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.

Saturday, 16 December 2017 : 2nd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the discourses from the Sacred Scriptures speaking to us about two great persona in the Old and New Testament, whom through the revelation of Our Lord Jesus Himself, revealed the link between them. In the first reading, we heard about the prophet Elijah from the prophet Isaiah, who wrote about the wondrous miracles he performed, as well as the miraculous circumstances surrounding the moment when Elijah was taken up into heaven by flaming chariots, as one of the greatest of God’s prophets.

And then, in the Gospel passage today, the Lord Jesus spoke about the prophet Elijah, who according to the prophecies of the prophets, would come again, because he did not suffer death but lifted up into heaven by the will of God. And He explained indirectly that the prophet Elijah had indeed come again into the world, but many of the people did not believe in Him, and His disciples deduced that Jesus was referring to St. John the Baptist, who was the Herald of the Messiah.

Whether St. John the Baptist was truly Elijah in person who came down from heaven, was not really known to us, and in one occasion in the Gospel, when the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law asked St. John the Baptist, whether he was the prophet Elijah, he denied that he was the prophet. However, whatever God has done, is a mystery of our faith, and through the revelations that Our Lord Himself has revealed, our faith indeed has become richer and more meaningful.

For both the prophet Elijah and St. John the Baptist were truly faithful and devoted servants of God with many parallels to their stories. They had to contend with powerful rulers and kings, as the prophet Elijah had to deal with the wicked kings of Israel, particularly the king Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel, who led the people into sin of idolatry and pagan worship, while St. John the Baptist had to contend with king Herod Antipas who unlawfully married Herodias, his brother’s wife, as well as with the influential Pharisees and the teachers of the Law.

And the prophet Elijah had to flee from the wrath of the king for his works and wander in the desert, for many days, weeks and months, surviving in the wilderness, much like St. John the Baptist who lived in the same wilderness, while working the good works of the Lord, preparing the way for the Lord’s coming. Despite all the challenges and difficulties that these two faithful servants of God faced, they remained true and faithful to the missions to which they have been called to do.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we reflect on the lives and contributions that both the prophet Elijah and St. John the Baptist had done in their lives, let us be inspired by their zeal and commitment, in serving God and obeying His will, despite the challenges and difficulties which they had to face day after day, facing rejection and ridicule even from those who are close to them, much like Our Lord Himself.

As faithful Christians, all of us should walk the same path that Christ Himself had walked, the path of the cross, and the great sufferings associated with that cross. Did Christ not say that those who follow Him ought to take up their crosses and follow Him? If we are to be true Christians, then we must be prepared to face the difficulties and challenges which may come our way as we live our lives according to our Christian faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all prepare ourselves thoroughly for the celebrations of Christmas, that we may celebrate it worthily with true joy, rejoicing at the anniversary of the Lord’s arrival into this world. Let us devote our effort, time and attention, to serve the Lord with ever more commitment and faith. May the Lord strengthen our faith, and may He bless us all with His guidance and help, that we may continue to persevere in faith. Amen.

Saturday, 16 December 2017 : 2nd Week of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 17 : 10-13

At that time, the disciples of Jesus asked Him, “Why do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?”

Jesus answered, “So it is : first comes Elijah; and he will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come; and they did not recognise him; and they treated him as they pleased. And they will also make the Son of Man suffer.”

Then the disciples understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist.