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.”

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

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

2 Peter 3 : 8-14

Do not forget, beloved, that with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day. The Lord does not delay in fulfilling His promise, though some speak of delay; rather, He gives you time, because He does not want anyone to perish, but that all may come to conversion.

The Day of the Lord is to come like a thief. Then, the heavens will dissolve with a great noise; the elements will melt away by fire, and the earth, with all that is on it, will be burnt up. Since all things are to vanish, how holy and religious your way of life must be, as you wait for the day of God, and long for its coming, when the heavens will dissolve in fire, and the elements melt away in the heat.

We wait for a new heaven and a new earth, in which justice reigns, according to God’s promise. Therefore, beloved, as you wait in expectation of this, strive, that God may find you rooted in peace, without blemish or fault.

Sunday, 10 December 2017 : Second Sunday of Advent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 84 : 9ab and 10, 11-12, 13-14

Would, that I hear God’s proclamation, that He promise peace to His people, His saints. Yet, His salvation is near to those who fear Him, and His glory will dwell in our land.

Love and faithfulness have met; righteousness and peace have embraced. Faithfulness will reach up from the earth while justice bends down from heaven.

YHVH will give what is good, and our land will yield its fruit. Justice will go before Him, and peace will follow along His path.

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

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

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 YHVH Sabaoth 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.

Sunday, 3 December 2017 : First Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday marks the beginning of the season of Advent, the time of preparation before the coming of Christmas, when we will celebrate together the birth or Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Today as the First Sunday of Advent, we also begin a new liturgical year, as a new cycle of the liturgical celebrations begin anew.

We heard the passages from the Scriptures today speaking to us about firstly, from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, reminding us as God’s people that we have fallen from the grace of God when we sinned against Him, disobeying His laws and commandments. Yet, God is ever forgiving and merciful, and He is willing to forgive us our sins, as long as we open ourselves to His mercy and allow His grace and love to transform us from a being filled with sin into a being of light.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we embark through this season of Advent, preparing ourselves for the coming of Christmas, it is important that we take note, that this season is not about preparing our homes with decorations, or the time for us to do our pre-Christmas shopping and preparation for our lavish Christmas parties and celebrations. Instead, this time of Advent is designed for us that we may stop from whatever we have been doing throughout this year, and reflect on them, so as to prepare ourselves spiritually and mentally to celebrate Christmas properly.

Many of us do not understand what Christmas is truly about, and we ended up being drawn into the secular way of celebrating Christmas. In fact, if you look around the town, all the shopping malls and gathering places, and even along the roadsides, you can see plenty of Christmas decorations all over those places. We can see all the Christmas trees, the lights and all the beautiful messages wishing everyone a happy Christmas, happiness, peace and prosperity.

Yet, if we look deeper, except for some noteworthy exceptions we surely have encountered, there is something very important missing from all those Christmas celebrations. And what is that, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is Christ! Christ has been missing from Christmas, and the celebration which is primarily and indeed solely about Christ Our Lord, has lost its true meaning and purpose, hidden beneath layers of excess and revelry.

Many of us worry about what we are to wear during the celebrations, or what to cook or provide in our feasts, but for what purpose? Indeed, it will be good to wear something new and good looking for the festive seasons, but are we doing these for the right purpose? Are we celebrating the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, or are we being vain, trying to look good and beautiful in front of our guests and relatives?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are living in a world awash with many material excesses as well as materialistic attitudes. We are surrounded by all these things, that distract us from the true focus of Christmas. Imagine if in a birthday party, everyone is busy enjoying themselves, talking among themselves and be occupied by various activities, and yet, the person who is having the birthday is forgotten. Is that something logical or right? Surely it is not.

And that is exactly what happens when we come to celebrate Christmas, but not with the right purpose and intention. Instead of a celebration of our faith and rejoicing for the arrival of Our Lord and Saviour, the long awaited Messiah, we have made Christmas to be a celebration of ourselves, our ego and human ambitions, and we have left God out of these celebrations.

The Gospel passage today serves as a reminder for all of us the importance of this season of Advent, as a time of reflection and recollection, for us to think deep in our hearts what it truly means for us to celebrate Christmas, and indeed, what it means to be Christians. For we believe in the Lord Jesus, Our God, Who has descended to us assuming the flesh of Man, and died for us on the cross.

This is the fundamental tenet of our faith which we have to follow and understand, if we are truly willing to understand the true spirit and intention of our Christmas celebrations. For Christmas is not just like any other earthly celebrations and revelry. The very reason we rejoice is because Christmas itself is intimately and inseparably tied with another great event in our faith, that is of the Passion of Our Lord that we celebrate during Good Friday, and His resurrection in Easter.

Without the crucifixion, death and resurrection in Easter, Christmas has no meaning, as then it will be just the birth anniversary of yet another human being, no different from any one of us. Instead, it is because of Easter that Christmas has its meaning, because we believe that God Himself has become Man and entered into the world at the moment of His birth, celebrated as Christmas. And the very purpose of His coming into this world, which makes Easter also inseparable from Christmas, is so that He may lay down His life on the cross, as a perfect sacrificial victim, for the sake of our redemption.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to spend time to reflect on this, and see if we have done what we are expected to do, in preparation for the worthy celebration of Christmas. Otherwise, this time of Advent and eventually this upcoming Christmas season will just pass and go without meaning or purpose for us, year after year, again and again. Instead, all of us as Christians should become role models in our faith, and do our best to worthily welcome Christmas, celebrating the very important moment of the birth of Our Lord, God Who have willingly made Himself a Man, for our sake.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all do our best to prepare ourselves this season of Advent, by going for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, doing confession for our sins and conducting penance through our good works and charity, giving up our bad habits, and prepare ourselves, heart, mind, soul and body to be ready to celebrate Christmas in full faith, no longer focused on ourselves and all the revelries, but instead, returning to our true focus in Our Lord Jesus Christ, the birthday Boy, Whose birth we rejoice at.

May the Lord bless us always, and may He empower each and every one of us, so that we may live faithfully and walk in His ways, all the days of our life, persevering through the challenges of life and all the temptations of this world. May He guide us in this season of Advent, that day after day, we may come ever closer to God and His grace. Amen.

Sunday, 3 December 2017 : First Sunday of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Mark 13 : 33-37

At that time Jesus said to His disciples, “Be alert and watch, for you do not know when the time will come. When a man goes abroad and leaves his home, he puts his servants in charge, giving to each one some responsibility; and he orders the doorkeeper to stay awake.”

“So stay awake, for you do not know when the Lord of the house will come, in the evening or at midnight, when the cock crows or before dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him catch you asleep. And what I say to you, I say to all : Stay awake!”