2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR A) Is 11:1-10/Ps 71/Rm 15:4-9/Mt 3: 1-12
My Dear Friends in Christ,
During the Advent season, we read a lot about John the Baptist. John had a very special role as forerunner to Jesus, the one who went ahead to prepare the way, to prepare the people for the coming of Christ. Indeed, he applied himself whole heartedly to this task, and God blessed his efforts with outstanding results, like the in today’s gospel when we see even Pharisees and Sadducees flocking to him for baptism. But John had harsh words for them, and this is interesting to reflect upon.
John told them “Brood of Vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant. produce the appropriate fruit…” While some may think John should have congratulated himself that his efforts had prompted these leaders of Judaism to approach the waters of baptism, he had other ideas. Could it be that he saw through the external appearance of these persons at the Jordan, and saw not a genuine spirit of repentance, but an attempt to align themselves with the latest spiritual fashion? Perhaps this explains his refusal to give them any benefit of the doubt, practically telling them that beyond the external sign of baptism, there is the need for the internal conversion, that results in the appropriate fruits of repentance, the indices of a true metanoia, a transformative change of heart.
There is a lesson for us here, especially in this season of Advent and its stress on a spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ. The spiritual preparation cannot be complete without a practical dimension to it, in the form of resolutions we take to become better in the sight of God. It is not enough to be counted among the number of persons participating in the exercises of the Advent season. We have to go further to take radical decisions that will transform us and change the way we act, speak and think.
John helps those who approached him to do this. To do who asked him “what must we do?”, He prescribed concrete steps that they are to take, beyond receiving the baptism of repentance itself. And it is the same with you and me. What must we do? The answer is not far from you.
When you are in the quiet room that is your heart, and you remember things you did that fill you with shame; acts you carried out in the privacy of your abode that you are glad people are not aware of (forgetting God is there with you in that place); figures you changed in the office for your monetary benefit; untruths, half truths and blatant lies you told; persons you have/are caluminized/caluminizing; persons you are unwilling to forgive; apologies you are not ready to make; things you have taken that do not belong to you; sexual improprieties that are contrary to your state of life; and so on…. Those are the things we all must change.
3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR A) Is 35:1-6, 10/Ps 145/Jm 5: 7-10/Mt 11: 2-11
My Dear Friends in Christ,
I cannot remember seeing a Rose vestment being put on by the priest in Nigeria on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, as is the liturgical prescription. Perhaps I have forgotten, but it is quite rare to see this being worn, such that one should not easily forget, and invariably (especially if he has Altar servers as inquisitive as most of us have) the priest will face a deluge of questions as to the meaning of such vestments.
In answering such questions, the priest will have to tell his questioner that the 3rd Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday (Rejoice! Sunday). This is taken from the Entrance Antiphon for today’s mass, which states “Rejoice in the Lord always”. The reason for our joy is clear, namely that the Lord is coming. But the choice of this celebratory mood in the middle of the Advent season is indicative.
In the past, Advent had a very severe and sombre character. Indeed, Advent was like another Lenten Season, and it boasted almost all of the rigour that we now usually now associate with Lent. There was the need to have a break within the season, where Christians could celebrate the fact that they were preparing for Christmas, the joyful occasion of the birth of our Redeemer. Gaudete Sunday was that break, and we are all the better for this rhythm to season.
It is important to understand and appreciate the value of rhythm in our lives. Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 devotes itself to teaching us about this, that there is a time for everything. As one of our elderly priests in Uromi diocese is fond of saying, it is a wise man, who knows how to do the right thing at the right time, and in the right manner.
If we do not appreciate the importance of rhythm in our lives, we can get our priorities wrong, and vitiate our personal and corporate development. For example, there is a time to be in the office, and you cannot be in the prophet’s church at that time. There is a time to work hard in the farm, and that time is not to be spent pursuing motorcyclists to get twenty naira from them in the name of dues. There is a time when the student has to study for his/her future, and that time cannot be used to join secret cults. There is a time for a father to be close to the children and sent quality time with them, and this time is not to be spent in the beer parlour. There is a time for a woman to build up her home, rather than peddle gossip from one part of town to the other. There is a time to seek gainful employment or learn new skills, and young people are not to spend this time surfing the internet, looking for who to defraud.
Everything has its own time, and that is the rhythm of life. God our loving Father has made it so, and it behooves us to learn to respect this rhythm, and to make the best use of the time for each activity. May God help us do this better, Amen.
4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR A) Is 7:10-14/Ps 23/Rm 1: 1-7/Mt 1: 18-24
My Dear Friends in Christ,
Advent season is almost over, and we find ourselves in the last week of this season. I once likened this last week of Advent to the exam hall scenario, when the Invigilator announces “You have 10 more minutes!”. For those of us who have experienced this before, these last ten minutes tend to be activity filled. Those yet to finish are scrambling to finish. Those who have finished are revising their work. Those who owing to their unpreparedness, would not finish even if there were 10 hours to go, are perfecting their excuses. It would be all hurly burly.
Indeed, this last week of Advent finds us in the last week before Christmas, with a lot of activities, travelling, shopping (as much as is possible in a recession). And in this hurry, we can sometimes over look or de-emphasize the spiritual side of this moment we find ourselves. That will be unfortunate, as it can rob us of the blessings that should go with faithful observance of this season.
Today’s liturgy underlines God’s faithfulness to those who strive to do God’s will. Ahaz was not steadfast in doing God’s will, and in the face of his challenges as King, was seeking alliances with other nations rather than trusting God. God still gave a sign, for the benefit of the faithful remnant in Ahaz’s kingdom that were not as faithless as their king. In the gospel, we read about the story of the birth of Jesus, focusing on the events after Mary’s conception. We see how God clarified Joseph’s confusion and protected Mary from the embarrassment of an informal divorce, owing to no fault of hers, and in acknowledgement of her own steadfastness.
God never forsakes those who are steadfast, and who do their utmost in doing God’s will. God will not forsake us and the efforts we have put into this Advent season. This is why God will bless the fruits of our repentance in this season. But how many of us took this season seriously enough, to take clear steps towards making a difference in our spiritual lives?
If you took it serious , then this 4th Sunday of Advent will meet you ‘crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s. You are in a position to put finishing touches to your Advent preparations, and to wait to enjoy the reward God has set aside for those who are faithful. If you did not take it serious, then you have a week to go. Make that extra effort to live out the lessons you have listened to in the course of this advent season, and take the decisions that will take you to the next spiritual level.
My Dear Friends in Christ,
On Christmas Day, we find ourselves around the manger of the newborn Baby Jesus. We are filled with joy on different levels. On the horizontal level, we are filled with the emotions that surround the birth of any baby. We are struck by the Baby’s beauty, innocence, apparent fragility. We are happy that another person has come into the world, and we give thanks to God for this blessing.
On the vertical level, we go even deeper in our reasoning, because the Baby Jesus shows us how much love God has for us, as John’s gospel puts it, “For God so loved the World, that He gave His only begotten Son…” And as we gather around the Baby Jesus, we cannot but be struck at how peaceful it all appears. On that night many years ago, Joseph and Mary were far from the noise and hustle of the hotels, inns and city square, for the peace of the manger. Indeed, this image of peace is at the very heart of the Christmas story. Jesus is the prince of peace born to us, he is Heavenly Peace itself.
We need this peace to come dwell with us in a very real way. And we are eager to appropriate this peace, since we know that the baby Jesus means that God in among us (Emmanuel). For Jesus, the Son of God, is indeed ‘the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect icon of his nature’ (Heb 1:3). Jesus took on our human nature, and exalted us, giving us the privilege to share in the divine nature. If Jesus has done so much for us, then we can surely have hope that he will assist us to make his peace dwell in us, and to make us learn to appreciate the length and the breadth and the depth of God’s love for us.
So this is why we rejoice. This is why we celebrate. This is why the best way to spend this day, is to be filled with joy and laughter and merriment. Christmas Day should fill us with hope for a better future, a future where God will exercise His Dominion. Today, let us not think of all the things that are going wrong around us at the moment; recession, hatred, hunger, starvation, kidnapping, maiming and killing of innocent children and so on. Today is different, as it is a day of joy and celebration.
I pray that we will see reasons to celebrate this Christmas. “Today a Saviour is born to us, He is Christ the Lord”. Merry Christmas.
NEW YEAR DAY
My Dear Friends in Christ,
When we were younger, my group of friends and I had a preoccupation with not wanting to get into a New Year while indebted or with dirty clothes. So, if anyone of us owed you money, you could be sure that you would get it on December 31st. Moreover, it was commonplace to see most of us busy washing clothes during the same day. It is really a situation of when boys were boys.
We quickly outgrew these practices, but it has always been food for thought for me. The beginning of a New Year and the end of the old one presents us with an opportunity for personal betterment. If we are privileged to find ourselves at this threshold, then we have to make the best of it.
Drawing from what we used to do as boys, there are two ways we can benefit from this. Let’s see the payment of debts from the point of view of repairing our relationships with our brothers and sisters. Why do we want to go into a new year with historical grudges and age-old quarrels? Why can you not pick up your phone and call that person whom you have not spoken to for a long time, owing to a disagreement you had (even if you both exchanged strong words), and ask for forgiveness? Why not make yourself available to that person who has been trying to apologize to you, and you have staunchly refused to give him/her audience, because you have concluded that it was an unpardonable crime? Is there really anything that is unpardonable for a Christian?
As for the washing of clothes, let us see it as purification, spiritual purification. Why do we want to go into the New Year with conscious knowledge of sin? Not too long ago, we concluded the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, and in many places, the turnout for confessions was very positive. That is a spirit that we need to carry on with, not just to reserve it for period of pilgrimages or jubilees or the like. At the end of the Jubilee year, we need to have resolved to make use of the sacrament of reconciliation more frequently, at least, once a month.
Make use of the Xmas confessions that will be arranged in your parishes/stations (I guess you will read this before the middle of the month), and go for spiritual purification, such that we will make ourselves more prepared to benefit from the opportunity of the New year, to start afresh, both with God and with our fellow men and women. Do this first before any merriment, and you will be pleasantly surprised at how this will make you feel.