Sunday, 16 December 2018 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is a unique occasion during the season of Advent, as we can notice from the difference in the liturgical colour used in the celebration of the Holy Mass, that is rose. The rose colour is only used on two occasions throughout the whole liturgical year, one that is during the season of Lent, on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, and then one that is today, the third Sunday of Advent, also known as the Gaudete Sunday.

The word Gaudete is the Latin word which means ‘joy’ and the name Gaudete Sunday comes from the beginning of the Introit of today’s Holy Mass, ‘Gaudete in Domino semper…’ which means ‘Rejoice in the Lord always…’. And this points out to the joyful nature that is present in this season of Advent. During this season of Advent, indeed, our celebrations are a bit muted as we focus more on the preparation of ourselves, our hearts and minds, in expecting the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

However, we must also not forget that in this season of Advent, we are expecting the fullness of joy that comes with the occasion of Christmas. Christmas is the moment when the fullness of God’s glory and the true joy He is bringing upon us is revealed in its wholeness. It is just like when a mother gives birth to a baby, as at the moment when the baby is successfully delivered, the joy that the mother and the whole family feels is truly overwhelming and impossible to quantify.

Yet, that does not mean the mother and the family was not joyful before the baby was born. For when the baby was still in the mother’s womb, surely the mother has all of the designs and wishes she has on the baby that is to come, all the joy that comes with the expectation of the fullness of joy to come. The whole family also has that suspense and joy knowing that the baby to come is to bring even greater happiness and joy after the baby is born.

We surely have seen and experienced how expectant mothers and the fathers-to-be planned in our families, among our friends and acquaintances, how they all did all they could to prepare for the eventual birth of the baby, their bundle of joy and blessing from God. Although it must have been challenging and difficult at times to prepare everything, especially for those who are first-time fathers and mothers, but somehow, we can see the energy and joy in them, that hidden joy in expectation.

Thus, this is the same joy that we are focusing on today, on the occasion of this Gaudete Sunday. We do not yet celebrate the fullness of joy that comes with Christmas, just as it is inappropriate for us to pre-empt Christmas celebrations by our revelry and partying during this season of Advent, unless circumstances require us to do so. On this Gaudete Sunday, we take some kind of a short break to the penitential and sombre nature of Advent, and focus on the expectant joy of looking forward to the fullness of joy of Christmas.

But now, then, we need to reexamine ourselves and look deep into our own lives and actions. What is joy for us, and specifically, what is the meaning and significance of Christmas joy for us? Have we actually ever given it a thought, or have we instead allowed ourselves to just follow the flow and all the formalities of Christmas, year after year, again and again? That is, brothers and sisters in Christ, unfortunately what many of us have been doing all these while.

The joy of Christmas, according to what many of us have experienced, is the joy of prosperity, of celebrations and parties, of often lavish and elaborate Christmas lunches and dinners, of going to multiple celebrations, of all the decorations we put in place to prepare for the parties that we are going to have, and of all the gifts we are going to exchange and receive from one another. To us, Christmas is joyful because it is a time of merrymaking and enjoying ourselves, looking at all the beautiful decorations and receiving all the satisfactions be it for our stomach, or for our other desires.

And that is what exactly the problem is with how we celebrate Christmas and how we prepare ourselves for Christmas. We have often been swayed too much by the currents of the world, in how the secular Christmas celebration is perceived. It is indeed sad to note that while Christmas is a very popular celebration worldwide, but at the same time, it is also one of the most secularised and commercialised celebration of our faith.

We just need to look all around us, and we can easily see all the usual paraphernalia and items associated with Christmas, from all the lights and decorations, the Christmas trees and the ubiquitous Santa Claus, the Christmas candies and cakes, bells and all other things we are surely very familiar with, every time we celebrate Christmas. Yet, in all these, many of us have forgotten what the true joy of Christmas truly is.

The practices of using lights and Christmas tree originally came from the desire to honour Christ Himself, as He is the Light of the world, Light that comes to vanquish the darkness present in the world, and He is the Lord of life, ever living and He has vanquished death by His resurrection, symbolically represented with the Christmas tree, made from the evergreen pine trees. In many countries where our Christian faith traditionally existed, the time of Christmas coincided with the peak of the winter season.

And Christmas happened just right after the winter solstice, the time of the longest night in the year. The darkness and the cold that winter brings usually cause most of the vegetations and plants to become barren during that time, but not for the evergreen trees used for the Christmas trees. This again symbolises Christ and the Light He is bringing to the darkened world, and the hope and joy of a new life He is bringing with Him, overcoming the darkness of sin and death.

A lot of our Christmas traditions in fact have relations and origins from the desire to honour Christ, and to expect the joyful coming of Christ, but in the twists of time, the meaning and purpose have been overlooked and forgotten. And in the end, what we have is a twisted, materialistic, hedonistic and self-serving celebration that feeds instead on our ego, pride and greed within us.

We are familiar with the figure of Santa Claus, or also known as Father Christmas. We often know him as the figure who comes bearing gifts for children during the Christmas time. But we end up becoming greedy for the gifts and for the many goods we expect to enjoy during this time of celebration. But if we look deeper into the original figure of Santa Claus, he actually came about from St. Nicholas of Myra, a renowned saint, whose love and charity for those who have little or nothing was truly remarkable.

Instead of focusing on what we are to receive, how about if we instead be inspired by what St. Nicholas of Myra had done, in how he gave generously to the poor and those who have little to celebrate? Instead of expecting to receive even more when we already have plenty, how about if we instead share the joy we have with those who have less than us, and even more for those who do not have the joy?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not forget that there are still many out there who cannot celebrate Christmas in the way that we do. There are those who have to celebrate in hiding or in fear because of persecutions, in places where Christmas cannot be celebrated openly. In those places, each and every day may even be a time of life or death for some of them, and we need to keep them in mind, as we prepare for the joy of Christmas.

Today, let us all rediscover for ourselves what the true joy of Christmas is for us, and realise that behind all of the merrymaking and the happy celebrations we are preparing, we often forget the One Whom we truly ought to be joyful for, and that is Christ, Our Lord, the One born and celebrated in Christmas. Let us all turn ourselves towards Him and put Him once again at the centre of our celebrations this Christmas.

Let us be generous in giving and in sharing our Christmas joy with everyone around us, and be mindful especially for the needy and for all those who have not been able to celebrate the joy of Christmas for various reasons. Let us be the bearers of Christ’s joy and bring the light of hope He has brought into our midst, that each one of us can be the sources of joy for our fellow brethren, for our families and friends, for those who are around us, and for the poor and the needy in our midst. May the upcoming joy of Christmas be the true joy that inspire us all, to be ever more devoted and loving to God, Our loving Father. Amen.

Sunday, 16 December 2018 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Luke 3 : 10-18

At that time, John said to the tax collectors, “Collect no more than your fixed rate.” Then some soldiers asked John, “What about us? What are we to do?” And he answered, “Do not take anything by force, or threaten the people by denouncing them falsely. Be content with your pay.”

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 the Holy Spirit and fire. As for me, I am not worthy to untie His sandal. He comes with a winnowing fan, to clear His threshing floor, and gather the grain into His barn. But the chaff He will burn, with fire that never goes out.”

With these, and many other words, John announced the Good News to the people.

Sunday, 16 December 2018 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Philippians 4 : 4-7

Rejoice in the Lord, always! I say it again : rejoice, and may everyone experience your gentle and understanding heart. The Lord is near : do not be anxious about anything. In everything, resort to prayer and supplication, together, with thanksgiving, and bring your requests before God.

Then, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Sunday, 16 December 2018 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Isaiah 12 : 2-3, 4bcd, 5-6

He is the God of my salvation; in Him I trust and am not afraid, YHVH is my strength : Him I will praise, the One Who saved me.

You will draw water with joy from the very fountain of salvation. Then you will say : “Praise to the Lord, break into songs of joy for Him, proclaim His marvellous deeds among the nations and exalt His Name.”

“Sing to the Lord : wonders He has done, let these be known all over the earth. Sing for joy, o people of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

Sunday, 16 December 2018 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Zephaniah 3 : 14-18a

Cry out with joy, o daughter of Zion; rejoice, o people of Israel! Sing joyfully with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! YHVH has lifted your sentence and has driven your enemies away. YHVH, the King of Israel is with you; do not fear any misfortune.

On that day, they will say to Jerusalem : Do not be afraid nor let your hands tremble, for YHVH your God is within you, YHVH, saving warrior. He will jump for joy on seeing you, for He has revived His love. For you He will cry out with joy, as you do in the days of the feast. I will drive away the evil I warned you about.

Sunday, 9 December 2018 : Second Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the second one in the season of Advent, we continue to prepare ourselves for the upcoming celebration and joy of Christmas. The Scripture passages today all spoke of the coming of a time of grace and happiness, hope and redemption for the people of God, for all those who have kept the faith and remained true to the Lord.

The first reading today was taken from the Book of the prophet Baruch, which speaks of the coming deliverance for Jerusalem, which represent the people of God, Israel, who have been suffering for many years, if we understand the context and history in which all these took place. The glorious kingdom of Israel, of David and Solomon was by the time of the prophet Baruch, a distant memory, and the people of God had been fragmented and scattered, overcame by their enemies and enslaved once again.

The Psalm today spoke of the same deliverance that was to come from God for the people of Israel, the coming deliverance of Zion, that by the power of God a new era would come, where the exile of the people would come to an end, and they would once again be reunited with one another and with God. This was made in the context of the exile of the Israelites after the destruction of their kingdoms, both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.

At that time, the people of God who once proudly called themselves the chosen people of God and as the people of David’s kingdom, could no longer looked at themselves with pride, for they have been downtrodden and left to suffer many injustice, indignation, pain and tribulations, all because of their own disobedience against God and His ways. Because of their sins, they have sundered themselves from God’s grace.

But God, as seen through what we have heard, and what He has done for the sake of His people, is a truly patient and loving God, Who does not desire our destruction and damnation. He loved us all very much, and that was why He created us in the first place. If He has not loved us, He would not have created us. It is unfortunate that through our disobedience we have made ourselves to fall into this predicament.

That is why God gave us a way out of this predicament, by the promise and the sending of the Saviour, none other than Jesus Christ our Lord, Whose birth we celebrate every Christmas. But many did not recognise Him or accept Him as their Lord and Saviour. At the time of Jesus, there were many who doubted Him and refused to listen to Him, and instead persecuted and oppressed Him and His disciples.

And that is because the people hardened their hearts and minds, and stubbornly therefore refused to listen to God’s words and truth. That was why they remained in sin and committing more of the deeds that caused them to fall even further away from God. But God did not give up easily, and that was why He sent St. John the Baptist, whose words in the Gospel passage today rang very clearly in our minds, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make His path straight!”

St. John spoke up strongly against the sins of man and called the people to turn away from their sins, repenting sincerely from their erroneous path. And for those who hardened their hearts, like the Pharisees and king Herod, he had harsh words reminding them of the sins in their actions and in their hearts that prevented them from being able to serve the Lord and to follow Him as they should have done.

And that is, brothers and sisters in Christ, unfortunately what many of us today are suffering from as well. Throughout history, and until this very day, many of us, sons and daughters of man, have not been able to resist the many temptations of the world, the temptations of money, of power, of glory and fame, of pleasures of the flesh, immoral behaviour and many other forms of aberrations and wicked deeds that are abhorrent in the sight of God.

It was because of these sins that we have drifted further and further away from God, and unless we make the effort to allow God to forgive us our sins and to change our ways to be more in accordance to His ways and His will, then we are at risk of suffering the fate of eternal damnation, if we are found to be unworthy of God’s eternal glory and grace. And this time of Advent, this season of reorientation of our lives and recollection of our actions, is the best time for us to begin to make a difference.

We should begin by examining once again how we are preparing ourselves for the upcoming celebrations of Christmas. Many of us celebrate Christmas as how the world around us celebrate it, with much revelry and partying, with rejoicing and excesses. We flaunt our wealth and prosperity to one another, by trying to outdo each other in decorating our houses and places, in the lavishness and value of our gifts.

And we often grumble when our Christmas gifts are not up to our expectation, and if our celebrations are not as what we have prepared and expected. We worry a lot about what we are to cook up for our Christmas dinners, lunches and parties, about what we are to wear for the celebrations, and yet, while we worry about all these things, and think about how to outdo one another in our celebrations, do we realise that there are those, even in our midst, who have no means to celebrate Christmas?

There are those who are poor and penniless who cannot even celebrate Christmas, and even more so, they cannot even think of what is to come tomorrow, for they have little to even survive for the day’s meal. And then, there are also those who because of various reasons, especially oppression and persecutions, cannot even celebrate Christmas openly with joy and revelry. They live in constant fear of persecution and even death just for being a believer and follower of Christ.

And today, all of us are called to think of all these brethren of ours, even as we also need to reevaluate our lives and beginning from understanding better what Christmas and its significance is for our lives. Christmas is all about Christ and His saving love and grace for each and every one of us. God loves each and every one of us that He is willing to give everything, even His own Son, to suffer and die for our sake, by bearing the cross of our sins.

And if God has loved us so much, then now, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called then to love Him back with the same effort and sincerity. We are called to serve Him and to be as what He wants us to be, righteous and just in His presence. Thus, we should shun all forms of sin and disobedience that we have done so far in life, all the worldly excesses and resist the temptations to sin further.

We should also reflect and show the same love to our brethren, especially those who are poor and weak, those who are oppressed and in grief and sorrow. This is the true spirit of Christmas, that we, as God’s children, can show the same love that God, Our loving Father has shown us. And also, for all those who have done fault to us and hurt us, let us also forgive them their mistakes and sins against us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, today, as we continue this Advent journey, let us first and foremost realise our sinfulness, and ask God to heal us and to forgive us from those sins and faults. Let us all draw ever closer to God and find our way to serve Him and to commit ourselves, through our love and generosity to our fellow brethren, by our way of life, upholding at all times the tenets of our faith in all of our daily actions and deeds. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 9 December 2018 : Second Sunday of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 3 : 1-6

It was the fifteenth year of the rule of the Emperor Tiberius : Pontius Pilatus was governor of Judea; Herod ruled over Galilee, his brother Philip ruled over the country of Iturea and Trachonitis: and Lysanias ruled over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the High Priests at the time when the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the desert.

John proclaimed a baptism, for repentant people to obtain forgiveness of sins; and he went through the whole country bordering the Jordan River. It was just as is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah : Listen to this voice crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His path straight! The valleys will be filled and the mountains and hills made low. Everything crooked will be made straight and the rough paths smooth; and every human being will see the salvation of God!’