Sunday, 17 December 2017 : 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 we enter into the third Sunday in the season of Advent, the time of preparation for the coming of Christmas. And we may have noticed something peculiar about today’s celebration of the Holy Mass, as we use a different liturgical colour, that is rose instead of purple or violet. That is because today we celebrate what is also known as Gaudete Sunday.

The word Gaudete comes from the first word in today’s Introit proper in Latin, ‘Gaudete’ which means ‘Joy’. In each of the four Sundays of Advent, we reflect on different aspects of our upcoming Christmas celebrations, from Peace, Hope, Joy and Love. And today we focus on the joyful aspect of our Christmas celebrations, and therefore the change in the liturgical colour signifies an allowance for a more vibrant celebration today as compared to the more solemn and penitential nature of the rest of the Advent season.

Yet, the first thing that we must ask ourselves today, is what is the joy of our Christmas celebrations. This may seem to be a silly question and many of us may be wondering why am I asking such a rhetorical and obvious question. However, do we realise that while many of us may know the answer to that question, ‘What is the joy of our Christmas celebrations?’, yet in our actions we are not doing what we think we know.

What am I talking about? I am talking about how many Christians know that Christmas is the joyous celebration remembering the historic and momentous event when Our Lord and God Himself, Who chose willingly to assume our humanity in Jesus Christ, His Son, was born into the world and God has entered into our midst, fulfilling His long promised salvation for us all who are faithful to Him. And yet, many of us do not celebrate Christmas for the right reasons.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we know just how aggressive the marketing campaign for Christmas can be. Almost everywhere in the world where Christmas is celebrated, there are plenty of festivities and celebrations, and increasingly, year after year, the celebrations become ever more elaborate, materialistic and the saddest of all, secularised.

What I mean is that, more and more people dissociate Christmas from the very One person after Whom Christmas was named, and the very One Whose birth is commemorated at Christmas, that is Christ, Our Lord Jesus Christ. While there are still places where the Lord Jesus features prominently in the Christmas celebrations, how much less popular He is in many other places compared to other familiar Christmas figures we know of!

For example, we can be sure that in almost all Christmas celebrations we always have a Christmas tree, wonderfully decorated with lights and presents underneath the tree. Yet, how many of us know the reason why we make Christmas trees and decorate them as such to celebrate this momentous event?

The Christmas tree in fact represents Christ, as the evergreen tree used for the tree represents the life that Christ gives to the world. At most of the places where Christmas is celebrated, it occurs during the time of winter, when everything is covered with snow and temperature is so low that nothing can live except the evergreen trees that can withstand the harsh conditions. It is symbolic of Christ giving life into the world by His coming through Christmas.

How about the lights and all the decorations that are placed on the Christmas trees? How about the gifts we place under the tree and the star that usually crowns the top of the Christmas tree? They also represent Christ, Who is the light of the world. As the prophet Isaiah said in the reading used for the Christmas Midnight Mass, ‘a people who lived in darkness have seen a great light’, and this Light is Christ.

The gifts represent the gift of Christ, as we should remember in the Gospel of St. John chapter 3 verse 16, the famous phrase, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave us His Beloved Son, that through Him all may be saved’. This is the ultimate gift that God has given us, the gift of love, and not just any kind of love, but ‘ultimate love’, for Christ Himself said, ‘there is no greater love than for someone to lay down his life for a friend’ and He laid down His life for us.

And the star atop the Christmas tree represent the Star of Bethlehem, which the three Magi saw, and they travelled a great distance from their homeland to come to the Saviour and King that the Star’s presence announced to the world. This Star is a symbol of faith and hope, and faith because the Magi had faith in God and they used the Star as a guiding light and their destination, and hope amidst the darkness of the land. As from the ancient times until today, the light of stars, sun and moon have guided us mankind in our journey, and therefore, Christ is our Light, our Hope and our Destination.

Therefore, as you can see, pretty much everything about the Christmas tree itself is about Christ! And yet, many of us may not have realised this fact, or that we are focusing on the wrong things. Many of us want to please our guests and family members who come to our houses for the Christmas celebrations, and many shopping malls and cities, companies and others try to outdo each other in raising up the best, the best decorated, the most beautiful and even largest Christmas trees. Yet, if we think about it carefully, are they, and indeed we, missing the point and the true spirit of Christmas?

And we always see Santa Claus and his chariot, driven by the reindeers around. We all know the story of how Santa Claus supposedly lives in the North Pole and has many elves who run a gift factory preparing many gifts for children around the world. And we know how Santa goes around in his magical chariot on Christmas Eve, and goes down the chimney to put the gifts secretly in the middle of the night, and magically the gifts appear in the morning to happy children?

All of them are fairy tales and fables crafted to entertain children and to entertain worldly fantasies. Unfortunately, not many people know the true origin of Santa Claus. Many of them associate Santa Claus with an elderly man dressed in red and white, with long moustache and beards, bearing a large sack filled with gifts. But the real Santa Claus is a saint, and one who was famous for his love for children, and the tradition that he gave gifts to children most likely have ended up being twisted eventually into the modern Santa Claus we know.

But the real Santa Claus is St. Nicholas of Myra, whose feast day we just celebrated earlier this month, a loving and kind servant of God, and yet one who was also zealous and filled with genuine devotion to God, and as tradition has it, he did not even hesitate to punch a heretic in the face, when Arius the heretic espoused and spoke heresies assembled at the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, after our long discourse today about Christmas and all of its paraphernalia, and all the true reasons and purposes for all the Christmas traditions we see around us, are we convinced that our true joy of Christmas should indeed be Christ? Christmas is joyful because we have nothing less than God Himself, Master and Lord of all the universe, Who has willingly lowered and emptied Himself to take up our human existence, united to His divinity in Jesus Christ, equally God and equally Man, that through Him, and His ultimate loving sacrifice on the cross, we may have life in us?

Let us all tarry no longer and be distracted no longer by all the materialistic and secular celebrations of Christmas, but instead let us all seek to rediscover this true joy of our Christmas celebrations, that is Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us restore Him to His rightful place in all of our celebrations, that is at the very centre and focus of all of our Christmas joy and happiness.

And as the Lord Himself has shown us, the examples of His love, then each and every one of us as Christians must also be empowered in the Christmas spirit of giving. Rather than giving expensive gifts to one another and expect a return from those who can give us back what we have given them, how about we give to those who have no joy with them this Christmas because they are not even able to make ends meet? Let us be generous with our charity and giving this Christmas.

As we continue to approach the time of Christmas, let us strive to be ever more understanding of the true meaning and joy of Christmas, that despite all the distractions of this world, we will not forget the true focus of all of our celebrations on this momentous occasion. May all of us draw ever closer to the Lord, and may we all find our true joy of Christmas. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 17 December 2017 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) 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, 17 December 2017 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) 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, 17 December 2017 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) 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, 17 December 2017 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) 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, 10 December 2017 : Second Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this second Sunday in the season of Advent, as we continue our preparation for the celebration of Christmas in a few weeks’ time, we listened to the words of the Scripture in which the focus is placed on the actions of the servant of God, the one who prepared the way for the coming of the Lord, namely St. John the Baptist.

In the first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard the prophecy speaking about someone who cries out in the wilderness, declaring the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God. This prophecy clearly refers to the time of grace, during which time God finally fulfilled the long awaited promise of a Saviour or Messiah, and His coming was announced and heralded by this faithful servant, St. John the Baptist.

St. John the Baptist as many of us are aware of, is the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the relatives of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ Our Lord. Since his youth, he has been dedicated to a life of service to God, and he went to the wilderness, wearing simple clothing, and did exactly as what was prophesied in the Book of the prophet Isaiah. He proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, and called on the people to repent from their sins and abandon their wicked ways.

He baptised the people with water, and through that baptism, called many to a conversion of life and a change in their way of life, that they would commit to a life worthy of God, for the kingdom of God was about to come. By doing this, this faithful servant has prepared the way for the Lord, just like that of a farmer tilling and preparing the soil, so that the soil will be ready for the sower to sow the seeds on it.

And what is the significance of what we have heard about St. John the Baptist and his works among the people? What is the importance of these on our own lives? First of all, we should heed the words of St. John the Baptist, who proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God with the words, ‘Repent! For the kingdom of God is near!’ And reflect on his role as the voice in the wilderness who declares the coming of the Lord, preparing the way for His coming.

This means that, all of us should also spend time to reflect on our own lives, and think of what we have done in our lives thus far. Are we ready to welcome the Lord into our lives? Are we ready to enter into the kingdom of God? We know that the Lord has come into this world, and we have been taught His ways and teachings through the Church, and yet, if we see around us, there are still so many people who lack true faith in God.

And in how we are preparing ourselves for the coming of Christmas, we see for ourselves, how many of us Christians have not remembered the true purpose and meaning of our Christmas celebrations, preferring to follow the secular and worldly ways of celebrating Christmas, having been inundated with plenty of advertisements and temptations of materialistic and worldly celebration of Christmas, with shopping, lots of gifts, sparkling decorations and many other common things we see at Christmas, such as Santa Claus and many others.

But have we not forgotten why is it that we rejoice this Christmas? What is it about Christmas that is so worth to be joyful about? It is the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ which we celebrate every Christmas, but year after year as we celebrate Christmas, have we forgotten this true purpose of our celebration? Have we ended up going through motion as we celebrate yet another holiday? Is Christmas just another holiday period when we enjoy ourselves with parties and revelries, travelling or any other activities, but leaving out the One for Whom we should rejoice for?

It is time for us to look deeper into our second reading today, taken from the second Epistle of St. Peter. In his Epistle, St. Peter mentioned that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, which means that it will be totally unexpected for all of us, and many of us will not be ready for His coming. That is why in this season of Advent, we have a two-fold preparation for us to go through.

First of all, we know that Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas, but it does not mean the time for us to go shopping and prepare for all the gifts and wrappings for those gifts, or planning how we should decorate our houses and conduct our Christmas parties, luncheons and all the sort. All these are secondary to the main celebration of Christmas, and in fact can become a distraction.

Instead, we should spend this time to reflect on the significance of Christmas, and why is it that Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas as one of the most important events of our faith, together with Easter. As I have mentioned last Sunday, Christmas and Easter are inseparably intertwined with each other, and one give meaning to the other. There can be no Christmas without Easter and vice versa. And although Easter is still more important than Christmas, Christmas does give an important meaning to Easter.

For in Christmas all of us celebrate the moment when God Who willingly took up for Himself a human existence, was born into the world, and therefore become the Light to all the nations. As what the book of the prophet Isaiah mentioned, that a people living in the darkness have seen a great Light. For Christ is the Light of the world, through Whom all mankind can finally find their way towards their Lord.

But without Easter, and all that happened preceding it, during the Passion of the Lord in the Holy Week, Christmas would be just the birthday of another person, no different or any special compared to any other birthdays. Instead, understanding the full mystery of Our Lord’s birth, life, ministry and later on His suffering, death and resurrection from the dead makes Christmas truly special, as Christmas marks then the moment when Our Lord’s plan of salvation comes to its fruition.

Let us all then, think carefully of how we should celebrate our Christmas in the coming few weeks. We need to prepare ourselves thoroughly and wholeheartedly in our hearts, minds, bodies and souls, that we may embrace the meaning of Christmas in our joy. It is not wrong that we should be happy, to rejoice and to be merry, but we must rejoice for the right reason and for the right purpose.

And as mentioned, our Christmas celebration is not just for us to reflect on the historical birth of Our Lord, but also to prepare for the future second coming of Our Lord, which He has promised to all of us, when He ascended to heaven in glory. He will come again at the end of time, to gather all of His faithful ones towards Himself, and as St. Peter mentioned in his Epistle, we will not know the timing when this will happen.

Are we able to do our best to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord? That is what we should think about, as we go through this season of Advent. Let us prepare ourselves by spending more time with God, through prayer and through charitable works. Let us all devote ourselves and do our best to obey the Lord in all His commandments, that when He comes again, He may find us all ready and prepared for His coming, and we will be worthy to receive the eternal glory He promised to all those who are faithful to Him.

May the Lord bless all of us and our endeavours, that we may draw ever closer to Him, and found to be worthy of Him. May our Christmas celebrations be ever more meaningful and fruitful, as we recognise the true joy of Christmas. May each and every one of us find blessings in all that we do, and receive God’s grace. Amen.

Sunday, 10 December 2017 : Second Sunday of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Mark 1 : 1-8

This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the book of Isaiah, the prophet, “I am sending My messenger ahead of You, to prepare Your way. Let the people hear the voice calling in the desert : Prepare the way of the Lord, level His paths.”

So John began to baptise in the desert; He preached a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. All Judea and all the people from the city of Jerusalem went out to John to confess their sins, and to be baptised by him in the river Jordan. John was clothed in camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and honey.

He preached to the people, saying, “After me comes One Who is more powerful than I am; I have baptised you with water, but He will baptise you in the Holy Spirit.”