Sunday, 10 January 2016 : Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, our Lord Jesus Christ, the time which is usually associated with the ending of the Christmas season, or Christmastide, although in some traditional celebrations, the season of Christmas does not end until the second day of February, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, following a forty day period for Christmas.

On this day, we commemorate that moment, when Christ began His earthly ministry, to begin the works which He had been born into this world for, that is to herald and bring about salvation to all mankind, and to liberate them from their sins and from the chains of wickedness, evil, sin and death. It was at that moment of His baptism that He officially began His earthly ministry, and this is truly important to all of us as well in its meaning.

This is also the model of our Church’s sacrament of holy baptism, the first of the seven sacraments and the first one that a believer, either as a baby or as a catechumen deciding to follow the Lord, must receive, before he or she would be able to receive the other sacraments, such as the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Most Holy Eucharist, Penance or that of the Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders.

It was through baptism that a faithful is welcomed into the Church of God, and through baptism, the faithful was sealed with the seal of the Living God, and became one with all the other members of the Church, adopted as God’s children and become partakers of God’s plan of salvation and in His everlasting kingdom of joy and happiness. Without baptism, the state of our souls will continue to be in limbo and darkness.

Just as Christ was immersed in the waters of the Jordan, we too have been immersed in the water during our baptism. Water itself has many symbolic meanings, the most common of which is its purifying capacity, where water cleanses things that are dirty and corrupted, and washes away all dirt and unpleasant things. It is also a symbol of life, since water is crucial for life, and absolutely no life could have existed in the absence of water.

And thus, as we were immersed in the water during our reception of the Sacrament of Baptism, we were also purified from the taints of our past sins, the wickedness and corruptions of sin that had been with us, and by the holy water blessed and made pure by the hands of the priests, the Lord Jesus had made us all whole again in body and in spirit, just as He had once healed the lepers, the sick and the dying.

And water can also bring death, as we have seen how water can be so destructive in occurrences such as tsunamis, floods and various other forces of water that brought death and misery, just as it can also bring life, and indeed is essential for life. Thus, the waters of baptism symbolised that death which all of us ought to share in the Lord, that through this sharing with His death, we may also have a share in His glorious resurrection.

Yes, the waters of baptism is a symbol of the death and the end of our old life on earth, in our commitment to abandon and reject sin and Satan in all of its forms, and by dying to this old life, as St. Paul had mentioned, we left behind all of the attachments, the bonds and the chains that kept us in our old ways and which had prevented us from attaining God’s salvation and grace.

The baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ at the Jordan is a symbol for us all to remember, for even though He Himself was different, as He was without any taint of sin, and yet He chose to lower Himself and be immersed in the Jordan, and baptised by His servant John the Baptist, but through that action, we should now be able to understand clearly what our Lord had intended for us to do with our own lives.

Before the Lord Jesus was baptised, since the day when He was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in a stable, His parents had cared for Him very well, both His mother Mary, as well as His foster father St. Joseph. And He was brought up in Nazareth, the village where His family lived in, and where He Himself grew up as all men did, and He grew both in knowledge, wisdom and strength, and in the favour in the sight of God.

And as His father St. Joseph was a hardworking carpenter, and considering the fact that sons normally followed in the footsteps of their fathers, it was likely that Jesus was perhaps once a carpenter too, or at least that He knew how to handle things as His foster father had done. And so, He likely dealt with things and matters of the world such as crafting furnitures and other wooden objects.

Yet, when He was baptised by John at the Jordan, that was the moment when all was revealed regarding Jesus, His true nature and His mission on earth. And afterward, He began His ministry, tending to the sick, both in body and in spirit, and He blessed many people, fed them, and gave them the Good News of God through His own words.

And in the end, He carried up the cross that was burdened with all of our sins and iniquities, and He bore all these up with Him as He ascended the hill of Calvary, stretched up between the heavens and the earth, and He gave up His own life, as a perfect and fitting sacrifice to serve as the absolution and the forgiveness for all the multitudes of our sins and their effects.

In all these, we have to realise that the story of our Lord Jesus from His baptism to His death on the cross is actually the example of our own Christian life, of how we are all expected to live out our lives in faith. We who have received the gift of baptism should therefore go forth and do as the Lord Himself had done, loving one another, forgiving those who have done bad things to us, praying even for our enemies and for those who persecute us, as well as other things that He had commanded us all to do.

This is what we need to do, and this is what we should indeed do as those who call themselves as Christians, as those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and wholeheartedly follow His laws and commandments, so that in everything that we say and do, we will always be faithful, and bring glory to our Lord and God. May God bless us all and keep us in His grace, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, 10 January 2016 : Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 3 : 15-16, 21-22

At that time, the people were wondering about John’s identity, “Could He be the Messiah?” Then John answered them, “I baptise you with water, but the One Who is coming will do much more : He will baptise you with Holy Spirit and fire. As for me, I am not worthy to untie His sandal.”

Now, with all the people who came to be baptised, Jesus too was baptised. Then, while He was praying, the heavens opened : the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the bodily form of a Dove, and a Voice from Heaven was heard, “You are My Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”

Sunday, 10 January 2016 : Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Titus 2 : 11-14 and Titus 3 : 4-7

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, teaching us to reject an irreligious way of life and worldly greed, and to live in this world as responsible persons, upright and serving God, while we await our blessed hope – the glorious manifestation of our great God and Saviour Christ Jesus. He gave Himself for us, to redeem us from every evil and to purify a people He wanted to be His own and dedicated to what is good.

But God our Saviour revealed His eminent goodness and love for humankind and saved us, not because of good deeds we may have done but for the sake of His own mercy, to the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit poured over us through Christ Jesus our Saviour, so that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Alternative reading

Acts 10 : 34-38

Peter then spoke to the disciples of Christ, “Truly, I realise that God does not show partiality, but in all nations He listens to everyone who fears God and and does good. And this is the message He has sent to the children of Israel, the Good News of peace He has sent to the children of Israel, the Good News of peace He has proclaimed through Jesus Christ, Who is the Lord of all.”

“No doubt you have heard of the event that occurred throughout the whole country of the Jews, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism John preached. You know how God anointed Jesus the Nazarean with Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all who were under the devil’s power, because God was with Him.”

Sunday, 10 January 2016 : Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 103 : 1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30

Clothed in majesty and splendour; o Lord, my God, how great You are! You are wrapped in light as with a garment; You stretch out the heavens like a tent.

You build Your upper rooms above the waters. You make the clouds Your chariot and ride on the wings of the wind; You make the winds Your messengers, and fire and flame Your ministers.

How varied, o Lord, are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all – the earth full of Your creatures. Behold the sea, wide and vast, teeming with countless creatures, living things both great and small.

They all look to You for their food in due time. You give it to them, and they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are filled with good things.

When You hide Your face they vanish, You take away their breath, they expire and return to dust. When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and the face of the earth is renewed.

Alternative reading

Psalm 28 : 1a and 2, 3ac-4, 3b and 9b-10

Give the Lord, o sons of God, give the Lord the glory due His Name; worship the Lord in great liturgy.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters, the Lord thunders over vast waters. How powerful is the voice of the Lord, how splendorous is the voice of the Lord.

The God of glory thunders, the Lord strips the forests bare, and in His Temple all cry, “Glory!” Over the flood the Lord was sitting; the Lord is King and He reigns forever.

Sunday, 10 January 2016 : Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Isaiah 40 : 1-5, 9-11

Be comforted, My people, be strengthened, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, proclaim to her that her time of bondage is at an end, that her guilt has been paid for, that from the hand of YHVH she has received double punishment for all her iniquity.

A voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way for YHVH. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley will be raised up; every mountain and hill will be laid low. The stumbling blocks shall become level and the rugged places smooth. The glory of YHVH will be revealed, and all mortals together will see it; for the mouth of YHVH has spoken.”

Go up onto the high mountain, messenger of Good News to Zion, lift up your voice with strength, fear not to cry aloud when you tell Jerusalem and announce to the cities of Judah : Here is your God! Here comes your God with might; His strong arm rules for Him; His reward is with Him, and here before Him is His booty.

Like a shepherd He tends His flock : He gathers the lambs in His arms, He carries them in His bosom, gently leading those that are with young.

Alternative reading

Isaiah 42 : 1-4, 6-7

Here is My Servant Whom I uphold, My Chosen One in Whom I delight. I have put My Spirit upon Him, and He will bring justice to the nations. He does not shout or raise His voice. Proclamations are not heard in the streets. A broken reed He will not crush, nor will He snuff out the light of the wavering wick. He will make justice appear in truth.

He will not waver or be broken until He has established justice on earth; the islands are waiting for His Law. I, YHVH, have called You for the sake of justice; I will hold Your hand to make You firm; I will make You as a Covenant to the people, and as a Light to the nations, to open eyes that do not see, to free captives from prison, to bring out to light those who sit in darkness.

Saturday, 9 January 2016 : Saturday after the Epiphany (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard about the actions of John the Baptist and Jesus, who were both baptising the people at the Jordan river. We heard about how he humbly rejoiced when his own Lord and Master gained popularity over that of his, and despite the protests from his own disciples, he remained true to his mission, that is as the herald and as the one who preceded the coming of the Messiah of God.

Through him, the world now knows the reality and the truth found in the Saviour of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came into this world in order to save it from the certain destruction if we were all to follow our usual path in the ways of the world, and in all the vices and sins we have committed daily in our respective lives. Through Him this world has found a new light.

And it is to this light that all of us have been called, that is to shed and to leave behind all the traces and taints of our sins and wickedness behind us, and to put forth righteousness and faith in our God. In Jesus our Lord, we have the example and the lead to follow if we are to be freed from the bonds of darkness and the servitude to sin and death that had kept us and many others chained throughout the ages.

As we approach the ending of our celebration of Christmas and all of its mysteries and nature, all of us should take some time to reflect on what Christmas and its joy, and indeed what our faith truly means for us. Is it just the celebration and joy because we are following what others had done, and then we just join in all the fun and the partying? Or did we rejoice because we know what the Lord had done for us?

St. John the Baptist knew all these, and as he knew the greatness of God’s love and all that He had planned to do for us all mankind, he rejoiced and praised the Lord with all his might whenever he heard the Lord Jesus making advances in His earthly works and missions, as he knew that he had been successful in the mission he was brought into this world for, that is to prepare the way for his Lord and Master, Jesus.

It is in our human nature to be jealous and to desire things for ourselves, such as power, influence, money, wealth and many other worldly goods and things. And therefore, the disciples of John the Baptist asked such questions because they thought it would have been natural for someone to be jealous and to be angry when another person seems to be better and doing things that are harmful or in opposition to what a person is doing.

But St. John the Baptist enlightened them and told them how as a servant of God, Whose works were then just beginning to take off, into the perfect fulfilment of God’s plan of salvation, he was just a tool in the hands of the Lord. And what is important is that the work of God was done, and as he diminished and became less, the Lord became more important.

In the first reading, we all heard at the end of the reading, where St. John in his letter or epistle reminded all the faithful who read that Epistle, of the importance of avoiding idols and keeping ourselves free from the taints of wickedness. This is applicable to us all today as well, as these idols will bring us further away from the Lord and ever closer to damnation.

We may think that we are safe from idols and from such corruptions, but we are truly wrong in this. Take note that these idols may not be the idols of gold, silver, wood or stone, carvings and images of animals as it was in the past, but our new idols are the idols of money, of fame, of recognition and affluence, all of which often come in between us and God.

Let us all therefore today commit ourselves anew in faith to our Lord, so that we may be able to better resist the temptation of these new idols, and therefore gain for ourselves the salvation that we can only find in the Lord our God. Let us commit ourselves to say and do things that will glorify God forevermore and let us no longer be idle or be distracted in our path. God bless us all in all of our endeavours. Amen.

Saturday, 9 January 2016 : Saturday after the Epiphany (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 3 : 22-30

At that time, Jesus went into the territory of Judea with His disciples. He stayed there with them and baptised. John was also baptising in Aenon, near Salim, where water was plentiful; people came to him and were baptised. This happened before John was put in prison.

Now John’s disciples had been questioned by a Jew about spiritual cleansing, so they came to John and said, “Rabbi, the One Who was with you across the Jordan, and about Whom you spoke favourably, is now baptising, and all are going to him.”

John answered, “No one can receive anything, except what has been given to Him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him.’ Only the bridegroom has the bride; but the friend of the bridegroom stands by and listens, and rejoices to hear the bridegroom’s voice.”

“My joy is now full. It is necessary that He increase but that I decrease.”