Sunday, 8 December 2019 : Second Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we celebrate the Second Sunday in the season of Advent, and as we continue to progress through this special and blessed time of preparation for the celebration of Christmas, we continue our Advent journey and this Sunday we focus on Peace, as the second in the four theme set for each of the Sundays of Advent. Peace is also a reference to Our Lord and Saviour’s title as the Prince of Peace, as it was prophesied that His coming would bring about true peace into this world.

And that is what has also been alluded to in our Scripture passages today, especially in our first reading today which was taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah. In that portion of the Book, the prophet Isaiah was speaking of the prophecies of the time of the coming of the Saviour or God’s Messiah, of the coming of the time of peace so wonderful and great that even ferocious animals would come and sit together with their prey in harmony.

This message of peace must have been truly satisfactory and pleasing to the people of Isaiah’s time, considering that at that time, as it was often in the past, mankind have often been involved in conflicts and wars, and many had to suffer because of those conflicts, losing family members and loved ones, losing their properties, houses and possessions, being looted and having to see their cities, towns and villages destroyed.

All these had been how the world went by since the beginning of time, as the powerful and mighty preyed on the weak, and how the rich and influential ones manipulated and exploited the poor ones. Suffering, pain and sorrow that were created can indeed be traced to how we mankind abused the free will that God has bestowed on us, as we chose to act in ways that seek our own satisfaction and happiness, to fulfil our needs and desires and if need be, over the suffering of others.

That is why peace has often eluded many of us all these time because we are by our nature selfish, because of our disobedience and sins, the corruption of sin which led us to think about ourselves first and not about what others think or need. That was how wars had been fought over resources, prestige, glory, and the many other worldly things we often seek in life. When peoples and nations, their leaders and all those involved in the conflicts seek to gain things for themselves and not minding the needs and happiness of others, that is why people suffer and peace is broken.

If we look at our world today, peace is more elusive than ever, as there are more and more parties in conflict and fighting against each others, groups being set against each other and divided against themselves. Governments and kingdoms are set against one another, setting up groups and alliances working to thwart their opponents and their goals. We also see how civil wars and conflicts arise from time to time, again and again, and even many instances when governments are brought down by divisions and wrecked by infighting.

And all these while, the Prince of Peace, Our Lord Jesus Christ has been present in this world ever since He came to our midst over two millennia ago, in the small town of Bethlehem, when He came proclaiming the coming of the Lord’s true peace. Yet, if we realise, that He has often been ignored by mankind, rejected and unwanted, as the world continued on with mankind’s relentless pursuits of maintaining their selfish desires and wants. He has spoken the truth to us, and yet, He was silenced, put to suffer and die on the Cross by those who hated and opposed Him.

That was what the many prophets and messengers of God had also suffered from, and in the Gospel passage today, we also heard how the one who was the Herald of the Messiah, St. John the Baptist, also suffered from the same rejection and oppression the Lord has suffered. Many prophets of the Lord had suffered and had to endure scorn and ridicule just because they stood by the missions which God has entrusted to them.

We heard how despite all the works that this faithful servant of God had done, his courageous faith and effort in calling many people to repent from their sins and wickedness, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law still opposed the saint and made it hard for him, doubting him and refusing to believe in the words he had spoken, and even doubting him and the authenticity of what he had done and spoken before the people.

That is exactly why the Lord was unable to make any progress with those who still attached themselves to worldly thoughts and desires, those who allowed their selfishness and pride, their greed and their attachments to the world to close their hearts and minds against the Lord’s truth and love. And that was how the true peace of God remain elusive for many of us, as it had been for millennia, as most of us did not truly welcome the Prince of Peace into our lives and into our hearts.

In our second reading today, St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome and spoke of the peace of Christ and how the coming of the Lord into the world has brought forth the dawn of a new era of peace. And St. Paul also exhorted the faithful there to welcome one another and to make peace with each other, just as the Lord Jesus has brought the peace of God into the midst of the people He has touched, and thereafter passed on that same peace to those whom He has commissioned and called.

In Rome at that time, which was the cosmopolitan and populous capital of the mighty and expansive Roman Empire, there were numerous peoples of different origins and backgrounds, of different cultures and traditions, as besides the Romans who were the lords of the land, there were also Greeks, Syrians, Jewish populations, Gauls, Germans, the peoples of the Northern African regions, Thracians, Dacians, Berbers, Arabs, Persians and even many others, of many different nations and languages.

Many of these people did not exist peacefully with each other, and it did not help that many among the non-Roman populations, especially in the city of Rome, were slaves. And the Romans were the largest landowners and also slave owners. Even among the Romans themselves there were often wide disparity in the wealth and property they owned, and all these divisions and categorisations among the peoples often led to conflict and unhappiness.

And the Christian faith interestingly managed to bridge these differences even in the earliest days of the Church. St. Paul was in fact exhorting and reminding the faithful to put aside their differences, whatever past animosities and unhappiness they might have had towards each other previously and instead focus themselves on peace, and to live with one another harmoniously, bonded together by a new bond of love born from God. This is how God’s coming into the world has therefore transformed His people, from people divided by many differences and identities, into a united people by faith.

Division and conflict is typical of mankind corrupted and afflicted by sin, but as God entered into our lives and touched us, peace also entered into our midst. The question now is, are we allowing God to enter into our lives and transform us with His love, peace and goodness? Are we open in our minds and hearts to embrace the peace of God in our lives? The fact and reality is that as long as we remain attached to our many worldly desires, remaining selfish and self-centred, proud and egoistic, it will be difficult for us to find true peace in our lives.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Christmas we are all challenged to return to the true essence of Christmas, and that is welcoming Christ, our Lord and Saviour into our lives, so that we may truly live in harmony, peace and love with one another. This is what Christmas is all about, and what we should prepare ourselves for in this blessed season and time of Advent.

Instead of focusing on excessive festivities and parties, merrymaking and joy without truly understanding why we celebrate Christmas in the first place, let us all bring our joy and celebrations by first of all, making peace with all those whom we have probably been angry with, feuding with all these while. Let us all learn to forgive one another, just as the Lord Himself has forgiven us all first from our sins. This is how we bring peace into our lives, and only with peace then we can truly celebrate Christmas in its fullness.

Let us all be peacemakers and strive to live in harmony and unity with one another. Let us all strive to die to our pride and to remove from us the traces of ego and selfishness, and instead allow God to enter into our lives and transform us, so that through all of us and our good works, peace and harmony will reign once again in our world wrecked by wars and conflicts. Let us all bring the Peace of Christmas to everyone, beginning from ourselves and our own families, and then to our communities and then to all the peoples of this world.

May the Lord, Our Prince of Peace give us His peace, that we may come to celebrate this Christmas joyfully as one people, no longer bickering and fighting over trivial matters of the world. Let us all be genuinely concerned of one another and show genuine love in our actions and interactions with each other. May God bless us always as we continue through this blessed season of Advent and guide us in our journey of faith, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 8 December 2019 : Second Sunday of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 3 : 1-12

In the course of time John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea and began to proclaim his message, “Change your ways, the kingdom of God is now at hand!” It was about him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said : A voice is shouting in the desert, ‘Prepare a way for the Lord, make His paths straight!'”

John had a leather garment around his waist and wore a cloak of camel’s hair; his food was locusts and wild honey. People came to him from Jerusalem, from all Judea and from the whole Jordan valley, and they were baptised by him in the Jordan as they confessed their sins.

When he saw several Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he baptised, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who told you that you could escape the punishment that is to come? Let it be seen that you are serious in your conversion, and do not think : We have Abraham for our father. I tell you that God can raise children for Abraham from these stones! The axe is already laid to the roots of the trees; any tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire.”

“I baptise you in water for a change of heart, but the One Who is coming after me is more powerful than me; indeed I am not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptise you in Holy Spirit and fire. He has the winnowing fan in His hand and He will clear out His threshing floor. He will gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn in everlasting fire.”

Sunday, 8 December 2019 : Second Sunday of Advent (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Romans 15 : 4-9

And we know that whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, for both perseverance and comfort given us by the Scripture sustain our hope. May God, the source of all perseverance and comfort, give to all of you to live in peace in Christ Jesus, that you may be able to praise in one voice God, Father of Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Welcome, then, one another, as Christ welcomed you for the glory of God. Look : Christ put Himself at the service of the Jewish world to fulfil the promises made by God to their ancestors; here you see God’s faithfulness. The pagans instead give thanks to God for His mercy, as Scripture says : Because of that, I will sing and praise Your Name among the pagans.

Sunday, 8 December 2019 : Second Sunday of Advent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 71 : 2, 7-8, 12-13, 17

May He rule Your people justly and defend the rights of the lowly.

Justice will flower in His days, and peace abound till the moon be no more. For He reigns from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth.

He delivers the needy who call on Him, the afflicted with no one to help them. His mercy is upon the weak and the poor, He saves the life of the poor.

May His Name endure forever; may His Name be as lasting as the sun. All the races will boast about Him, and He will be blessed by all nations.

Sunday, 8 December 2019 : Second Sunday of Advent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 11 : 1-10

From the stump of Jesse a Shoot will come forth; from his roots a Branch will grow and bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon Him – a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and power, a Spirit of knowledge and fear of YHVH.

Not by appearances will He judge, nor by what is said must He decide, but with justice He will judge the poor and with righteousness decide for the meek. Like a rod, His word will strike the oppressor, and the breath of His lips slay the wicked. Justice will be the girdle of His waist, truth the girdle of His loins.

The wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will rest beside the kid, the calf and the lion cub will feed together and a little child will lead them. Befriending each other, the cow and the bear will see their young ones lie down together. Like cattle, the lion will eat hay. By the cobra’s den the infant will play. The child will put his hand into the viper’s lair. No one will harm or destroy over My holy mountain, for as water fills the sea the earth will be filled with the knowledge of YHVH.

On that day the “Root of Jesse” will be raised as a signal for the nations. The people will come in search of Him, thus making His dwelling place glorious.

Sunday, 1 December 2019 : First Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we begin the season of Advent and the new liturgical year cycle with the celebration of the first Sunday of Advent. On this Sunday we begin the time of preparation for the coming of the great celebration of Christmas, a time for us to recollect ourselves and to redirect our thoughts and interior disposition that we may truly celebrate Christmas with the fullness of faith and love for God.

On this first Sunday of Advent, we focus on the first of the four themes of the Sundays of Advent, namely hope, peace, joy and love. We begin with hope as we light the first of the four candles of the Advent wreath. This hope that we focus on today is a reminder that first and foremost, the theme of Advent itself comes from the origin of its name, ‘Adventus’ in Latin, which means ‘The Coming of…’ and the appearing of none other than the Saviour of the whole world, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, first and foremost, this season of Advent is a time for hope and to look for that hope, the hope which we can truly find in God alone. Advent is the time for the renewal of that hope within our hearts and minds, as we begin the new cycle of the liturgical year and as we look forward to the coming of Christmas. As with all New Year celebrations in our world today, we know of how everyone looks forward to a better year, filled with hopes and expectations. It is no different with what we are celebrating today.

And Christ is our one and true hope, hope that overcomes even the darkness of the world, the tyranny of sin and death. It is because we have hope in Christ and in His salvation that we are able to look forward to the coming year and persevere through life with faith. His coming into this world that we celebrate every Christmas is the wonderful light that pierces through the darkness of the world, and gave us a new hope.

This is what has been alluded throughout the Scripture passages today, beginning from our first reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, in which we heard of the vision that the prophet Isaiah saw concerning the last days when the Lord will come again in His glory to rule over His people and gather all of those who are faithful to Him, the time when God will bless and hold up His people forever.

This is the hope that God has given to all of us, the hope for His salvation and the eternal life of glory and true joy that we are all looking forward to, which Our Lord, Jesus Christ has revealed to us by His coming into this world. That is why during this season of Advent, we are in fact celebrating a two-fold celebration, first of the remembrance of the time when we mankind awaited the coming of Our Lord and Messiah, and then secondly the expectation of the coming, once again, of Our Lord at the end of time.

That is why we rejoice so at the time of Advent, but in a more muted and subdued way because we are anticipating for the coming and the fulfilment of the fullness of joy which is to come through the Lord and which we remember and commemorate at Christmas. That is why the nature of the liturgical colour of this season being that of violet or purple, which is reminiscent of the penitential and preparatory nature of Lent in the preparation for the coming of Easter.

Yet, for all these joy that we are expecting, if we observe all around us, we can see what is often missing from the celebration and festivities is none other than the One Whom we truly are celebrating for, that is none other than Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, and the reason why we have Christmas and its joyful commemorations in the first place. But the world has largely forgotten Christ and Christmas and its festivities has become nothing more than just another festival and celebration.

That is why it is always sad to see how secularised and materialistic the many Christmas celebrations around the world had been, as many people took to the secular and worldly ways of celebrating Christmas, even many among us Christians, who have forgotten the true essence, significance and importance of this joyful and wondrous occasion of the birth of the Saviour of the whole world. Instead, we ended up focusing on the parties, celebrations and festivities.

Let us all look at the obscene amount of marketing, advertising and promotions done to advance the case for the materialistic and worldly Christmas, ironically without Christ being at the centre of the attentions and all the celebrations. Many people thronged to shop and to gain as many bargains as possible from all the Christmas holiday shopping, busying themselves haggling over goods rather than to remember the One Who made all these possible.

We focused on what we want to celebrate on Christmas, on what gifts we are to give or to exchange with each other, focusing on the nitty gritty and details of the celebrations and the festivities, on what decorations and glamorous things we are going to put up or include in the feasts, the food and drink that we are going to partake and enjoy, and yet, in all those things, Christ has often been left out.

Today, brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are called and are reminded strongly of the very important need for us to return Christmas back to Christ, and this means that Christ must be the very centre, focus and the very reason for all of our celebrations and joys throughout this upcoming Christmas season. And that is why we should be blessed that we have been given this time of Advent as a time for us to reflect and to prepare ourselves heart, mind and soul, so that we can truly appreciate and celebrate Christmas in the best way, that is in the Christ-centric manner.

And let us all today also remember that not everyone in the whole world can celebrate Christmas joyfully in the way we do or what we may often see around us. There are parts of the world where our fellow Christians, our brethren who were unable to celebrate Christmas openly, because of persecution and oppression, because of prejudices and other difficulties. Let us also not forget those who had little or no means to celebrate because they are poor and without means to spend to celebrate.

This is why this season of Advent and for the upcoming Christmas season, let us all challenge ourselves to focus our Christmas joy and celebration on Christ, and to remember our brethren in our prayers, those who have no chance to celebrate Christmas because of difficulties and persecutions, and help whenever possible, by our own charitable actions. This means that we should be generous in sharing our joy with our fellow brethren, especially those who are poor and needy and without joy.

Let us all make our upcoming Christmas celebrations more meaningful and wonderful by sharing our joy with one another and remembering that after all it was God Who has first shared with us His joy and love, by sending unto us, His most perfect gift of all for us, Christ, His own Beloved Son, to be Our Lord, Saviour and Redeemer. May all of us have a blessed season of Advent, and may God be with us always in this journey of faith. Amen.

Sunday, 1 December 2019 : First Sunday of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 24 : 37-44

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “At the coming of the Son of Man, it will be just as it was in the time of Noah. In those days before the Flood, people were eating and drinking, and marrying, until that day when Noah went into the Ark. Yet they did not know what would happen, until the flood came and swept them away.”

“So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man : of two men in the field, one will be taken and the other left; of two taken and the other left; of two women grinding wheat together at the mill, one will be taken and the other left. Stay awake then, for you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

“Obviously, if the owner of the house knew at what time the thief was coming, he would certainly stay up and not allow his house to be broken into. So be alert, for the Son of Man will come at the hour you least expect.”