Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Homily - Christmas Dawn Mass (Year B)

Christmas Dawn Mass (Year B)

First Reading: Isaiah 62:11-12         Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7         Gospel Reading: Luke 2:15-20


There is a story told of a young man who sent his parents a microwave oven one Christmas. They were very excited that now they, too, could be a part of the instant generation. When the man's Dad unpacked the microwave and plugged it in, literally within seconds, the microwave transformed the two smiles into a frown! Even after reading the directions, to their utter disappointment, they couldn't make it work at all.
Two days later the man's Mom was playing bridge with a friend and she told her about the Christmas gift her son had sent them. But with great sadness in her heart, she confessed her inability to get that microwave oven even to boil water. “To get this darn thing to work,” she exclaimed, “I really don't need better directions; I just needed my son to come along with the gift!”

When God gave the gift of salvation to mankind, He didn't send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out. He rather sent His only Son“Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us.'”
Today, with great joy and solemnity we celebrate Christmas - the feast of God's magnanimous and unconditional love, the feast of God's Self-gift to mankind. For Christmas is 'God's gift laid in human hands.' The Christmas event, i.e. the birth of our Lord Jesus in a stable in the small village of Bethlehem of Judea is one of the most important events in the history of mankind, an event when God takes the human form in the person of Jesus and comes into the world to save mankind from sin and death. So, today “LET'S GO! LET US GO TO BETHLEHEM...”

Originally, the Romans celebrated a feast on this day, called the 'festum solis invicti,' - the festival of the unconquered sun. The winter solstice has just passed and we are now moving into longer days, with more light and the resurgence of life in the soil. One can almost see Nature slowly waking up after its long winter hibernation. The trees look dead with their bare branches but in a matter of weeks they will be decked in all their leafy glory. All these speak of the Christmas phenomena of light and its joyful atmosphere, filling everyone with the hope of salvation.

Joy everywhere....
The Christmas story resonates with the theme of light and the baby in the manger is the Light of the World. Light surrounds the shepherds as the angels sing their praises of God: "Glory to God in the highest and, on earth, peace to all who are favored by God." The whole atmosphere is also suffused with joy, the joy of the angels and of the shepherds as they hasten to Bethlehem to find the new-born child. Joy is a theme which goes right through Luke's gospel. Let us also today joyfully say, “LET'S GO! LET US GO TO BETHLEHEM...”

.... and liberation
Another cause for joy is the liberation that Jesus brings. The First Reading from all four Christmas Masses is from the Prophet Isaiah who tells of the restoration of Jerusalem from total destruction. This morning's passage proclaims boldly: “Your Savior has come and you are made holy by this coming.” Isaiah makes it clear that we are made holy by God's presence in our midst - 'He is Emmanuel.'
In the Gospel Reading, the angel too joyfully announces to the shepherds the message of salvation - “To you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, Who is the Messiah, the Lord.” and joining together with the shepherds let us say - “LET'S GO! LET US GO TO BETHLEHEM...”
Christmas is the Good News of our salvation, and in the Second Reading in his letter to Titus, St. Paul makes it clear that the Good News of our salvation has nothing to do with commandments and laws. He says, "not because of any righteous deeds that we have done, but because of God’s mercy."
Now, we began our Christmas celebration with Night Mass, and the story of the birth of Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem, told in a very matter-of-fact way: St Luke at his pithiest. There is a striking contrast, in fact, between the humble ordinariness of Christ's birth and the dramatic scene when the angel of the Lord, and the whole heavenly host, appear to the shepherds in the nearby countryside.
In fact, we left the angels singing the 'Gloria' until the Dawn Mass, when the story is taken up again with the departure of the angels. The shepherds then dash off to see the child for themselves. It's rather a great idea that the angels are left singing all night by the liturgical arrangement of these two gospels. It reminds us that the heavenly choirs are joined in perpetual adoration of God, that heaven never sleeps; and that our participation in the liturgy, such as when we sing the 'Gloria' at Dawn Mass, is a share in the eternal worship of the angels – the very life of heaven itself.
The Gospel Reading this morning shows us how to exactly connect with Christmas. The shepherds lead us in the way of action: “LET'S GO!” they say. “LET US GO TO BETHLEHEM.” It's the road we also must take to meet Jesus—not in a dream world, not in theory, but in the concrete circumstances of our lives. We need to ask ourselves right now 'Where should I be heading? Where concretely is Jesus waiting for me?'
On the First Christmas night infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph were alone. But God sought out simple people as their companions: some shepherds, perhaps because, as they were poor and humble, they would not be dismayed at finding the Messiah in a cave, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Perhaps, it is to the shepherds of that district that prophet Isaiah referred: “Those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, on them light has shone.” Never again will they be despised as having a menial task, or as being derelicts, worthless scruff on the edge of society. A whole new dignity will descend upon them as Jesus will one day dignify himself by calling himself the good and gentle shepherd.
The shepherds, though, don't seem to pause to reflect on the extraordinary privilege they have been granted of witnessing the heavens opened: they go straight into town to see this thing that has happened.” And it is this – the apparently ordinary birth of a child in inauspicious circumstances – that really impresses them. But the shepherds know that in this particular child, in this particular time and place, they are encountering something much more. The angels have told them that this child, wrapped in swaddling cloths, is Christ, the Lord, the Savior of the world. Their little glimpse of heaven has encouraged them to go back to look at the world with new eyes, to see the real meaning of events that look, outwardly, perfectly ordinary. This is what causes them to go back “glorifying and praising God.”
It is a wonderful thing that the story should tell that the first announcement of God came to some simple shepherds. It was to simple men of the fields that God's message came first. But these were in all likelihood very special shepherds. They lived in the outskirts of Bethlehem, close to Jerusalem where the temple was, where every morning and evening , an unblemished lamb (that must have come from them) was offered as a sacrifice to God. It is therefore a lovely thought that shepherds who looked after the lambs for temple sacrifices were the first to see “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Again, God also wanted those shepherds to be the first bearers of the news that they would go around telling “all they had heard and seen. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” In the same way Jesus reveals himself to us in the midst of the ordinary incidents of each day; and we need the same dispositions of simplicity and humility in order to reach him. It is possible that throughout our lives he gives us signs that mean nothing to us if we see him merely humanly. We have to be alert so as to discover Jesus in the simplicity of ordinary life, “wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger,” without any showy manifestations, and proclaim him to the world.

Christmas is God's gift to us, an opportunity for new beginnings. It is not that we have found him; but that we have allowed him to find us, and fill us with wonder and surprise and dignity. It is inconceivable that the shepherds would not have set out without taking gifts for the baby – most probably the choicest of lambs. Nor, can we go to the cave of Bethlehem without taking our gifts. So, “LET'S GO! LET US GO TO BETHLEHEM...” let us hasten today to Bethlehem with our gifts. But what gifts? Some attractive and valuable packages? Perhaps better, we can give some gifts this Christmas which are beyond monetary value: Mending a quarrel, dismissing suspicion, telling someone, 'I love you.' Giving something away - anonymously. Forgiving someone who has treated us wrong. Turning away wrath with a soft answer. Visiting someone in a nursing home. Apologizing if we were wrong. Being especially kind to someone with whom we work. Giving as God gave to us in Christ, without obligation, or announcement, or reservation, or hypocrisy.
Let us enjoy and celebrate our Christmas today, but let us also not forget what exactly we are celebrating and that the message of Christmas extends well beyond the festivities. Moreover, we must make Christmas a reality in the present, in the present of every moment throughout the year, each and every day.

May your Christmas be merry, happy, holy, and may you know your dignity every day of your life!


Homily - Christmas Night Mass (Year B)

Christmas Night Mass (Year B)

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-6         Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14            Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-14


Nine-year-old Wally was in second grade when most children his age were fourth-graders. He was big for his years, a clumsy fellow, a slow learner. But Wally was a hopeful, willing, smiling lad, a natural defender of the underdog, and he was well-liked by his classmates. His parents encouraged him to audition for the annual parish Christmas play. Wally wanted to be a shepherd. Instead, he was given the role of the innkeeper. The director reasoned that Wally's size would lend extra force to the innkeeper's refusal of lodging to Joseph. During rehearsals, Wally was instructed to be firm with Joseph. When the play opened, no one was more caught up in the action than Wally. And when Joseph knocked on the door of the inn, Wally was ready. He flung the door open and asked menacingly, "What do you want?" "We seek lodging," Joseph replied. "Seek it elsewhere," Wally said in a firm voice. "There's no room in the inn." "Please, good innkeeper," Joseph pleaded, "this is my wife, Mary. She is with child and is very tired. She needs a place to rest." There was a long pause as Wally looked down at Mary. The prompter whispered Wally's next line: "No! Be gone!" Wally remained silent. Then the forlorn couple turned and began to slowly move away. Seeing this, Wally's brow creased with concern. Tears welled up in his eyes. Suddenly, he called out, "Don't go! You can have my room."

The season of Advent is over and the period of anticipation & expectation is complete. Now it is time that we celebrate with great joy, the feast of Christmas, commemorating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, which occurred about two millennium ago. 'The Christmas event' is one of the most important events in the history of mankind, an event when God takes the human form in the person of Christ Jesus and comes into the world to save humankind from sin and death. Today, Jesus wants to be reborn in our lives. Do we have a place for him in our hearts?

Every year, on Christmas night during Mass, we listen from Luke's Gospel about the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and how the good news of his birth was first announced to the shepherds by the angels:
Luke places it against the background of the reign of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus and he also mentions a census in Palestine issued by him at the time when Jesus was born.. It is generally accepted that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. Now, in the Roman Empire, a census was taken periodically with the double object of assessing taxation and of discovering those who were liable for compulsory military service. But Luke’s purpose in mentioning the census is to provide God’s reason for, and means of, getting Mary and Joseph eighty miles south from Nazareth, a small village in Galilee, to Bethlehem in Judea, the city of David, wherein the promised heir of David was to be born, as prophesied by Micah (5:1).
Further, Joseph and Mary had to take shelter in one of the caves in the outskirts of Bethlehem, where animals were kept, as there was no room in the inn. There Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. A manger is a feeding trough, and it symbolizes the sacrificial meal that Jesus becomes, which provides sustenance for the whole world.
Again, the news of the birth of Jesus was first announced to the shepherds by the angels. Since David was a shepherd, it seems fitting that the shepherds were given the privilege of visiting David’s successor in the stable. Further, shepherding was a lonely, dirty job, and shepherds found it difficult to follow all the obligatory religious customs. Hence, they were scorned as non-observant Jews. So Infant Jesus selected these marginalized people to share His love at the beginning of his life. The shepherds expressed their joy and gratitude by “making known what had been told them" (v. 17). Other than the angels, they were the first to proclaim the Good News of Jesus' birth.

Actually, the Infancy Narratives are theologumena; that is to say that they are not so much a literal history, but are stories with a theological point. So, the important thing to remember is that they are stories of God’s love and they speak about Jesus’ role in the salvation of mankind, and that’s what counts, not historical details. So, what is the feast of Christmas all about? What are its messages?

First and foremost, Christmas is an event of light, it is a feast of light: The Readings resonate the theme of light, and the Baby in the manger is the Light of the world. In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke, light surrounds the shepherds as the Angels sing their praises of God. Also, in the First Reading of today from the prophet Isaiah, we hear - “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” A truly 'great' light indeed, because the light which radiates from the humility of the crib is the light of the new creation. In the Child of Bethlehem the primordial light once more shines in humanity’s heaven and dissipates the clouds of sin.

Secondly, Christmas is an event of love, it is a feast of love: John in his Gospel says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him, will not perish, but will have eternal life.” Christmas is God's self-gift laid in human hands, in the person of Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind and it really tells how magnanimously God loves us and cares for us. The Magi came from the east to worship the Lord and they brought him gifts. We too, in response to God's great love, need to give ourselves to him as gifts. Christmas thus is also seen as a feast of gifts, and exchange of gifts with our loved ones has become a common practice during this time.

Thirdly, Christmas is an event of joy, it is a feast of joy: The angel said to the shepherds, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Evidently, the whole atmosphere is suffused with joy, the joy of the angels and of the shepherds as they hasten to Bethlehem to find the new-born child. Actually, joy is a theme which goes right through the infancy narrative in Luke’s gospel.

Fourthly, Christmas is an event of peace, it is a feast of peace: 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." (v. 14). That peace is the shalom of God – life experienced in all its fullness, richness, and completeness in accord with the will of God. The angelic song conveys the message that true peace on earth is available only to those with the good will to receive it by doing the will of God, thus giving Him glory.

Fifthly, Christmas is an event of hope, it is a feast of hope: Christmas is not just one day, but a season which lasts for twelve days, concluding on Epiphany. The extension of the feast should remind us to continue to share our joy at the comings of the Messiah – the first some 2000 years ago, the last at the 'Parousia' or 'Second coming,' and all those occurring between the two, as we live our daily lives. This is what Paul expresses in his letter to Titus, in the Second Reading of today - “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and … as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself to deliver us … eager to do what is good.”

But lastly, the real meaning of Christmas actually is 'Emmanuel,' God-with-us – God coming down to us; God coming alongside us; God seeking us out; God revealing Himself to us; God bringing us forgiveness, healing, comfort, moral strength, guidance. Each one of us has, deep down in our soul, an incredible hunger: a hunger for purpose and meaning; a hunger to feel and celebrate the redeeming, forgiving, sustaining love of God; a hunger to be in the presence of God. Christmas is special because it reminds us concretely that God is indeed with us. In every circumstance of life, even when we are frightened or lonely or in sorrow, God is with us. As we celebrate the incarnation of the Word of God this Christmas, we must make a conscious effort, both to remember that Jesus is always with us, especially in the Eucharist, and to share our joy in His presence with others. So let’s go home to the heart of Christmas and embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

To conclude, we must say that every year, Christmas asks all of us a tough question. If Jesus were to come today, how would he come? As a matter of fact, he is already there standing and knocking at the door. Do we close the doors of our hearts to Jesus, who is looking for a place to be reborn in our lives? Can we just say to him like the little boy Wally in the opening story, with tears rolling from eyes, “Don't go! You can have my room.”
Christmas isn't only an event of the past, but more importantly - it is also an event of today and each day, and as we solemnly celebrate it today, we joyfully acclaim - “TODAY IS BORN OUR SAVIOR - CHRIST THE LORD”

Wish you all 'A Merry, Happy & Holy Christmas!'


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Homily - 4th Sunday of Advent (Year B)

4th Sunday of Advent (Year B)

First Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16      Second Reading: Romans 16:25-27         Gospel Reading: Luke 1:26-38


A Persian legend runs that a certain king needed a faithful servant, and two men were candidates for the office. He took both at fixed wages, and his first order was to fill a basket with water from a neighboring well, saying that he would come in the evening and see their work. After putting in one or two bucketfuls, one man said, “What is the good of doing this useless work? As soon as we put the water in one side it runs out the other.” The other answered, “But we have our wages, haven't we? The use is the master's business, not ours.” “I am not going to do such fool's work,” replied the other. Throwing down his bucket, he went away. The other man continued until he had exhausted the well; looking down into it he saw something shining—a diamond ring. “Now I see the use of pouring water into a basket,” he cried. “If the bucket had brought up the ring before the well was emptied, it would have been found in the basket. Our work was not useless.” Christians must believe that their divine Master knows what is best, and obey his commands, and in due time they will know and understand.

Today is the 4th and the last Sunday of Advent before Christmas, and are lit all the four candles in the Advent wreath. Indeed we are at the threshold of Christmas and the birth of Baby Jesus is now imminent. In a few days' time we will be celebrating the memory of that great event. Throughout Advent, we have heard of God's promise to send a Liberator - a Savior into the world; today, we catch a glimpse of how that is to be accomplished and to some extent, we can associate with the greatest joy of the Blessed Virgin Mary who awaited the coming of Baby Jesus into the world.
The Scripture Readings of today speak about the preparations that God made for his Son to be born among us and as one of us. In the First Reading from the 2nd Book of Samuel, King David wishes to build a house for God better than his own. He seeks some way to give thanks to God for all the blessing he received from him. But God has not finished filling his life with blessings. In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul speaks about the mystery of salvation about to be revealed and marvels at the divine plan and gives glory to God. In the Gospel Reading from St. Luke, we have the familiar passage of the Annunciation where the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she has found favor with God and announces the divine identity of the child whom Mary is about to conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the history of Israel, God's presence was manifested in the Ark of the Covenant, a sacred wooden box which contained the two stone tablets given to Moses. This was carried in their travels and their battles as a reminder that God was with them. This was kept in a sacred tent. In the First Reading of today we hear that after God finally gave him rest from his enemies, King David was bothered that while he lived in a house of cedar, the Ark of God dwelt in a tent. He was mulling the idea of building a temple where the Ark of God would be kept. So he told the Prophet Nathan of his plan to build a house for it. At first Nathan agreed with him, but then God revealed contrary will to Nathan and sent him back to tell David that He instead would establish a house for him. God's promise to David is a spectacular one - “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.” i.e. a dynasty that will be eternal! In subsequent generations this prophecy became the bedrock of Messianic hope, sustaining the Jewish people at times when their very existence seemed threatened. In making this promise, the Lord rehearses the history of His dealings with David, reminding him of the many ways that He has saved him in the past, and reassuring him of divine protection for his heirs in the future.
The 1st Reading also provides the Old Testament background to the Gospel Reading of today by telling the story of how it came about that God promised to David an eternal kingdom.

Today's Second Reading is the concluding passage of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. He speaks about the mystery of salvation manifested through the prophetic writings. He says that this was God's plan all along. God spiritually disposes the minds of the believers and strengthens them who hear the proclamation of Jesus, he who revealed God's mystery that was kept secret for centuries and which has now been revealed. This knowledge and understanding of the Divine wisdom of God's mysteries through Jesus Christ was made known to all nations according to the Divine will of God, to bring everyone in obedience to God through faith in Jesus Christ. For the eternal glory belongs to Jesus Christ. In other words, St. Paul is saying, listen to and obey the words of Jesus Christ. For through Jesus Christ, the salvation of mankind has come to all nations and through him, we find the complete fulfillment of God's promises to the prophets.

The Gospel Reading for this 4th Sunday of Advent tells the familiar story of the Annunciation. It is a part of St. Luke’s infancy narrative. St. Luke wished to indicate the divine origin of Jesus, as well as to show how his birth was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and expectations. Particularly, in today's Liturgical context, we see the fulfillment of the promise made to David in the message of the angel to the Virgin Mary.
In the Annunciation narrative we hear an angel, Gabriel by name, appearing in private to a young girl of Nazareth, the Virgin Mary, betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David with the greeting, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” The first thing we notice here is that the initiative for the entire event comes from God and all that happens to Mary comes with pure gratuitousness from the hands of God, for she has found favor with God. We are also given the clues that this is not going to be like anything traditionally associated with the coming of Messiah. The woman chosen for God's great work is a very young unsuspecting virgin who comes from a town not even mentioned in the Old Testament. Her parents had arranged her marriage with Joseph. Though the two were already engaged, God had another plan for Mary. Indeed that is the way God works. The angel's statement that the Lord was with Mary, signifies that the Messianic age has dawned and implies a special position of importance for her. Much more than God's presence with King David, the Lord is literally with her. She is 'The Ark of the New Covenant', beyond all reasonable expectations. It is no wonder then this simple girl was greatly troubled. She pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel Gabriel understood her perplexity and spoke her name for reassurance. He then proceeded with the promise, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, …. and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Clearly, we see here that when St. Luke pictured God's announcement through the angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary of the coming birth of Jesus, much of what he wrote had to do with the Prophesy. The child is to be heir to the promises made to David, but his is a dynasty that surpasses every human expectation. Further, St. Luke's pointed statements regarding Mary's virginity underline the divine, miraculous character of this birth. Moreover, St. Luke no doubt intends to have the story of the annunciation to Mary to have a Christological meaning, indicating the centrality of Jesus Christ by revealing his unique character, his true identity as the Messiah and the Son of God. Mary has the new dignity that she is chosen to become the Mother of God.
Now, in the Jewish tradition to bear a son was a blessing from God. But for Mary the circumstances were hardly reassuring. She realizes that humanly speaking it makes no sense. She has not been with a man. So, she asks for a clarification as to how it would happen. The angel's response is that all will be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that was present at the first creation manifested the glory of the Temple and signified the divine presence in the world will now bring the new creation in her. Moreover, that nothing is impossible for God.
With little else to go on but the word of the angel Gabriel, Mary freely accepted the fact that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah and surrendered herself to the will of God. Mary listened and humbly answered the invitation, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Just as God had freely chosen to give, Mary had also freely chosen to accept. And with her simple 'Fiat', her unhesitating 'Yes', Mary changed the course of salvation history forever. God becomes one of us. God is present among us.

Today, we are standing right at the front door of Christmas and before we enter, Mary has been presented to us, this last Sunday of Advent to be our model. Let us follow her example of faith & holiness, humility & simplicity, obedience & surrender to the will of God, as we await the coming of our Saviour into the world and into our lives. Obviously, God's choice of Mary to be the Mother of His Son was special. So was her response, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” But God has also chosen all of us for something special. For this, like Mary, we are also favoured. What has been our response to God's choice of us? Consequently, like Mary, we are challenged to use our freedom and respond with our 'yes' to God's call. And this is the Good News of today.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Homily - 3rd Sunday of Advent (Year B)

3rd Sunday of Advent (Year B)
                                     (“Gaudete Sunday”)

First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11     Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24      Gospel Reading: John 1:6-8, 19-28


There is joy in retrospect, as we look at the past; there is joy of aspect, as we look at the present; there is the joy of prospect, as we look forward to the future.
There is the joy of memory, the joy of love, the joy of hope. There is the joy of the peaceful conscience, the joy of the grateful heart, the joy of the teachable mind, the joy of the trustful soul, the joy of the adoring spirit, the joy of the obedient life, and the joy of the glowing hope. 'In Thy Name do they rejoice.' That is where we get our joy: in Thy name, in the revelation of God.

We are in the Holy Season of Advent and today is its 3rd Sunday. While the first two Sundays of the Advent Season draw our attention to the eschatological coming of the Lord, the third Sunday focuses our attention much more on the Lord already present among us. In the old Latin Liturgy, today was known as 'Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday', and rose vestments were worn to signal an alleviation in the penitential character of the season. The Mass formularies today still retain the call to 'rejoice', and the source and cause of that rejoicing is clearly the presence of God in our midst. Having passed the midpoint of Advent, our joy gets more and more intense as we advance in our journey of faith. And so, we kind of take a slight break from the purple of Advent, and we light the rose colored candle, the 3rd in the series in the Advent wreath, and use rose vestments symbolizing our hope and our joy as we await the coming of our Savior at Christmas. We rejoice because the day of salvation is near.
The Scripture Readings of today are a hymn to joy of salvation and are the closest we have to the joy of Christmas itself. They all give the message of hope that fills us with joy. The traditional antiphon or entrance hymn sets the theme: “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice! The Lord is near.” The Prophet Isaiah in the 1st Reading tells us that he is sent by God to announce the joyful message of salvation to the people of Israel, to a people in bondage and he says: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” Our Responsorial Psalm, taking a different turn this Sunday, is taken from St. Luke's Gospel rather than from the body of Psalms in the Old Testament. And this is 'The Magnificat'. Mary proclaims this moving Canticle out of the joy she has in visiting her cousin Elizabeth who gave homage to our Lord in the womb of the Blessed Virgin: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” We use these beautiful words of Mary to express our joy as we, like Mary wait for the birth of our Savior. St. Paul, in the 2nd Reading from his 1st Letter to the Thessalonians exhorts us to “Rejoice always. Pray unceasingly. In all circumstances give thanks.” But, what about our Gospel Reading from St. John? There are no words in it like 'glad tidings', 'rejoice heartily', 'spirit rejoices', or 'rejoice always'. What does it have to do with joy? It’s just about the unbelieving Levites and Pharisees interrogating John the Baptist to find out who he is? But, therein lies the answer: Belief. Faith. Listen again to the beginning of our gospel passage: “A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” So, the thread of joy continues right through to our Gospel after all. It is faith in Jesus Christ, the faith for which John paved the way, that will end in unimaginable Joy.

The 1st Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah has been called by some scholars 'the fifth servant song', and it is expressed in God's prophetic and symbolic language with lyrical beauty and poetry. In the midst of the desolation and destruction that the people of Israel found upon their return from the Exile to Jerusalem, the Prophet speaks of one who has been anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted, liberty to captives, release to prisoners and a year of jubilee. The Christian tradition has seen in this prophetic passage the figure of the Messiah long expected, Jesus the anointed One. We notice that this is the very passage that Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue in Nazareth in the presence of his neighbors and he told them that this passage had been fulfilled in their hearing. In the dark days immediately following the return from exile, the prophet rejoices over the light which he sees dawning just over the horizon: "I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” The prophetic passage delineates, moreover, in terms of nuptial imagery, the salvation and joy that would result from the messianic intervention of the consecrated one. The bride Jerusalem celebrates the fulfillment of love between herself and Yahweh, and this fruitful love is expressed poetically as the earth bringing forth its plants and a garden with its fresh growth.

St. Paul's 1st Letter to the Thessalonians from which today's Second Reading is taken, is the earliest letter St. Paul wrote and possibly, the oldest extant Christian manuscript. This letter is important for it gives us a glimpse into the life of the early Christian community, struggling to live out its faith in a harsh atmosphere of hostility and persecution and wrestling with issues concerning the future coming of the Lord Jesus. Indeed, some Thessalonians expected the Lord's 'Second Coming' to occur in their lifetime and others are discouraged by its delay. In today's passage, St. Paul urges the early Thessalonian Christians to embrace a way of life oriented to God in joy, prayer and thanksgiving. Also he exhorts them not to quench the Spirit. In this way they will be preserved blameless in spirit, soul, and body for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. For many, Christ came quickly as their faith led them to martyrdom. But they never lost their joyful spirit. So, strengthened by the belief that God is faithful, let us live the Advent Season not in passive expectation, but in a celebration of life in openness to the workings of the Spirit that is filled with enduring joy, unceasing prayer and constant thanksgiving.

The Gospel Reading of today continues to talk to us about John the Baptist, as it did last Sunday. It is taken from the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John. The poetic Prologue is interrupted by the insertion of the reference to John the Baptist. It says that a man named John suddenly appeared among the Jews. He was sent by God to announce the arrival of the Messiah that the people had been awaiting for various centuries. The gospel passage in fact wants to show the close relationship between Jesus and John but it does not give John the title 'the Baptizer'. It is within the context of light and darkness that the reference to John is made. However, his purpose was clearly limited to one function, namely, to testify to the light. He told his audience that he is not the light, but the one who bears witness to the light which enlightens consciences by means of faith and radiates joy.
Many wondered if John the Baptist was the awaited Messiah. The Gospel of today explains the role of John the Baptist with the faith perspective of the Jews, perhaps to overcome some misunderstandings that existed among them. He has two different groups, the priests and the Levites on the one hand and the Pharisees on the other questioning about his authenticity. It is clear that the religious leaders in Jerusalem were puzzled as to John's role and identity. This gives John the opportunity to clarify him and to flatly deny any claims of being the Christ. He tells them that he is not Elijah who had been taken up into heaven and was expected to return to prepare the way of the Lord. Nor is he a prophet like Moses, expectations of whose return was discussed in some circles. This is equal to denying any possible Messianic connection of any kind. Drawing a slightly modified version of Prophet Isaiah chapter 40, John defines his role as “the voice of the one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.”
The gospel passage ends with the declaration of John the Baptist, “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.” John admits that he is not the Christ, yet he also insists on the reality and importance of the role he plays in God's plan as the precursor. He tells them that he was called upon to baptize with water and present as one who prepares the way of the Lord. He points to the one in their midst whom they do not recognize and in honesty, humility and faithfulness declares his total unworthiness before him - not even worthy to untie his sandal straps. John's answer is startling, unique and beautiful. It is a powerful message to the Jews of his time who were anxiously waiting for the coming of the Messiah. We rejoice because God is among us. God-in-Jesus has come among us two thousand years ago. We celebrate his coming every Christmas day. God continues to be among us today in many ways, perhaps as John says, in ways we do not know. Jesus is present today and he is most visible in the Holy Eucharist and in the faces of the poor.

Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice! The Lord is near.” The Scripture Readings of today remind us that true joy and happiness is to be found only in God. Yes, indeed, Advent is a time of joyful anticipation and a time of preparation. It is a time to joyfully look forward to the coming of Christmas, to the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ into our lives and to prepare ourselves to receive the great gift that he offers us - the gift of the 'robe of salvation' that heals our poverty of spirit, our broken hearts, and our bondage to sinfulness.
Today's Gospel Reading presents to us John the Baptist as our model, whose life, despite his sacrifices and hardships was full of joy that is if we define joy as a state of bliss over having or expecting something or someone that we love. So, during this season of Advent we see John's role that is very similar to ours. On the one hand, we come after Jesus and are the beneficiaries of his being among us, sharers in the life he has brought. On the other hand, it is our role to go before him, clearing the way so that he may come into the lives of other people. This is our apostolic, our evangelizing responsibility. The mission of a good Christian is to be a prophet and announce the Gospel with the same valor, resolution, and integrity that John the Baptist had. We need many more Christians like him: fearless in their faith and humble in their ministry, who know how to stand up for what is right while standing in the shadows and allowing God to be the one who shines forth.
Let us then make our preparation of Christmas a joyful waiting for the Lord who is coming to us, who has already come and is certain to come again. The joy of Jesus, the joy of Christmas can only be ours to the extent that we work with Jesus to bring that joy into the lives of others too. The place where Jesus is waiting to meet us is particularly in the Eucharist which is a celebration of joy. We also discover him in the person of the poor, and of those long suffering physical or moral imprisonment – even prisons of their own making. If we bring them joy this Christmas, we ourselves will find that joy for ourselves. And this is the Good News of today.