless, as the blood of a man would not have been sufficient to redeem us from our multitudes of sins.

On the contrary, if the One Who was at the Cross and died on the Cross at Good Friday was just a divine being that was not also a man, then first of all, it would have been impossible for God to die as a divine and immortal being, and then, secondly, without the significance of His incarnation, He could not have saved us, as it was by sharing in our humanity that He gathered us all and redeemed us, that we may share in His death and die to our sinful past selves, and be led into the new and eternal existence and life filled with grace through His Resurrection.

That is why, when we look at Christmas and rejoice today, ultimately it is because of the Resurrection of the Lord, for we know that this same Child born in Bethlehem celebrated today, is the same One Who was crucified for us, suffered and died for us, and Who eventually rose in glory and was triumphant against sin and death. Through Him, His Passion, suffering, death and Resurrection, we have received a new life and a new hope, and we can truly rejoice because once we have been lost in the darkness, doomed to destruction and annihilation, and now we are the beloved children of our Lord and King once again!

That is the true essence of Christmas that many of us have often forgotten, especially amidst the increasingly commercialised and materialistic nature of the secular Christmas celebrations and events. As many companies, parties and peoples wanted to make profit out of our celebrations and rejoicing, and adapting to the culture of joy of Christmas, they ended up in making us forget what Christmas truly is all about, and for all the excesses that we saw all around us, all these distract us from our true joy and what we should truly celebrate.

Instead of being preoccupied and being distracted by the many glamorous celebrations and events, the parties, revelries and merrymaking this Christmas day and the rest of the season of Christmas, we must look beyond the material and the surface appearances, and go deep into the true essence of Christmas. And this is why we should rediscover the true reason for our joy in Christmas, that is Christ. For if we sideline Christ or worse still, leaving Him out of Christmas entirely, then what is Christmas then?

There is truly great joy among all of us today, but we need to ask ourselves, are we celebrating Christmas in the right way? It is good to celebrate and to be happy, and we should rejoice and be merry, but are we too focused on the exterior celebrations and superficial appearances, materialistic considerations and the excess of secular Christmas culture? Shouldn’t we be more focused on that interior joy and true spiritual joy that we should have this Christmas?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as I have mentioned earlier on, Christmas is about the joy that all of us experience thanks to the Lord Who has willingly embraced us and reached out to us, and Who has humbled Himself and lowered Himself to our state, the wretched state of humanity that He might share the burden with us and took up upon Himself all the struggles, pains and sufferings that we have suffered. He emptied Himself of His glory and divinity in His Passion, and lovingly embraced us through His Cross, by which our salvation has come to us.

Christmas is truly about the Lord Who has humbled Himself, made Himself small and lowered Himself that He may touch us and be with us, that He may reconcile us to Himself. It is about the hope that He has brought us through His salvation, the peace that He has restored to us through His coming, the joy that He has revealed to us and returned to us after all the darkness and sorrows we experienced, and ultimately, the true and genuine love that He has for each and every one of us, all manifested and shown to us through Christ, His Son, the Child born and celebrated this Christmas.

We can see just how throughout history, man had always aspired for greater things, and many had even wanted to be like God, to have power and dominion over others and all things. That was why our history had been filled with so many bitterness and struggles, with so many conflicts and destruction as we walked down the path of conflict and war due to the clashing of our ego and pride, our desires and greed.

Yet, here we see the Almighty and all glorious God, willingly embraced our humanity and humbled Himself, to be born as a Child in a stable barely fit for any humans, less still to be the palace of a King. This is our Lord and King, the One Whom we celebrate about this Christmas, not our pride and ego, our desire and all of worldly things, but rather, the joy we have because God is on our side, and has shown His love for us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this year has been an incredibly difficult one for so many of us. So many had perished from the pandemic and many others had died, suffered and are still suffering from many trials and challenges, directly or indirectly related to the pandemic, and other unrelated issues that had always bogged us down and troubled us all these while.

Indeed, it may seem to be an ill-time for us to celebrate during this Christmas, given the still terrible situation all over the whole world. However, this is exactly what we need to do, as we ought to reevaluate our Christmas celebration and joy. We are all called, as Christians, to be the bearers of God’s Hope and Light into the world, to be the faithful and genuine witnesses of His love and desire to be reconciled with us.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all reflect and discern carefully on this most joyful occasion of Christmas, our way of celebrating it with true joy and with real purpose. Let us all realise that unless our Christmas is hope-giving, peace-giving, joy-giving, and most important of all love-giving and life-giving, then we have missed out the true essence and meaning of Christmas.

Instead of grumbling that we cannot have a ‘normal’ Christmas celebration this year due to various restrictions, let us all remember all those who had none to celebrate it with, all of our healthcare and frontline workers who had to work through even the Christmas season, risking their lives and pouring out their love for others. Let us all remember also all those who had not been able to celebrate Christmas due to various difficulties and challenges, and all those who have had to hide their Christmas joy and even their Christian faith.

Instead of worrying that we have received less Christmas gifts and lesser things in our parties and celebrations, lesser guests and lesser festivities, let us all think of how we can give from the bounty and blessings we have to all those who have not been fortunate and who has even less than what we have. If we are still able to worry about such things, then we must not forget about those who are struggling daily to make ends meet, and all those who have lost their jobs and their hopes especially during this dark year.

And last of all, instead of trying to pamper ourselves and love ourselves more, in this Christmas season we are called to imitate and follow the examples of Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. He selflessly reached out to us and showered us with love, and He came into this world and did all that He had done so that we may be saved and be released from all that we ought to have suffered.

Let us all be grateful this Christmas, for the gift of life, for all of God’s blessings, no matter how small they may be, that we may indeed find our true joy of Christmas, and celebrate together as a community, as a loving family centred on God and His love. Let us all truly rejoice as God’s beloved people, and share this joy that we have to the whole world, that even though this year may have been dark, but the Light of Christ in us will dispel even the greatest darkness, and in the end, He Who has conquered death, will lead us all into true joy and eternal glory, forevermore. Amen.