Sunday, 24 December 2017 : Fourth Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, we celebrate the fourth and the last Sunday of the season of Advent, the last one before Christmas, which happens to be just tomorrow. I hope that all of us have been using this precious season of Advent, which the Church had established as a time of preparation and recollection, in order to get ourselves ready for the worthy and meaningful Christmas joy.

On this Sunday we are focusing on the last of the four aspects of Advent, as part of our reflection on what Christmas is truly about. We have gone through the aspect of hope, peace and joy, and now finally we embrace the love that is coming with Christmas. Love is the most important of all aspects of Christmas, simply because Christmas is a celebration of true love, God’s love which He gave us through Jesus Christ.

We received this ultimate gift of God’s love, as we remember always the famous phrase from the Gospel of St. John, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave us His only Son, that all those who believe Him, will not perish but have eternal life’. This reminds us that our Christmas joy is caused by the love of God which was so great and was so generously given to us, that while we might have once been lost in the darkness, and without hope, now because of this, we have a new hope.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as mentioned in the first reading today about the story between king David of Israel and the prophet Nathan, God Himself has dwelled among His people, first in the House which the son and heir of king David, namely king Solomon, built in Jerusalem. But through Christmas, God made Himself present in the flesh, in the tangible body of Man, for Jesus Christ Our Lord, born into the world two millennia ago, was Son of God and Son of Man.

And this truth was revealed as the Good News which the Lord brought to His people, announcing the coming of His salvation and His everlasting love, which He has poured down on us in its fullness in Christ. He is the Love of God made Man, the Divine Word Incarnate, by Whom all of us have been created, out of love, and through Him also, God willed to save all of us mankind. And God did this in the most amazing of ways, not through might and miracles, but through the giving of Himself in love.

For it is this wonderful and amazing mystery of God’s love which He showed us by the incarnation of His Son, and dwelling in this world, that we celebrate this Christmas. The proof of His love is truly real and concrete, for as we should know, Christmas itself cannot be separated from what happens in Easter, and by that extension, what happens during the week of the Passion, suffering and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why, for us to be able to appreciate the meaning of Christmas and God’s love, we must spend time to reflect on what the Lord had done for us.

Let us look at the manger, which is always at the centre of the Christmas displays. The manger is the earthly throne of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Baby born of His mother Mary, not in a palace, not in a rich man’s house, but inside a dirty and cramped stable for animals, for sheep and horses, for goats and cows, but not fit for a man, less so for a King. And Jesus is not merely just any king, but the One True King, King of all kings and Master of the Universe. He is the Lord over all of us, over all the mightiest among mankind.

Yet, He willingly lowered Himself and emptied Himself, allowing Himself to assume the appearance and the nature of a man, one of His created beings, that through that act, He might fulfil the singular mission entrusted to Him by His Father. He was born with a single purpose, and that purpose was made clear in its due time, as the cross of Christ. He bore that cross willingly, putting upon Himself all of our faults, our disobedience, and all of our sins and wickedness.

He endured all of that to be our lamb of sacrifice, the perfect Lamb offered to God, the perfect Gift for us mankind. His Precious Body and Blood alone is worthy to redeem all of us from our sins and from all of our defilements, that kept us separated from God and His love. But in order to do that, He had to suffer greatly, tortured and scourged, and had to be pierced by nails and spears, and lifted up on the cross to die a most agonising death.

All of these are proofs of God’s ultimate love for each one of us. He Himself said that there is no greater love than for someone to die or to give his life for a friend. And that was exactly what He has done for each and every one of us. He has given us His life, and He gave it all for our sake. He is indeed Our God and Our King, and yet, amongst all the other kings and rulers of this world, none of them treat their servants in this manner.

Yes, God loves us so much, that as He Himself said, I no longer call you servants, but I call you friends. He has loved us so much, that through the very significant act of Him assuming our form of Man, He has united us all to Himself, and make us all, more than just servants, but friends, and even more so, as we all know, through baptism, each and every one of us as Christians have been made to be God’s own sons and daughters.

He has given us this great and exceptional grace, again because of His love for us. And if He has given us such a great love, then should we not do the same? All of us are called to love, just as God has loved us first. First of all, of course we have to love the Lord Our God with all of our hearts, with all of our strength and capabilities. That is why we must focus ourselves on the Lord this Christmas, because Christmas is indeed about Him, all of the love which He has shown us, and through which He has made everything possible for us, to hope once again for eternal life.

But we are also called to love one another, in the same manner as God has loved us. After all, if He is Our Father, then all of us are brothers and sisters to one another, having the same Father in heaven. Then, how about if we practice that in our Christmas celebrations? When we discern about love in today’s Advent reflection, let us all look upon our own actions. Have we loved our brethren and showed concern and care for those who are in need?

Love is something that is easily said but difficult to be done. That is because love requires commitment and the giving of oneself. And true love should be selfless and life-giving, generous and compassionate. The best way for us to love, is to seek those around us, even within our own families and amongst our friends, and also among others we encounter in our respective lives, who have not been loved, those who have been ostracised, and those who are not as fortunate or blessed as we are.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in order to make our Christmas celebration a more meaningful one, let us all therefore strive that this Christmas, and from now onwards, we may go forth and show our love to our neighbours and brethren in need. Let us all show care and concern for those who are in need, no longer ignoring the pleas of the poor, the weak, the downtrodden, the unloved and those who are lonely. Let us show them the love of God, through our actions, that by doing so, we ourselves will draw closer to God’s love, and eventually will find our way to His eternal glory.

May the Lord bless each and every one of us, and may He also help us to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas, that is love, God’s love for us mankind. May He help us to share that love we have received with each other, that we may love our fellow men and women ever more generously that we may draw ever closer to Him, and eventually be worthy to receive His glorious inheritance. May we be ready to rejoice for Christ’s wondrous coming in Christmas day tomorrow. Amen.

Sunday, 24 December 2017 : Fourth Sunday of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 1 : 26-38

In the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth. He was sent to a young virgin, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the family of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

The Angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Mary was troubled at these words, wondering what this greeting could mean. But the Angel said, “Do not fear, Mary, for God has looked kindly on you. You shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call Him Jesus. He will be great, and shall rightly be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the kingdom of David, His ancestor; He will rule over the people of Jacob forever, and His reign shall have no end.”

Then Mary said to the Angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” And the Angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the Holy Child to be born of you shall be called Son of God. Even your relative Elizabeth is expecting a son in her old age, although she was unable to have a child; and she is now in her sixth month. With God nothing is impossible.”

Then Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.” And the Angel left her.

Sunday, 24 December 2017 : Fourth Sunday of Advent (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Romans 16 : 25-27

Glory be to God! He is able to give you strength, according to the Good News I proclaim, announcing Christ Jesus. Now is revealed the mysterious plan, kept hidden for long ages in the past.

By the will of the eternal God it is brought to light, through the prophetic books, and all nations shall believe the faith proclaimed to them. Glory to God, Who alone is wise, through Christ Jesus, forever! Amen.

Sunday, 24 December 2017 : Fourth Sunday of Advent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 88 : 2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29

I will sing forever, o YHVH, of Your love, and proclaim Your faithfulness from age to age. I will declare how steadfast is Your love, how firm Your faithfulness.

You said, “I have made a Covenant with David, My chosen one; I have made a pledge to My servant. I establish his descendants forever; I build his throne for all generations.”

He will call on Me, “You are my Father, my God, my Rock, my Saviour.” I will keep My Covenant firm forever, and my love for Him will endure.

Sunday, 24 December 2017 : Fourth Sunday of Advent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

2 Samuel 7 : 1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16

When the king had settled in his palace and YHVH had rid him of all his surrounding enemies, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Look, I live in a house of cedar but the Ark of God is housed in a tent.” Nathan replied, “Do as it seems fit to you for YHVH is with you.”

But that very night, YHVH’s word came to Nathan, “Go and tell My servant David, this is what YHVH says : Are you able to build a house for Me to live in? I took you from the pasture, from tending the sheep, to make you commander of My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, cutting down all your enemies before you. Now I will make your name great, as the name of the great ones on earth.”

“I will provide a place for My people Israel and plant them that they may live there in peace. They shall no longer be harassed, nor shall wicked men oppress them as before. From the time when I appointed judges over My people Israel it is only to you that I have given rest from all your enemies. YHVH also tells you that He will build you a house.”

“When the time comes for you to rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your son after you, the one born of you; and I will make his reign secure. I will be a Father to him and he shall be My son. Your house and your reign shall last forever before Me, and your throne shall be forever firm.”

Saturday, 23 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of Kanty, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scriptures telling us about the prophecy regarding the coming of a messenger who would prepare the way for the coming of the Lord’s glorious salvation as well as the fulfilment of that prophecy. In the first reading, we heard the prophecy made by the prophet Malachi, the last of the prophets recorded in the Old Testament regarding the servant of God.

In that prophecy, he spoke of someone who would come to straighten the path for the Lord, preparing the people for the coming of the day of restoration and reconciliation between them and the Lord. His prophecy was among the many prophecies and messages which the Lord has given to His people throughout time, and it spoke about St. John the Baptist, the messenger of God and Herald of the Messiah.

As we prepare ourselves to welcome the joy of the Christmas season, it is indeed a good time for us to reflect on the life and works of St. John the Baptist. His birth is the theme of today’s Gospel passage, as God’s long promised salvation was finally at hand. He was the one to prepare the way for the Lord, to make His paths straight, by his works among the people, through his baptisms at the Jordan, where he called the people to repent from their sins.

Now, let us ask ourselves, are we doing what St. John the Baptist has called on the people of his time to do? Yet, if we look at how we normally celebrate Christmas, we will see that many of us worry about many other things during Christmas, and not about what we really need to do with our lives. Many of us worry about how we will celebrate Christmas, what kind of food and gifts we are going to have, instead of remembering the true purpose of this celebration in Christmas.

When we celebrate Christmas, we are joyful not because it is just another holiday or day off from work, and also not because it is a time for us to go for holidays and have merrymaking and parties. Christmas is not just another festive season when we exchange gifts and enjoy ourselves with our families and friends. In truth, it is much, much more than all of those.

In Christmas, we remember the historical birth of the Lord and Saviour of the world, through Whom God has revealed His grace and love, and by Whose sacrifice on the cross, He has redeemed all those who believed in Him and brought them to reconciliation with Him. But it is not just an annual remembrance of the time that has passed and has no significance to us.

That is because as the Lord Himself promised to us, just before He ascended in glory to heaven, that He will come again at the time of His choosing, when He will judge all the peoples, and those who are caught unprepared and living in a state of sin, and not being repentant, will be thrown into hell with Satan and his fellow fallen angels, where we will have eternal regret.

Each and every one of us as Christians need to internalise that call which St. John the Baptist made, and which the prophet Malachi prophesied about. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is about to come!’ is the message we need to listen to, and which we need to reflect upon. And we need to ask ourselves, what is it that we are doing or we have been doing to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord, if that is going to happen suddenly, for example, tomorrow. Are we ready for Him? More importantly, are we worthy of Him?

Let us all heed the examples and the piety of St. John of Kanty, a holy and devout servant of God whose feast day we celebrate today. St. John of Kanty or St. John Cantius was a Polish priest, philosopher and theologian who was renowned for his many works and writings, but even more so for his deep devotion to the Lord, his charitable life and almsgiving to the poor.

He lived humbly and showed generosity towards his neighbours. He cared for those who are in need, and as a teacher and scholar, he also cared for the students who were in need of assistance, in the university where he was also working at as a professor and academic. His dedication to the Lord and to his fellow men and women inspired many others down the centuries even until this very day.

All of us should follow in his footsteps, and especially in our Christmas celebrations this year and henceforth. Let us not give in to the culture of excess, materialism and hedonistic attitudes, by celebrating Christmas with much glamour and fanciness, and yet without compassion, love and generosity. Instead, we should share our joys and blessings with others, especially those who are poor and in need.

Let us strive towards a more meaningful Christmas celebration, one that is centred on Christ, and not on ourselves. And rather than worrying on the wrong things, on superficial matters of Christmas celebrations, we should spend our time giving our love, care and attention for those who are in need, being more charitable and generous upon one another.

May the Lord continue to guide us on our path, that we may grow ever deeper in faith, and will be able to devote ourselves more wholeheartedly following the footsteps of our holy predecessors, St. John the Baptist, St. John of Kanty and many others, that we will be ready and be worthy when the Lord comes again, even if He does so suddenly, and we will be worthy of receiving His eternal glory and inheritance. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 23 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of Kanty, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 1 : 57-66

When the time came for Elizabeth, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the merciful Lord had done a wonderful thing for her, and they rejoiced with her. When, on the eighth day, they came to attend the circumcision of the child, they wanted to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “Not so; he shall be called John.”

They said to her, “But no one in your family has that name!” and they asked the father, by means of signs, for the name he wanted to give him. Zechariah asked for a writing tablet, and wrote on it, “His name is John,” and they were very surprised. Immediately Zechariah could speak again, and his first words were in praise of God.

A holy fear came on all in the neighbourhood, and throughout the hill country of Judea the people talked about these events. All who heard of it pondered in their minds, and wondered, “What will this child be?” For they understood that the hand of the Lord was with him.

Saturday, 23 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of Kanty, Priest (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 24 : 4-5ab, 8-9, 10 and 14

Teach me Your ways, o Lord; make known to me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and instruct me, for You are my God, my Saviour.

Good and upright, the Lord teaches sinners His way. He teaches the humble of heart and guides them in what is right.

The ways of the Lord are love and faithfulness for those who keep His covenant and precepts. The Lord gives advice to those who revere Him and makes His covenant known to them.

Saturday, 23 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of Kanty, Priest (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Malachi 3 : 1-4, 23-24

Now I am sending My messenger ahead of Me to clear the way; then suddenly the Lord for Whom you long will enter the sanctuary. The Envoy of the covenant which you so greatly desire already comes, says YHVH of hosts. Who can bear the day of His coming and remain standing when He appears? For He will be like fire in the foundry and like the lye used for bleaching.

He will be as a refiner or a fuller. He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. So YHVH will have priests who will present the offering as it should be. Then YHVH will accept with pleasure the offering of Judah and Jerusalem, as in former days.

I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the day of YHVH comes, for it will be a great and terrible day. He will reconcile parents with their children, and the children with their parents, so that I may not have to curse this land when I come.

Friday, 22 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day from the first reading we listened to the reading from the Book of the prophet Samuel, in which the young prophet Samuel was brought to the House of God, in fulfilment of the promise and vow which his parents had made when he was conceived in a miraculous way by God’s grace.

Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was one of the two wives of his father, Eliakim. She has not been able to bear any children, and by the standard and custom of that time, being barren of any children was a very big embarrassment for a wife and a woman. The more children a woman has, the more prestige and honour she was accorded to. And thus, Hannah was very distraught that she has not been able to bear any child at all.

She promised the Lord that she would dedicate and consecrate her firstborn child should He endeavour to allow her to bear a child, and her prayer was indeed heard. Samuel was her firstborn son, and she entrusted him after he was weaned to the Judge of Israel, Eli, and from then on, he became Eli’s student and eventually would succeed him as Judge and leader of the entire nation of Israel.

Hannah was so joyful and so filled with the Holy Spirit that she sang wonderfully from her heart, which we have as our Psalm today, the Song of Hannah. She was filled with righteous joy, because God has listened to her predicament and granted her heart’s desire. She was thankful that God has listened to her plea, as she was ridiculed and oppressed by the other wife of Eliakim, Penninah, who often looked down on her just because she had several children with him.

Then, in the Gospel today, we heard another joyful song, that is the song of Mary, the Magnificat, which she sang full of joy and filled with the Holy Spirit much like that of Hannah in the Old Testament. She was joyful because while she was merely a young and humble servant, a woman without much wealth or significance in the eyes of the world, but she was glorified by God and given the ultimate honour of being the mother of God and Saviour of the world.

In all of these, we can see just how great the joy that happened to the two women, Hannah and Mary. And it is this same joy that each and every one of us should also have in this season of Christmas, as we are just three days away from celebrating this momentous event in our history of mankind. But are we rejoicing for the right reasons? Are we rejoicing because we are happy to have a wonderful break and holiday from our usual busy life and work? Are we rejoicing because we are looking forward to all the festivities and the good food we are going to have?

These should not be the main reason for our joyous celebrations, as the main focus of our celebration and joy should be Christ, and we rejoice because of His coming into this world. Before He came, man long waited for the salvation that God had promised to His people, and they were waiting for the deliverance from the depredation of sin and death. Since He came into this world, a new hope had dawned on all of us, and through Christ, we are able to find our way to the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore spend time to prepare ourselves wholeheartedly, that we may be able to celebrate Christmas meaningfully and with true joy, knowing that because of Christ, we have new hope and new life, and all of us who are faithful to Him, will not be disappointed, for He will lead us to a new life and a new existence, and we hope that we will be forever with Him in the glory of everlasting life. May God bless us all. Amen.