Sunday, 6 December 2020 : Second Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday we mark the Second Sunday of Advent, and therefore we continue to journey further and deeper through the mysteries of Advent, and our time of preparation and expectation for the joy of Christmas to come. On this Second Sunday of Advent, the theme that we focus on is ‘Peace’, out of the four themes that began with ‘Hope’ last week, and then to be followed with ‘Joy’ next Sunday and ‘Love’ on the last Sunday of Advent.

As we listened to the readings from the Scripture we are constantly being reminded of the Lord’s coming, of His coming as the Saviour to deliver all of His people from their troubles. That is why this season of Advent we are always reminded of the need to focus our attentions on the Lord and reorientate ourselves spiritually and mentally that the Lord will be the centre of our lives. Too many of us have been distracted from our mission and calling in life as Christians, tempted and steered away by our many concerns and desires in the world.

In our first reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard again as we have been for the past few days since the first week of Advent, of the Lord’s faithful promises to His people which reminded all of them that God will triumph in the end, and He will lead all of His faithful people out of their suffering and wretched state. He promised them salvation and the coming of the Saviour that would herald the dawn of a new time and age, the glorious reign of God.

This prophecy was significant in meaning and importance because it was made at the time when the fortunes of the people of God was among its lowest, when they were beset by troubles and had been brought low by many sufferings and humiliations. The northern kingdom of Israel, constituting most of the ten tribes of Israel besides the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, has just been destroyed by the Assyrians, and then their populations brought into exile and the lands wasted and destroyed.

And the same Assyrians came to Judah and Jerusalem where Isaiah had prophesied and ministered in, in a mighty army led by their king Sennacherib with the intention of conquering and destroying the city and the kingdom as they had done with the northern kingdom. Indeed, if we read the Book of Kings and the Book of Chronicles, we can see just how the history of the people of God at that time was rife with conflicts, wars and much destruction all over.

Kingdoms fought against each other, kings struggled against other kings and their rivals, and it was often the people who suffered through all those strife, warfare and conflicts. When kings of Israel and Judah fought against each other for their territories and for prestige, it was the people who bore the brunt of the fighting and the loss, while the kings feasted in their luxurious life, often ignorant of the plight of those who were suffering and poor.

King Sennacherib of Assyria was no different, as he laid siege to Jerusalem and other cities in Judah, bringing plenty of destruction to the whole kingdom of Judah. He led the Assyrian armies in conquering many cities and countries, in causing lots of destruction and harm to people and properties, untold suffering to so many people. Why has king Sennacherib done so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because he sought power, glory and fame, wealth and worldly satisfaction that came from such actions.

And thus was how many wars and conflict had been fought, over the greed and desires of man for power, for wealth and worldly glory and fame. And as they did so, they had little regards for other people, but for themselves. Like king Sennacherib, he boasted that no king, ruler or kingdom as well as their gods were able to stand against his power and might, and he blasphemed against God by saying that he would bring the same ruin to the people of God and destroy the Temple of God.

The pride, arrogance, ego and greed of king Sennacherib led to his downfall, as God struck him and his army down. Through His Angels, God destroyed the armies of the Assyrians and drove them back to their homeland in utter and complete shame. Sennacherib himself was murdered by his own two sons who perhaps craved and desired power and other glories. It was indeed quite often that within the ruling families and those in power to struggle and end up in conflict among themselves.

And that was how things had gone in the past throughout the history of mankind, in all nations and peoples. Conflicts, wars and disagreements had often happened because of the conflicting interests, desires and ego of different parties involved. Through all of that, people suffer, especially those who are underprivileged, poor and weak, those who have been easily exploited and taken advantage of by the rich and the powerful.

But if we think that it is only the poor and the less privileged that suffer, then we are wrong. Do you realise that actually even the rich and powerful also suffer? Take for example the case of king Sennacherib mentioned earlier. He was murdered by his own sons likely because of conflict of power and their desires to carve up his kingdom for themselves.

As Sennacherib’s demise showed us, the rich and powerful are in fact even less secure and suffer more because they often fight among themselves and contend with each other for the power and glory, wealth and riches of the world. And the more that man has, the more we will be tempted to desire for even more of what we have already possessed and attained. That is why, those who have more often are also the least peaceful in mind.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, now having heard of all these, we are all reminded that in this world, we have often been deluded by our worldly desires and by the many temptations of false pleasures, glory and corruptions of the world. And because of these conflicting and unbridled desires and wants, we end up causing sufferings on each other, and making things difficult for one another.

How do we then find peace, brothers and sisters in Christ? This is where we ought to look towards Christ, the Prince of Peace. The One Whose coming we celebrate this Christmas and which we prepare for this season of Advent is the One Who will bring true peace and harmony into this world. And indeed, He came bearing His truth into the world, and He was preceded by none other than St. John the Baptist, who in our Gospel passage today spoke of the Lord’s coming.

And what St. John the Baptist said to the people as we heard it in our Gospel passage today is a call to repentance, a cry out for all the sinful people of God to seek God’s forgiveness, to change their hearts and their ways of life, and reorientate themselves and their lives back towards the Lord, with Him as the centre and focus of their whole attention. And this is what the Lord then revealed in full through His coming.

St. John the Baptist helped to straighten the path for the Lord, and the Lord then showed how through Him, by following Him, His teachings and His ways, He will free them from their slavery, their bondage to sin and to all the chains of worldliness and all the temptations that had hindered us all these while and caused so much suffering for so many among us, be it rich or poor, powerful, mighty or weak. As long as we continue to indulge in our selfish desires, we will continue to be swayed by the forces of sin and evil, and we can never find true peace.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this season of Advent let us all therefore seek the Lord with renewed faith and hope, the hope in the peace that the Lord alone can give us. The Lord has shown His love and mercy to us, and through His compassion, He has shown us the path to true peace, harmony and true joy that we can find in Him and through Him alone. Are we willing to follow this path, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we willing to commit ourselves to serve the Lord faithfully?

Today, let us all commit ourselves to the path of peace, by reorientating our lives towards the Lord, and not towards our foolish and selfish desires, our worldly pursuits of power, glory and wealth among many others. Brothers and sisters, let us all reject these temptations and strive to do our best to be faithful, to be righteous and just in our every actions and deeds, and to seek peace over violence, to be loving to one another rather than to put our own self-interests first. Let us all reflect the Lord’s examples, His hope, His peace and His love in our own lives, and in our actions.

Throughout this season of Advent, let us all renew our relationship with God by deepening our spiritual life, by spending more time with God in prayer, and by rethinking how we have lived our lives and even also how we prepare for Christmas. Is Christmas really about all the glamour, parties and the celebrations? Or is it rather to celebrate together as a community the joy of expecting the coming of the Lord and the coming of His reign of peace?

Let us all discern carefully how we are going to continue living our lives from now on, with faith. Let us all renew our devotion to God and make best use of this blessed time and season of Advent. May the Lord be our Guide and may He strengthen us always in our faith, as well as in our desire to love and serve Him, at all times. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 6 December 2020 : 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, 6 December 2020 : 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, 6 December 2020 : 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, 6 December 2020 : 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, 29 November 2020 : First Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today this Sunday we mark the beginning of a new liturgical year as well as the season of Advent, the time of preparation and spiritual purification for us to prepare ourselves properly for the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Now is a time of reconciliation between us and God, and for us to reexamine our way of life thus far.

As we mark the beginning a new year cycle and this blessed season of preparation, we enter into a time of reconfiguration of our lives and when we also take stock of what we have done and what we are going to do from now on, as we are about to celebrate once again, the joyous celebrations of our Saviour’s birth into this world. Is it going to be just yet another Christmas and another celebration for us? Another season and time of merry-making and fun, but not accompanied by true and profound change of heart, brothers and sisters in Christ?

Many of us have been seeing Christmas and its celebration all around us especially from the lenses of secular and worldly celebrations, as I am very sure that the Christmas festivities have already been in full force by now. As early as October and early November shops, shopping malls and many other places have been decked with plenty of Christmas decorations, themes and various other activities that are meant to prepare everyone for the festivities of the Christmas season.

However, many have easily forgotten of the true meaning of Christmas, where Christmas becomes just another holiday and time of merry-making that is bereft of its true intention and purpose. To many of us, Christmas is about exchanges of gifts, great food and tantalising meals, celebrations and parties. And while of course it is perfectly well and fine to celebrate, but we have often forgotten why it is that we are celebrating in Christmas.

We all knew well that Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, and Our God. But, how many of us actually internalise that fact and understand how it is so important and significant for us? Too many of us have treated Christmas, year after year, again and again, just as a season and time to be merry and happy, in tandem with what the world has done, in their secular celebrations.

Do we really appreciate just how important Christmas is to all of us? Christmas, along with Easter that is to come in a few months’ time, together celebrate the very important event in our history, that is the salvation of mankind and the fulfilment of God’s long-held promises for each and every one of us, through Christ, His beloved Son, sent into the world as the ultimate gift for all of us. Without Christmas, there will be no Easter and its significance, and at the same time, without Easter, Christmas itself would have been of little importance.

Why is that so? That is because through Christmas, the Son of God and Saviour of all entered into this world, incarnate into flesh, born as the Son of Man through His mother Mary. At Christmas, we celebrate this newborn Baby, born the Saviour of the world and King of kings, the Divine Word Incarnate, Who was to be the One to make a New Covenant between God and His people, through none other than His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. Without Easter and the Passion that happened before it, then Christmas will be just another birthday of another man. It is Easter that gave Christmas its full meaning and significance.

That is because here we have the Son of God born and uniting Himself into the humanity He willingly took, that would eventually unite our sufferings and sins, and bearing all that burden together on His Cross that Christ became the source of all our salvation, our hope and the Light that dispels the darkness of this world surrounding us. Yes, and that is why, on this First Sunday of Advent, we focus on the theme of Hope, out of the four themes of Advent, ‘Hope’, ‘Peace’, ‘Joy’ and ‘Love’.

Our Christmas joy must always be accompanied by Hope, for Hope is what has been re-enkindled in our hearts following the birth of Christ, and in Him we see once again the Light of God’s hope, amidst our wretched conditions, the despair and darkness that are surrounding us. Once, by our sins we should have been destroyed and condemned to eternal suffering, but God showed that His love and compassion triumph even over all of these, and He has made His love manifested to us, through none other than His Son.

Do you all remember the most famous phrase from the Gospel of St. John, ‘That God so loved the world that He gave us all His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life?’. In these words spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself to Nicodemus the Pharisee, we heard of the proclamation of God’s love and His desire to see us freed and liberated from whatever chains and bondage that had been holding us back, that is the chains of sin and the bondage of death.

It is because of the Lord that we can hope once again, that beyond the sufferings due to sin and death, there is Light that dispels the falsehoods of evil and the despair and fear of darkness. There is Hope because God’s love has been made manifest in the flesh before us, that what was once intangible has become tangible, that God has truly loved us from the very beginning, and has always still loved us, always. And we also look forward to His Second Coming, when He shall return as promised to gather us all His faithful ones.

And now that we know all of these, how should we then proceed with our Christmas celebrations and festivities? It is not wrong to celebrate and be merry, as we should indeed and rightfully be joyful because of Christmas. However, we really need to ask ourselves, what our Christmas celebrations are all about. Is it about ourselves and our desires for good things, for expensive gifts and wonderful, tantalising meals and food, or is it about our joy because of the Hope that Our Lord Jesus Christ has brought us through His birth?

You see, brothers and sisters in Christ, that without the right mindset and focus, we can easily end up losing the entire meaning and purpose of our Christmas celebrations and joy. We can celebrate very well, but without appreciating the true and full meaning and importance of Christmas, then our celebrations are meaningless and empty. Christmas becomes mundane and ordinary just like how year after year people celebrate Christmas in a secular and worldly way, buying gifts and trying to outdo each other in decorating their houses and places.

As Christians, our Christmas celebration is especially important and meaningful because we celebrate this very crucial and pivotal moment in our salvation as mentioned and discussed just earlier. And consequently, our mindset and focus must properly reflect of this, or else we will end up falling into the same trap of commercialised and worldly Christmas celebrations, just as we have certainly been bombarded with all around us these past few weeks.

That is why, during this season of Advent that we begin today, we have to prepare ourselves, not just in material terms and physically like in preparing for all the parties and celebrations, but even more importantly, we have to spiritually prepare ourselves, for the Advent, or the coming of Our Lord. For it is this expectation of the coming of the Lord that gave this season its Name, from the term ‘Adventus’ which means ‘coming and appearing’. We have to focus on that Hope that Christ has brought us with His birth, and share that same Hope to one another, the Hope in the salvation of Our God.

How do we do this, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is by reaching out to one another and sharing the Hope that Christ has brought to us, be it to our fellow Christians or to any other out there, our friends and relatives, our acquaintances and even strangers and others we encounter in our daily lives. And this year in particular had been especially difficult and tough for so many people out there, enduring and suffering the extended effects of the pandemic, the economic troubles and other conflicts between nations that we are surely very familiar of all throughout this year.

Can we, as Christians, be bearers of Hope for the world, for our less fortunate brothers and sisters? If we ourselves have suffered and laboured in suffering this year, do not forget that there are definitely those others who have suffered even more and in even worse state than we are now. Let us restore the hope in others, by reaching out to them and helping one another in even small, little ways that we can do, to show the Hope of Christ through our actions.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, those are just some ways that we can begin our Advent preparations well, and there are many other ways that we can make our blessed season of Advent meaningful, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas together. And this year, being known for its limitations and restrictions due to the pandemic, is perhaps a good time for us to reflect on our usual Christmas practices and celebrations, to ask ourselves once again, the fundamental questions of, ‘Why do we celebrate this Christmas?’ and ‘What is the meaning of Christmas to me and my family?’

Let us all enter into this season of Advent with solemnity and internal reflection, and let us refocus our attention in life, that we turn our gaze and focus once again on the Lord and the hope that He has brought to us, that in Him alone lies our salvation, and through Him, we can overcome the darkness that are affecting us, and through Him, our sufferings and pains, our troubles and difficulties will eventually be gone, and in Him, we shall enjoy one day, the eternal glory and true happiness with Him, forevermore. May God bless us all and our Advent activities. Amen.

Sunday, 29 November 2020 : 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!”

Sunday, 29 November 2020 : First Sunday of Advent (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

1 Corinthians 1 : 3-9

Receive grace, and peace from God, our Father, and Christ Jesus, our Lord. I give thanks, constantly, to my God, fo you, and for the grace of God given to you, in Christ Jesus. For you have been fully enriched, in Him, with words, as well as with knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you.

You do not lack any spiritual gift and only await the glorious coming of Christ Jesus, our Lord. He will keep you steadfast to the end, and you will be without reproach, on the day of the coming of our Lord Jesus. The faithful God will not fail you, after calling you to this fellowship with His Son, Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Sunday, 29 November 2020 : First Sunday of Advent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 79 : 2ac and 3bc, 15-16, 18-19

Listen, o Shepherd of Israel, You, Who sit enthroned between the Cherubim. Stir up Your might and come to save us.

Turn again, o YHVH of hosts, look down from heaven and see; care for this vine, and protect the stock Your hand has planted.

But lay Your hand on Your instrument, on the son of man, whom You make strong for Yourself. Then, we will never turn away from You; give us life, and we will call on Your Name.

Sunday, 29 November 2020 : First Sunday of Advent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 63 : 16b-17, 19b and Isaiah 64 : 2b-7

But You, o YHVH, are our Father, from the beginning, You are our Redeemer : This is Your Name. Why have You made us stray from our ways? Why have You let our heart become hard so that we do not fear You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your inheritance.

Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down! The mountains would quake at Your presence. Let them witness Your stunning deeds. No one has ever heard or perceived, no eye has ever seen a God besides You Who works for those who trust in Him. You have confounded those who acted righteously and who joyfully kept Your ways in mind. But You are angry with our sins, yet conceal them and we shall be saved.

All of us have become like the unclean; all our good deeds are like polluted garments; we have all withered like leaves, blown away by our iniquities. There is no one who calls upon Your Name, no one who rouses himself to lay hold of You. For You have hidden Your face, You have given us up to the power of our evil acts.

And yet, YHVH, You are our Father; we are the clay and You are our Potter; we are the work of Your hand.