Are We Really MERRY this Christmas?

Christmas (Midnight Mass)

GOSPEL: Luke 2:1-14

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.

And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”


Other Readings: Is 9:1-7; Ps 95:1-3, 11-13 Titus 2:11-14

REFLECTION/HOMILY

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Yes, during this season that greeting seems to come out of our lips almost automatically when we meet people—whether family or relatives we haven’t seen for a year, friends or even just a complete stranger—to make that instant connection. Merry Christmas! But I wonder what the word ‘merry’ or ‘happy’ means to us. Why are we merry? Why are we happy? What makes us happy this Christmas?

home-alone-2On one level, I can relate with other parents present here, that feeling of happiness in terms of having that sense of a relief. I know how sometimes preparing for Christmas could be so nerve-wracking; what food to prepare for the Christmas feast? What gifts to buy for every child, relative, or friend? Did we miss somebody? I hope all the husbands (attending this Mass) did not forget to buy something for the wives or else it will be LENT or Good Friday for us instead of Christmas!

Indeed, in our present culture and time, Christmas becomes an iconic celebration—the bigger, the more complex, the more hi-tech celebration the better. holiday-dinner-stock-680uwFurthermore, the secular world has defined Christmas in a more materialist, consumerist and commercialized kind of event when being merry or happy during Christmas more and more depends on how big or expensive the gifts we give or receive; how luxurious our feasts; how expensive our clothes. And so if we cannot provide for some or all of these, Christmas becomes meaningless. Or worse, the coming of Christmas becomes a source of anxiety, dread and loneliness. This is especially relevant in our lives—right here and right now in our communities when we are witnessing people losing their jobs right before Christmas.

christmas giftsA few days ago, I heard from the radio a charity organisation asking for toys for donation; for kids whose family cannot afford to buy them. The man doing the appeal said: “We’re doing this so that these children will not miss out on Christmas.”

But this secular and commercialized notion of Christmas is not the true character and message of Christmas. The Gospel tells us that the birth of Christ—CHRISTMAS—is characterised by simplicity albeit carrying a profound meaning and significance to each and every one of us. Luke puts the birth of Christ in the context of a grand event during the reign of Caesar Augustus—the conduct of an empire-wide census to determine how much wealth the emperor can take from his subjects.

Picture the contrasting image of an emperor making royal decrees in his grand palace in Rome and of an infant in swaddling clothes being cradled by his mother in a manger far away from the centre of power. Furthermore, think about the contrasting message or significance of both images—the former causing anxiety, dread and sadness for people because of the taxes that will be taken from them, while the latter becomes the source of great joy to all that the heavenly angels themselves had to proclaim: “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth PEACE to people of goodwill!”

nativity-sceneThe great message that we get from that simple nativity scene is the profound truth that GOD LOVES US. He loves us so much that He took off his divinity and became one of us so that in turn we can share his divine nature. Before Christ was born, God’s people called Him LORD. Because of Christ’s birth, we can now call God FATHER! And God calls each one of us: My son; my daughter.

THAT is the reason why we celebrate Christmas! God’s love has been given to everyone—freely, abundantly and unconditionally! And therefore, NOBODY misses out on Christmas!

We may not have expensive gifts or toys. We may not have new clothes. We may have prepared but a simple meal. But if the incarnation of Jesus; of God becoming man is the central focus of our celebration then we can truly say we can have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Christmas.

Merry Christmas! We can say this confidently because as St Paul said in the second reading: “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race”; as we worship this child, sing God’s praises this Christmas, we can know with relief that God has acted to save us from ourselves, to heal us of our many conflicts and restore our true joy! ###

Reflecting Christ’s Light

3rd Sunday of Advent-Year B

GOSPEL: Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

A MAN named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.

And this is the testimony of John.
When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”

So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”

So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?”

He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’” as Isaiah the prophet said.”

Some Pharisees were also sent.  They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.


Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

REFLECTION

LAST week we were introduced to the figure of John the Baptist as an emissary; a herald sent in advance to prepare the way of the Lord. His appearance signals the initial proclamation of God’s work of redemption and marks as a stepping stone toward the Christian faith. Indeed, Mark painted John as the true representative, a true ambassador; one who constantly directs his listeners’ attention to the true object of their HOPE, which is Jesus the Son of God and our saviour.

witnessWe again encounter the figure of John the Baptist in our gospel according to John. This time, not as a herald but as a witness. Now, we are used to the word WITNESS being associated with the law court where a witness stands up, gives his testimony and speaks the truth. In the legal setting, a person who testifies before the court needs to establish his or her identity—or credibility. Failure to establish identity or credibility means any testimony given will be inadmissible.

In our gospel reading, John the Baptist faced the same scrutiny. People—especially the religious authorities of his time—seem to refuse to accept his message unless he establishes his identity. We can make two interpretations as to the reason behind the people’s questioning of John’s identity and his message. One is that they are trying to put John into their category of a prophet or even the Messiah and that they would not accept anything from him if he does not fit such categories. Or, since the Pharisees, like most of Jews of this period, were waiting for the Messiah, the attractiveness of John’s message of repentance made them wonder and compelled them to discern his authenticity as a messenger of God.

StJohnTheBaptistBearingWitnessIt is interesting that the gospel that repeatedly has Christ say ‘I am’, emphasises with the Baptist ‘I am not’: ‘He was not the light’ says the prologue (Jn 1:8); ‘I am not the Christ’ (Jn 1:20) says John himself, before going on to say he is not Elijah (Jn 1:21) and he is not the Prophet (Jn 1:21). Christ is; the Baptist is not. John was sure about his identity as God’s messenger. And by refusing to make himself the centre of attention makes him an authentic witness of the faith.

We are also being called to be witnesses like John the Baptist. To stand up and say what we know to be the truth about God and about Jesus. Furthermore we are invited to imitate John who was the greatest of the prophets, yet he lived as a humble and faithful servant of God. He pointed others to Jesus the Messiah, by the witness of his life.

The gospel is clear in identifying that John was not the light but the one who came to testify to the light. So, like John we should also be careful not to be tempted “to shine our own light” but always pointing others to the TRUE LIGHT that is Christ. Our mission is to testify to the LIGHT. Yes, as Pope Francis said, sometimes the Lord can ask each one of us—as member of his Church—to shine our own light. But this means that if the Church’s mission is to illuminate humanity, the light we give to the world must be the light that we received from Christ. Just like the moon which does not have any light of its own to give but reflects the light of the sun, we too must reflect the light of Christ.

Again, as Pope Francis said, “Service without this light [from God] is no good: it makes the Church rich, or powerful, or makes the Church seek power, or take the wrong road, as has happened many times in history. The same thing happens in our lives when we want to shine our own light. We make ourselves the centre of attention, our service a spectacle and a public show. We become angry if being ignored or side-lined; resentful in accepting criticisms, and ultimately lose that sense of joy that the gospel gives us; the joy that faith gives us and the joy of serving others.

So our challenge is to be witnesses of Christ by reflecting Christ’s light; that true light, which is the source of our joy. As we start another week of waiting in anticipation of the coming of our Lord in Christmas, let us become witnesses of that light. As we go about our daily activities let us ask ourselves: How can we reveal God’s presence to the lives of the people we meet? And when people meet us, are they seeing Christ’s light?