Sunday, 13 December 2020 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday marks the occasion of Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. This Sunday is unique because it is a brief moment of elevated joy and rejoicing as compared to the usually more sombre and solemn Advent theme. This is because today we focus on the aspect of ‘Joy’ in Advent, continuing from the series of ‘Hope-Peace-Joy-Love’ during the Sundays of the season of Advent.

The word Gaudete Sunday came from the beginning of the Introit for this Sunday, which goes ‘Gaudete in Domino semper : iterum dico, gaudete’ which means, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.’ And this leads us to the focus of this Sunday of reminding us that while we have not celebrated fully in joy yet, as we preserve that for the upcoming Christmas, but Advent is a season of expectant joy, as we look forward to the joy of Christmas to come.

And therefore, as we are about halfway through this season of Advent, we need to ask ourselves, what is our joy in this life and what joy are we looking forward to in this season of Advent? What is the joy that we are looking towards in Christmas? Is it about the festivities, revelries and merry-making that we are surely familiar with during this period of time, when everyone are trying to outdo each other in their extravagance in celebrating Christmas?

We see how merchandises and Christmas paraphernalia are all around us, shopping malls and all sorts of places are filled to the brim with Christmas decorations. Christmas jingles and songs, promotions among many others, Santa Claus and all other familiar Christmas celebrations and perks are all around us, and we revel in all of these, often a bit too much, and we ended up focusing on the wrong joy in Christmas.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is indeed that we should rejoice in Christmas, and Christmas is all about happiness and being joyful, but not because all the gifts and parties that we are having, not because of all the celebratory moods and excessive commercialisation of Christmas that we have seen all around us. What we see are merely imitation of the true joy of Christmas, the attempt of the world to profit from the Christmas celebration for their own benefits.

That is why the secularisation and commercialisation of Christmas that we have seen all these while can prevent us from understanding the true significance, meaning and importance of Christmas to us, and prevent us from knowing the true joy of Christmas that we are looking forward to, especially in this Gaudete Sunday as we focus on the joyful aspect of our Advent waiting for Christmas.

In our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard of the hopeful and joyful prophecies of the prophet Isaiah speaking of the coming of the Lord’s salvation through His Messiah or Saviour, when the Lord will send forth His grace and love to the world, and touch the world and all of His people with His great compassion and tender loving care.

And that was indeed a very strong message of hope and joy, that came at the time when the people of God were having bleak outlook of their livelihood, having endured centuries of humiliation, suffering and decline after the glorious past of the mighty days of King David and Solomon. By the time of the prophet Isaiah’s ministry, whatever remained of the kingdom of Israel was just a mere shadow of its former greatness under the aforementioned kings.

The kingdom had been divided long ago into northern and southern halves, and the northern kingdom that was composed of ten out of twelve tribes of the Israelites had been destroyed just recently then, by the Assyrians who had conquered the lands, destroyed the cities and brought the people off into exile in faraway lands in Assyria and Mesopotamia, and putting foreigners in the lands that used to be dwelled by the sons and daughters of Israel.

The southern half, the kingdom of Judah itself did not fare much better, having continually been shrinking in terms of their power and glory, subjugated by neighbours and oppressed by its enemies, and the forces of the Assyrians themselves had came up to Judah, besieged its cities, looted its countryside, and even almost managed to conquer and destroy Jerusalem, if not for the Lord’s loving intervention that saw the Assyrian armies destroyed and their king fleeing in shame back to his homeland.

Amidst all of these, we can now see just how the message of the prophecy of Isaiah was indeed like a fresh breath of life and a glimmer of beautiful hope and light in the middle of the darkness and despair that were surrounding God’s people at the time. The prophet Isaiah was calling on the people to turn towards the Lord, their Saviour and their Hope, through Whom alone they could attain true joy and happiness.

All of these prophecies were to be fulfilled in Christ, through His coming into the world, which we celebrate as Christmas. In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the account of St. John the Baptist, who was asked by the priests and the Pharisees who doubted him and wanted to question him on the veracity and authority of his actions. St. John the Baptist could have said that he was the Messiah, and based on his many followers, he could very well had made that claim.

Yet, St. John the Baptist was sent into this world as the Herald to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, and he boldly proclaim that truth before all, that he was not the One they were waiting for, but just the who was sent before the One, to clear His path and to prepare and make everything ready for His coming. St. John the Baptist pointed the people towards their true hope, and the source of their true joy, Christ, the Saviour of the world.

When later on the Lord has begun His ministry and gained more and more followers, and even more than what St. John the Baptist himself had, as some of his followers began to follow the Lord Jesus instead, he was happy when his discipled asked him, that the Lord became more important and prominent than himself, and he had true joy knowing that his mission had therefore been accomplished, to show the true joy of the world to God’s people.

And this is what we have also heard being echoed in our second reading today by St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Thessalonians, saying enthusiastically that we ought to rejoice, just as the words of the Introit that inspired the name of this Gaudete Sunday said, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and I said again rejoice!’. And St. Paul said that this is the vocation of all Christians, to be joyful and to rejoice.

But when we rejoice, it ought not to be caused by our own glory and power, our own achievements and happiness, but rather because we have found our true joy in Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, knowing that through Him we have the sure assurance of eternal life and glory, of eternal and true happiness with Him, and not the false and temporary, fleeting joy of this world.

That is the true joy of Christmas that we are looking forward to celebrate, and which we have to reflect at all times in our lives. We have to keep this joy in us, no matter how difficult and dark the situations may be. And we all know that during this year, things are very difficult and challenging for so many people, because of the pandemic that had claimed so many lives and destroyed so many livelihoods.

But we must not allow ourselves to be overcome by despair and darkness, brothers and sisters! This is exactly why we are looking forward to Christmas, because we know that, just like the people of Judah long ago, that God has always been with us, caring for us and loving us, journeying with us all these while even through our most difficult and darkest moments.

He sent us all our salvation, by sending to us His own Begotten Son, to be the Saviour of all. He is our true Joy, the Joy that we are looking forward to and are expecting in this Advent season, and we look forward to a renewed hope and joy through Him. And let us all be filled with this joy, and be generous in sharing them with one another, particularly those who have been sorrowful and downtrodden.

Let us all be genuine brothers and sisters to our fellow men and women, supporting each other through these difficult times, that no one should be left alone in sorrow and despair. Let us all look forward to a brighter future with hope, filled with peace and joy in our lives, and be full of love, both for God and for one another, at all times. May God bless us all and guide us through this journey, and may He bless our wonderful Advent observation. Amen.

Sunday, 13 December 2020 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

John 1 : 6-8, 19-28

A man came, sent by God; his name was John. He came to bear witness, as a witness to introduce the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but a witness to introduce the Light.

This was the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?” John recognised the truth, and did not deny it. He said, “I am not the Messiah.”

And they asked him, “Then who are you? Elijah?” He answered, “I am not.” They said, “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Tell us who you are, so that we can give some answer to those who sent us. How do you see yourself?”

And John said, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness : Make straight the way of the Lord!” Those who had been sent were Pharisees; and they put a further question to John, “Then why are you baptising, if you are not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet?”

John answered, “I baptise you with water, but among you stands One Whom you do not know; although He comes after me, I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal.”

This happened in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptising.

Sunday, 13 December 2020 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

1 Thessalonians 5 : 16-24

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks to God at every moment. This is the will of God, your vocation as Christians. Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise the prophets’ warnings. Put everything to the test and hold fast to what is good. Avoid evil, wherever it may be.

May the God of peace make you holy and bring you to perfection. May you be completely blameless, in spirit, soul and body, till the coming of Christ Jesus, our Lord; He Who called you is faithful and will do it.

Sunday, 13 December 2020 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

Luke 1 : 46-48, 49-50, 53-54

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exults in God, my Saviour! He has looked down upon His servant, in her lowliness, and people, forever, will call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is His Name! From age to age, His mercy extends to those who live in His presence.

He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty. He held out His hand to Israel, His servant, for He remembered His mercy.

Sunday, 13 December 2020 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

Isaiah 61 : 1-2a, 10-11

The Spirit of the Lord YHVH is upon Me, because YHVH has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up broken hearts, to proclaim liberty to the captives, freedom to those languishing in prison; to announce the year of YHVH’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God.

I rejoice greatly in YHVH, My soul exults for joy in My God, for He has clothed Me in the garments of His salvation, He has covered Me with the robe of His righteousness, like a bridegroom wearing a garland, like a bride adorned with jewels. For as the earth brings forth its growth, and as a garden makes seeds spring up, so will the Lord YHVH make justice and praise spring up in the sight of all nations.

Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the third one in the season of Advent, you may have noticed a difference in the vestments of the priests and the celebrants of the Mass as we use the rose colour instead of violet, the decorations of the Church and the music, because on this day we celebrate what is known as Gaudete Sunday, which came from the Introit of today’s liturgical celebrations, ‘Gaudete in Domino semper…’, with the word ‘Gaudete’ meaning rejoice.

That is why on this particular Sunday of Advent, we focus on the theme of ‘Joy’, after we have focused on ‘Hope’ on the first Sunday of Advent, and ‘Peace’ on the second Sunday. On this day, we have some sort of reprieve from the relatively sombre and penitential nature of Advent, and assume temporarily the more joyous and festive atmosphere, not because it is already the time to embrace the fullness of the joy of Christmas, but rather because we look forward to that ‘Joy’ in Christmas that we rejoice today.

On this day, this Gaudete Sunday we are all reminded what the true meaning and joy of Christmas are all about. That is because many of us have forgotten what the true joy and meaning of Christmas is, and have become swallowed by the way the world perceives Christmas, the celebrations and festivities we often see all around us especially throughout this month and holiday season, which is focused not on the true joy of Christmas but instead on false, worldly joys.

This is why the world has often led us astray and distracted us from finding the true joy of Christmas. What is this true joy of Christmas, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is Christ Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all and the One after Whom Christmas was named. It is indeed such an irony that most of us treated Christmas as just another festivity and another holiday, forgetting the very One we should be celebrating about.

That is why it is indeed timely that we are reminded of Who we are celebrating for this coming Christmas, so that we may no longer forget about Him and may have the right direction and way of celebrating Christmas with true joy and happiness, not the glamour and pleasures of the holiday spirit and celebrations of Christmas all around us, not all the gifts we receive and all the food we are going to feast in, but rather in welcoming the Lord, our Saviour into our midst.

All of us rejoice because in Christmas lies the fulfilment of our long wait and desire for salvation and reconciliation with God. As our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah stated, the coming of the Lord and His salvation would indeed be a joyful one, a time when God would heal His people and reach out to them, when He would bring them true freedom and happiness by revealing His way and His truth to all of them, that is all of us mankind.

The Lord has always been faithful to His people and to all the promises that He has made with them. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people of Israel had indeed suffered, humiliated and beaten by their enemies, and the entirety of the northern kingdom had been destroyed by the Assyrians and the inhabitants of the northern lands had been brought into exile in far-off lands. Therefore the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah must have indeed brought great relief to the people of Judah, the southern kingdom, as a reassurance of God’s providence and love.

And this was reaffirmed in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord Jesus quoted that very same prophecy of the prophet Isaiah as a word of confirmation to St. John the Baptist, the one sent to herald the coming of the Messiah, that He, Jesus, was indeed the One and only Messiah of God, promised to all of mankind, through all the miracles and wonderful things He had done. All these fulfilled what God had spoken in the past, and for this all of us ought to rejoice.

But at the same time, this happiness and joy must be tempered with patience as St. James wrote in his Epistle, which is mentioned in our second reading today. St. James spoke of how the Lord is indeed coming, and we must be patient to wait for His coming, the time when He will fulfil completely all that He has promised to us. What St. James spoke about was the promise which Christ had made as He ascended to heaven, that He will come again at the end of time, to gather all of His faithful flock to Himself.

That is why we have in fact two joyful celebrations in this upcoming Christmas, the first one of which all of us must have known, in celebrating the historical birth of Our Lord and Saviour in Bethlehem, the moment two millennia ago when Jesus was born of His mother Mary in the poor and dirty stable just outside the town of Bethlehem as prophesied by the prophets. But then, at the same time, we also then rejoice because of the expectation of His second coming, which will come at the time that only God knows.

All of us rejoice because of this hope, and today, as we focus on this aspect of joy on Gaudete Sunday, we are also asked to reflect on how patient we have been as the disciples and followers of Christ all these while. Have we followed the Lord patiently, knowing that He has loved us all so much and blessed us all these while? Many of us are often too impatient and expect immediate satisfaction, happiness and joy.

That is exactly why many of us fell into the many temptations of the world, and why many of us have forgotten about the true joy of Christmas in Christ. We seek the instant joy and pleasure in our lives, which the world readily provided for us, in the many amenities and comforts we enjoy throughout life, in the many perks and things that we have all around us, in our often consumeristic and materialistic lifestyle.

On the contrary, if we want to be true and faithful Christians, we must then be ready to deny ourselves and all of these pleasures, the attachment to the many tempting things found in this world. We must be ready to suffer and face ridicule, rejection and difficulties, as what the Scripture readings today had alluded, as St. James wrote of the suffering of the prophets and all those who had come earlier on bearing God’s truth.

St. John the Baptist himself had to endure and suffer in prison, as what we heard today from the Gospel passage, how he sent message to the Lord Jesus from prison. As dedicated and committed St. John the Baptist was, he was still human, and he must have also felt some despair and the pain and bitterness of suffering in prison, and that was why he asked, if the Lord Jesus he believed to be the Messiah was truly the One he and all the others had waited for.

Similarly therefore, all of us will also likely face challenges and trials somewhere in our journey of faith, in varying degrees and difficulties. But we must not give up our faith and resolution to follow through this journey of faith, just as the prophets of old remained true to their mission and calling, despite the people’s opposition and challenges, and just as how St. John the Baptist remained firm and faithful until he was martyred.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why as we celebrate this Gaudete Sunday today, while we rejoice at the expectation of the coming of Christ and the joy of Christmas, but we must also learn to be patient and to endure the trials and challenges we may face in this world with patience and faith, and not to seek or yearn for instant joy or gratification without having to endure the pains and crosses of life.

After all, the Lord has called us to follow Him and to carry our own crosses and walk in His path. Yes, we will find true joy and happiness in God, but it does not mean then that our life at present in this world will be free of sorrow and sufferings, because as long as sin exists in this world, and as long as mankind continue to walk in sin and in disobedience against God, abusing the freedom He has given us, in living our lives wickedly and in succumbing to our many desires, to our greed and ego, there will always be troubles, trials and sufferings to endure in this life.

This is where then we need to realise that, out of all these challenges, difficulties, trials and darkness in life in this world, there can be no true way out besides that of following the Lord and through His saving grace, by which He will bestow on us true joy and freedom from all the chains and trials that we are facing and will be facing in life. It is in Christ, our Lord and Saviour, Whom we celebrate this coming Christmas, that we have our hope and our salvation, the one and only source of Joy for us.

And last of all, as we look forward to the true joy of Christmas, let us also endeavour to remember our fellow brothers and sisters and share our joys and blessings to one another this coming Christmas. Let our festivities and celebrations be done with the right intentions and purpose, and not be selfish in keeping all the happiness and joy just for ourselves and leaving others to suffer while we rejoice. Let us remember that there are those in our midst, sometimes even within our families and friends, who are not able to celebrate Christmas with joy for various reasons.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all bear witness to Christ through our Christmas preparations this Advent, and by celebrating Christmas this year and from now on with the right focus and intentions in mind, that Christ is always and will be the centre and focus of our Christmas joy and celebration, because it is by His coming into this world, that joy has been given to us all once again. May the Lord bless us all and be with us through this journey through the remaining days of Advent. Amen.

Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Matthew 11 : 2-11

At that time, when John the Baptist heard in prison about the activities of Christ, he sent a message by his disciples, asking Him, “Are You the One Who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus answered them, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see : the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life, and Good News is reaching the poor; and how fortunate is the one who does not take offence at Me!”

As the messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John : “When you went out to the desert, what did you expect to see? A reed swept by the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? People who wear fine clothes live in palaces. What did you really go out to see? A prophet?”

“Yes, indeed, and even more than a prophet. He is the man of whom Scripture says : I send My messenger ahead of You to prepare the way before You. I tell you this : no one greater than John the Baptist has come forward from among the sons of women, and yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

James 5 : 7-10

Be patient then, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. See how the sower waits for the precious fruits of the earth, looking forward patiently to the autumn and spring rains. You also be patient and do not lose heart, because the Lord’s coming is near.

Beloved, do not fight among yourselves and you will not be judged. See, the judge is already at the door. Take for yourselves, as an example of patience, the suffering of the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s Name.

Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Psalm 145 : 7, 8-9a, 9bc-10

He gives justice to the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free.

The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord straightens the bent. The Lord loves the virtuous, but He brings to ruin the way of the wicked. The Lord protects the stranger.

He sustains the widow and the orphan. The Lord will reign forever, your God, o Zion, from generation to generation. Alleluia!

Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Isaiah 35 : 1-6a, 10

Let the wilderness and the arid land rejoice, the desert be glad and blossom. Covered with flowers, it sings and shouts with joy, adorned with the splendour of Lebanon, the magnificence of Carmel and Sharon. They, my people, see the glory of YHVH, the majesty of our God.

Give vigour to weary hands and strength to enfeebled knees. Say to those who are afraid : “Have courage, do not fear. See, your God comes, demanding justice. He is the God Who rewards, the God Who comes to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unsealed. Then will the lame leap as a hart and the tongue of the dumb sing and shout. For the ransomed of YHVH will return : with everlasting joy upon their heads, they will come to Zion singing, gladness and joy marching with them, while sorrow and sighing flee away.