Sunday, December 28, 2014

The How and The Why


Feast of the Holy Family

Picture: cc Jeremy Jenum

Sisters and brothers, the story is told of a man who enjoyed his wife’s cooking so much that he decided to ask her to teach him how to cook his favourite dish. Her delicious pot roast. The recipe was simple enough to learn. But, as he was learning it, he discovered a rather curious thing. He noticed that his wife always cut off both ends of the meat before putting it into the oven. When he asked her the reason why, she simply said that that was the way her mother taught her to do it. Not satisfied with her answer, the man decided to phone his mother-in-law to ask her. But her answer was the same. That was the way my mother taught me to do it. Thankfully, the wife’s grandmother was still alive. So the man went to ask her. When she heard the question, the grandmother laughed. We only had one roasting pan at the time, she said. And it was too small to fit the whole piece of meat. So I cut off both ends. That’s the only reason why…

One lesson I think we can learn from this story, sisters and brothers, is that sometimes knowing why we do something is at least as important as knowing how to do it. The why can motivate us. Energise us. It can even free us to make changes to the how, if necessary. To improve it. Without, of course, changing the quality of the outcome. The goodness of the pot roast.

I mention this because I think this lesson about the importance of the question why can help us to enter more deeply into the feast we are celebrating today. The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Today, as our opening prayer reminds us, not only are we celebrating the holiness of Jesus’ immediate earthly family, we are also asking God for the grace to imitate them. To learn and to follow their recipe for holiness. And our readings help us to do this by telling us how.

The recipe is actually simple enough. Simple enough to understand. If not to put into practice. It has to do with how we treat one another. So, in the first reading, children are encouraged to treat their parents with respect and honour. Even, and especially, when parents may have grown frail with age. Even if a father’s mind should fail, a son should continue to support him. Should not despise him. And, the second reading goes on to remind wives to give way to your husbands. Husbands to love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children to obey your parents. And parents to never drive your children to resentment. The reading even broadens this recipe for holiness to include not just immediate family, but also the whole Christian community. Which includes, of course, our own parish family. You are God’s chosen race, his saints…. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins…

Sisters and brothers, all of this is should actually come as no surprise to us. We all know what we have to do to imitate the Holy Family. We all know the recipe. The problem is that we often find it too difficult to follow. Too difficult to find the necessary motivation, the needed strength, to put it into practice. Which is why it is helpful to see that the question how is not the only question that our readings help us to answer. Just as important, our readings also invite us to consider the question why. Why should we imitate the Holy Family? Why should we treat one another with love and respect? With gentleness and compassion? If it’s really so difficult, why even bother?

The responsorial psalm answers this question quite simply. O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways! If we treat one another well, as God wants us to, then we will enjoy God’s blessing. And the first reading describes this blessing in terms of specific earthly benefits. For example, whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own.

The second reading, however, helps to broaden our understanding of God’s blessing. Why should we continue to try to treat one another lovingly? Even when it may be difficult? The answer is simply that when we do this, the peace of Christ will reign in our hearts. And the message of Christ, in all its richness, will find a home in us. This is the reason why we are called to holiness. Why we are called to love. And what an awesome reason it is. When we strive for holiness, by loving one another, we actually make a space for God. A place where God can be at home. In our hearts. In our lives. And in our world.

Isn’t this also the whole reason for the Holy Family’s existence? Isn’t this why it is so fitting that we should be celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family within the octave of Christmas? The holiness of the Holy Family has a very particular purpose. It enables God to make a home among us. Isn’t this what we find happening in the gospel? The reading begins with the Holy Family paying a visit to the Temple in Jerusalem. Which was where the Jews believed that God lived on earth. It was God’s home among God’s people. And when the baby Jesus is brought to the Temple, he immediately finds himself at home there. For in the Temple the baby is quickly recognised for who he really is. And what is home if not the place where we are recognised for who we really are? First Simeon, and then Anna, recognise Jesus as the Christ of the Lord. The fulfilment of God’s promise of salvation. In the helpless baby, the holy man and the holy woman recognise the powerful arm of God. Stretching out to save God’s people.

But that’s not all. We’re told that, after Jesus is consecrated in the Temple in Jerusalem, his parents bring him back to Nazareth in Galilee. And there, the Son of God finds yet another home. For we are told that, in Nazareth, under the watchful care of Mary and Joseph, Jesus grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him. Through the efforts of his holy mother, and his holy father, the little child grows into the holy person he is meant to become. A blessing to the whole world. Reconciling the whole of Creation with its Creator.

Here, sisters and brothers, we find the reason why the Holy Family is called to holiness. It is so that God will be able to bless them by making a home among them. And, through them, to bless the world. And isn’t this also why we too are all called to be holy? To love one another? Not just our immediate family members, but also our extended family? The family of the Church? Even the whole human family? We imitate the Holy Family, so that God will continue to find and to make a home in us. So that Christ will continue to grow to maturity in our midst. So that God’s presence will be seen and felt among us. A presence that brings justice and peace. Reconciliation and healing. Courage and joy. Not just to us. But also, through us, to the rest of the waiting world.

Sisters and brothers, someone once said that he who has a why to live for, can bear almost any how. On this Feast of the Holy Family, our readings give us both the how and the why. Both a recipe for holiness and a reason for putting it into practice. What will we do to follow this recipe more closely today?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Starting At The Very Beginning


Wedding of Eugene & Lynette

Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 32:12, 18, 20-22. R.v.5; John 15:9-12

Eugene and Lynette, my dear friends, I’m not sure if any of you still remember that old musical film from the nineteen sixties entitled The Sound of Music. If you do, perhaps you’ll also remember one of the songs from the film. The song is called Do-Re-Mi. And this is how it begins: Let’s start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start. When you read you beginning with A-B-C. When you sing you begin with Do-Re-Mi…

Let’s start at the very beginning… I’m not sure, my dear friends. But I’d like to think that you, Eugene and Lynette, perhaps had these words in mind when you chose the scripture readings for our celebration today. As you know, a wedding marks the beginning of a couple’s married life together. And married life is built on love. But how do we learn to love? Where do we start? Well, from your selection of readings, it seems quite clear that you have chosen to start at the very beginning.

For the first reading you have chosen is a passage from the book of Genesis. Which, as some of us may know, is the book that begins the whole Bible. It is also the book that talks about the beginning of the whole universe. The whole of Creation. And the passage that you have chosen speaks in particular of the beginning of love between man and woman. When you read you begin with A-B-C. When you sing you begin with Do-Re-Mi. But what about love? How does love begin? What are the A-B-Cs and the Do-Re-Mis of true love?

The first reading tells us three things about the beginnings of love. The first is that love is not something we can acquire by our own efforts. It is not something that we can manufacture, or buy, or even steal, for ourselves. In the reading, the man is at first all alone. And he can do nothing to change that. He cannot produce love for himself. God has to intervene. It is not good that the man should be alone, God says. I will make him a helpmate. A companion. And so, God creates a woman. Who, unlike all the other animals, is equal to the man. So that she can be a true partner to him. And he a partner to her. Only in this way can the man and the woman enjoy a loving relationship with each other. And this is the first thing we learn about the beginnings of love. We cannot make or buy love for ourselves. Love is a gift from God. A gift freely given and freely received.

But notice also how this gift comes about. Notice how the man is first made to fall into a deep sleep. What is this sleep? It is the silencing of that part of us that tends to get in the way of love. The part that cares only about my own comfort, for example. The part that always wants things to go my own way. The part that refuses to compromise with others. Refuses even to consider the possibility that there may be another way of looking at things and at people. In other words, my dear friends, for true love to be born, the ego has to be silenced. Put to sleep.

But that’s not all. After the man is put to sleep, something else happens. A rib is taken from him and given to the woman. What this tells us is that love begins through a special form of giving. The man gives away not just an object that he has, but a part of his very self. His own rib. This is how love begins. It begins with the donation of self. It begins with self-sacrifice.

These, then, my dear friends, are the A-B-Cs and the Do-Re-Mis of love. This is what you, Eugene and Lynette, have chosen to remind us about. First, that love is received as a gift from God. Second, that love requires the silencing of the ego. And, third, that love is born of self-donation.

All this is, of course, much easier said than done. Those of us here who have already been married for some time will probably be able to testify that it’s not always easy to remember these A-B-Cs. Much less to live them out. Perhaps it’s a bit easier in the first few months of the honeymoon period. When the initial excitement and euphoria of the wedding are still strong. But not so easy when all of that subsides. And the normal stresses and strains of daily life come knocking on our door. When the demands of work increase, for example. Or when a baby arrives. Or when all those characteristics in our partner that we used to consider so adorable, suddenly begin to seem more than a little irritating. When all this happens, how are we to remain in touch with the beginnings of love? How to remember to look to God, the Giver of Love? To silence our ego? And to continue giving of ourselves to the other? The answer, my dear friends, is found in the gospel reading that you, Eugene and Lynette, have chosen.

Here we find the Lord Jesus telling us the secret to remaining in touch with the beginnings of love. As the Father has loved me, he tells us, so I have loved you. Remain in my love. What does it mean to remain in his love? It is first to remember how Jesus first loved us. How his life is a testimony to the A-B-Cs of love. How, by coming among us as a human person, he let himself become God’s Gift of love to us. How he allowed his own ego to be silenced. Especially in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he could have chosen to run away. But, instead, he willingly sacrificed himself on the Cross. So that we might be saved.

It is by constantly remembering and living out of this love that the Lord Jesus has for us all, that we in our turn find the strength and the courage to love one another. Even and especially when the going gets tough. And this is true not just for you, Eugene and Lynette. It is true also for the rest of us, who are gathered here to express our commitment to supporting you in your marriage. Especially those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ. We too are called to remain in touch with the A-B-Cs and Do-Re-Mis of love. By continuing to develop and to nurture our own relationship with Christ. By receiving love as a gift. By silencing our egos. By giving of ourselves to one another. And we are happy to do this. Happy to make this commitment. Because we believe what Jesus tells us in the gospel. That when we remain in his love for us by loving one another, his own joy will be in us, and our joy will be complete.

My dear friends, Eugene and Lynette, when you read you begin with A-B-C. When you sing you begin with Do-Re-Mi. What must we do to keep starting from the very beginning of love today?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Put A Ring On It


Solemnity Of The Nativity Of The Lord
(Mass During The Day)

Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 97:1-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18

I need no permission. Did I mention?
Don't pay him any attention.
‘Cos you had your turn. And now you’re gonna learn.
What it really feels like to miss me.
‘Cos if you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it.
If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it...


Sisters and brothers, I think at least some of you are familiar with these words. They come from a song, by Beyoncé, entitled Single Ladies. The song, as you may recall, is sung by a recently single lady. A woman who has just broken up with her boyfriend. And she broke up with him because, even though they had been together for three years, he still hadn’t proposed to her. Hadn’t put a ring on her finger. Perhaps he had shown her a good time. Bought her expensive gifts. Even whispered sweet nothings in her ear. But, after three years, all of that just wasn’t enough. ‘Cos, if you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it. If he really loved her, he should have proposed to her by now.

The song can perhaps be summarised in three words: Talk is cheap. Talk is cheap, if it’s not translated into appropriate action. Into visible effects. Words of love should eventually lead to a marriage proposal. A ring on the finger. A visible expression of the lover’s commitment to spending his whole life with the beloved. Otherwise they’re just mere words. Empty talk. Hollow sounds that can be heard. But the effects of which cannot be seen. And talk like that doesn’t have much value. Empty talk is cheap. If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it…

I mention this song not because I want to scandalise you. But  because I think it provides a helpful contrast to what we are celebrating today. Christmas is the exact opposite of empty talk. In direct contrast to worthless words, what we celebrate today is a Word-Beyond-Price. A Word of great Power and Beauty. A Word that has visible effects in our lives and in our world. A Word that can not only be heard. But also seen and felt.

In the first reading, for seventy long years, the people of Judah have been suffering in exile in Babylon. And now, God finally speaks to them a reassuring Word. A promise of salvation. And, unlike many of our human words, God’s Word is not empty but full. God’s Word is grounded in a serious commitment on the part of God. Commitment to the people’s well-being. Commitment that is expressed in effective action. Not only is the Lord consoling his people. The Lord is actually already redeeming them. Setting them free from exile. Returning them to their own land. The Lord bares his holy arm in the sight of the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Unlike empty talk, which only rings in our ears, God’s Word has effects that can be seen with our eyes. It is a Word-of-Great-Beauty. A Word-Beyond-Price.

But that’s still not quite the full extent of what we celebrate at Christmas. For what is seen in the first reading are only the effects of God’s Word spoken through the prophets. Through human messengers. At Christmas, something even more wonderful happens. Not just the effects. But God’s Word Himself becomes visible. Speaking to us no longer only through the borrowed voices of human messengers. But in His own Voice. As the second reading reminds us, at various times in the past... God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time... he has spoken to us through his Son.

And the gospel tells us just how this remarkable communication comes about. The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory. This is what Christmas is about. This is what we celebrate. The Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, becomes a human being. Takes on human flesh. So as to speak to us, in a human voice that is His very own. To bear with us the burdens and temptations of human existence, in a body that is his very own. To lay down, and then to take up again, a human life that is his very own. And all of this to prove to us just how committed God is to us. How much in love God is with us. How willing God is to pay any price, to bear any sacrifice, for us.

Sisters and brothers, this is the wondrous Mystery we are celebrating today. The Mystery of a God who is not satisfied with just whispering sweet nothings in our ears. Or simply showing us a good time. Today, we celebrate a God who does what that boyfriend in Beyoncé’s song was unwilling to do. In the coming of Christ at Christmas, God makes an unbreakable commitment to us. God offers us an irrevocable proposal of marriage. God gives to us a ring to be placed on our finger. A visible sign of a Love-Beyond-All-Telling. Spoken in a Word-of-Great-Beauty. A Word-That-Was-Made-Flesh. A Word-Beyond-Price.

And what a joy this is for us. This commitment of God. For us who live in a society that enjoys such a great abundance of options. But that so often finds itself unable to choose among them. Unwilling to commit to any one of them. For to say yes to one, is also often to so no to the others. Something that many of us can’t quite bring ourselves to do. Are afraid to do. And, even when we do manage to commit, we frequently find ourselves unable to live out the implications of that commitment. Isn’t this why so many marriages break down? And within a few years of the wedding.

And yet, even though we may seem so allergic to commitment, there remains a part of us that can’t live without it. In a society that often seems to know nothing else than empty talk, there remains a place deep within our hearts where we still yearn to hear and to see the Word-Beyond-Price. To experience God committing Himself to us in an irrevocable proposal of marriage.

But let us be honest, sisters and brothers. A marriage proposal is still only a proposal. For a marriage to result, something else is needed. The proposal must be accepted. Accepted not just with empty talk. But with true commitment. Commitment made visible in lives that are lived the way John the Baptist lived his life. As a witness to speak for the light, so that everyone might believe through him. This, too, my dear friends, is what we celebrate at Christmas. Not just God’s commitment to us. But also our acceptance of that commitment. And our making of a return-commitment to God. In our Baptism. In our Confirmation. In the Eucharist. In our daily lives...

Sisters and brothers, empty talk is cheap. If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it. In the coming of Christ at Christmas, our Divine Boyfriend has already placed a ring on our finger. Has already committed Himself to us in a Word that cannot be taken back. A Word-of-Great-Beauty. A Word-Made-Flesh. A Word-Beyond-Price. How shall we respond? What kind of word shall we speak? What commitment shall we make? How might we place a ring on the Lord’s finger today?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Proof of the Pudding


4th Sunday in Advent (B)

Picture: cc Nickster 2000

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Sisters and brothers, I’m sure you’re familiar with this old English saying. You know what it means. It refers to how the true value of something is judged, not so much by looking at it, but by experiencing it. By putting it to use. So a house, for example, may look very elegant and impressive on the outside. But you still wouldn’t consider it a good house, if things start to fall apart soon after you move in. If the floor tiles start popping up, for example. Or the water pipes start leaking. Or the paint begins to peel. In that case, you could probably use another saying to describe the house. A Chinese one this time. You could say that the house was ho kua bo ho jiak (好看不好吃). Nice to look at, but not good to eat.

And it is, of course, wise to recall these proverbs not just after you’ve moved into the house. That would be too late. Better to be mindful of them while the house is still being built. So that you’ll take care to ensure that the house is properly constructed. Built to be lived in. And not just to be looked at. So that you’ll remember to make certain that, in constructing your house, the contractor uses durable materials. And good workmanship.

But why talk about building houses in Advent? As you know, Advent is a time for making space for the God-Who-Comes. In a sense, in Advent, we make an effort to build a spiritual house for the Christ-child. So that there will be a place fit for him to live in–in our hearts and in our homes, in our church and in our world–when he comes to us at Christmas. But what kind of building must we do to ensure that Jesus finds a fitting welcome? A house that’s not just nice to look at. But also good to eat. Fit for the Lord to live in. This is the crucial question that our Mass readings help us to answer, on this 4th and final Sunday of Advent.

The first reading presents us with a rather curious situation. King David wants to build a House, a Temple, for God. But God refuses to let him do so. Why? Why not let David go ahead with his plans? I’m not sure, sisters and brothers. But perhaps it has something to do with how God wants God’s House to be built. At this point in the story, King David has just succeeded in defeating all his enemies. After a string of victorious battles, the Lord has finally given him rest. But David doesn’t seem to want to rest. He prefers to quickly get busy again. To undertake a huge building project to add to the list of his achievements on the battle-field.

God, however, seems mindful of the dangers that come with this kind of building. Building on one’s own achievements. Building from a interior place of busyness and restlessness. Very likely God knows that this kind of building too easily leads to the inflation of one’s own ego. We end up building a house not for God but for ourselves. A house that might be nice to look at, but not good to eat. So God stops David. And, instead, reminds the king that all the achievements he has accumulated so far, have been attained only through the help of God. They are blessings. So that, rather than presume to build a House for God, David should first take time to rest in, and to be grateful for, the house that God is building for him. And his people.

In this way, God teaches David (and the rest of us) the proper way to build a House for God. A space fit for God to live in. And not just nice to look at. Such a holy place must be built not on one’s own achievements. But on the blessings received from God. Not from an anxious need to remain constantly busy. But from a place of tranquility and rest. Rest that God alone can provide. Rest in the delight that our loving God takes in each and all of us. Without our having, or being able, to do anything to earn it. This is how we build for the sake of God. And not just to feed our own hungry egos. It is only in this way that we can do what the second reading encourages us to do. To give glory to him through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen.

But, even if all this theory is true, how does it translate into practice? What does it look like when someone finds the courage to build in this way. To build on blessings rather than achievements. To build from a place of rest rather than anxiety. To build to glorify God rather than to feed one’s own ego. The answer is found in the gospel. Here, it is Mary who shows us how to build a House fit for God. It is Mary who demonstrates to us how to make a space for God to enter into our hearts, into our lives, and into our world.

Notice how the building is done only at God’s initiative. Only on the foundation of God’s blessing. That is why the angel calls Mary highly favoured. Full of grace. Her part is only to obey. To yield to God’s call. To accept God’s gift. Which, in itself, is not an easy thing to do. For, to do this, Mary has to adjust the plans that have already been made for her and Joseph, her betrothed. She has to consent to being the mother of a child whose father is not her husband. A very dangerous prospect at the time. It is no wonder then, that Mary is, at first, deeply disturbed.

And yet, she courageously brings her unrest before the Lord. She bravely questions the angel. Who tells her what she needs to hear, in order for her to once again find rest. So that, by the end of their conversation, Mary is able to give to the angel her generous consent. To say yes to making a space for God in her heart and in her womb. And, in the process, God finds a home on earth. A Temple made not of stone, but of human flesh. Built not on human achievements, but on divine grace. Constructed not to feed egos, but to glorify God.

All of which should help us to reflect on our own ongoing efforts at preparing for Christ’s coming at Christmas. Very likely, we are buying gifts and organising parties. We have put up cribs and decorated Christmas trees. We have gathered with others to share our prayers and to confess our sins. All these activities are good and necessary. Important ways by which we prepare to welcome the Lord. And yet, it also remains crucial for us to remember the lesson that our Mass readings are teaching us today. That all these efforts of ours at building a spiritual house for God will only bear good fruit to the extent that we are truly building for God and not just for ourselves. Truly building on our blessings and not just on our achievements. Truly building from an interior place of rest and not restlessness. And to do this means that, more than frantic activity, what we need is patient courage. Courage that Mary had. Courage to count our blessings. To rest in God’s love. And to give praise and glory to the Lord of our Salvation.

Sisters and brothers, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. How good is your pudding today?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Naked Unto Joy


3rd Sunday in Advent (B)

Picture: asiaone

Sisters and brothers, if the news reports are to be believed, there were at least 100 very happy people on Orchard Road last Thursday morning. Perhaps some of you know what I’m talking about. You know the reason for the joy. You know that, on Thursday morning, a certain clothing store on Orchard Road launched its annual winter promotion by offering free clothes to its first 100 shoppers. Of course, that in itself is no big deal. After all, distributing freebies is a common sales gimmick. What made the event stand out was the fact that, in order to get the free clothes, the first 100 customers had to show up at the store half-naked! That’s right. It was a Semi-Naked Sale. Come in swimwear, and we’ve got you covered. That was the slogan.

And what do you think was the response? Well, pretty good, apparently. The first two people in line started queueing from as early as 11pm the night before! And, by 8am on Thursday morning, there were already close to 70 people outside the store. All eagerly waiting to experience the joy of being clothed for free. So eager that they were willing to shed their dignity. To strip off their garments. To bare their bodies. If only partially.

Sisters and brothers, before you rush off to report me to the Archbishop, please let me assure you that I am in no way expressing support for or approval of this Semi-Naked Sales Promotion. Much less am I suggesting that we do the same here in church. I mention this only because, strange as it may sound, I think it bears more than a passing resemblance to what we find in our readings on this 3rd Sunday of Advent.

As you know, traditionally, the 3rd Sunday of Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday. From the Latin word that means rejoice! And indeed our readings today are full of joy. Filled with encouragement to rejoice. It’s as though our liturgy were carrying out a winter promotion of its own. A pre-Christmas campaign of joy. And, like that sales event on Orchard Road, the first reading describes this joy in terms of someone getting clothes for free. I exult for joy in the Lord, the prophet exclaims. My soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity...

But what does this mean for us? What are these garments of salvation? What is this cloak of integrity? And how does this person come to be clothed? The first reading compares these clothes to the finery worn by a bride and her groom. Except that, as we all know, it’s not really the clothes and accessories themselves that bring joy at a wedding. These things symbolise something much deeper. At a wedding, the bride and groom dress themselves up not just in specially tailored fabrics. And finely crafted jewellery. When they get married, the couple are actually clothing themselves in one another. In the love that they have for each other. This is the deeper reason for their joy.

Similarly, the joy that the prophet speaks about in the first reading does not come from being clothed in any ordinary outfit. Not even something made by the most famous of fashion designers. What the prophet rejoices in, the thing that he is being clothed with, is nothing less than God Himself. The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me… This is the cause of joy. Not just being clothed in garments of gold. But being anointed by the Spirit of God. Being wrapped in the power and presence of God.


And this is also the reason why, in the second reading, St. Paul wants the Thessalonians to be happy at all times. Not so much because all their problems have been solved. Or because they have nothing anymore to be sad about. But because, in Baptism, they have all been clothed in Christ Jesus. Wrapped in the Spirit. Who keeps them safe and blameless. Even in the midst of their struggles. Helping them to remain faithful to God. Even as they continue to do what we ourselves are doing in this beautiful Season of Advent. Await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But that’s not all. Joy and clothing are not the only things that our liturgy has in common with that sales event on Orchard Road Thursday morning. There is something else. The joy that God provides in our readings is offered to a particular group of people. In the first reading, the prophet is sent to comfort a people in Exile. To bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken. In the responsorial psalm, the Blessed Virgin Mary sings of how God looks on his servant in her nothingness. How he fills the starving with good things. And sends the rich away empty. The people that God chooses to clothe in garments of joy are people who are in need. People who are, in a sense, naked. And not just naked. But unable to clothe themselves. And not just unable to clothe themselves. But ready and willing to acknowledge and to accept their inability. To embrace their vulnerability. To own up to their weakness. To their need for God.

This too is what we find in John the Baptist. In the gospel, the Baptist has no illusions about who he is and what he can and cannot do. He accepts that he is not the light. Only a witness to speak for the light. He freely admits that he is not the Christ. Not the Saviour of the world. Indeed he considers himself unfit even to undo the sandal-strap of the One who is coming after him.

What we find in John the Baptist, sisters and brothers, is a refreshing humility. A paradoxical modesty. That is unafraid to stand naked before God. And it is precisely into the hearts and lives of people such as this that Christ the Lord chooses to come. People willing to be stripped of all the things that others may use to cover up their human weakness. People willing to come before God in their nakedness. It is precisely such people that God chooses to clothe in garments of joy.

All of which should prompt us to reflect upon ourselves. We who continue to prepare ourselves to welcome the Lord when he comes at Christmas. We who make it a habit to buy and to wear  new clothes in the festive season. Which, in itself, is not a bad thing. As long as we do not forget that what’s more important is to allow ourselves to be anointed, enwrapped, by the Spirit of God. To be clothed in the precious Body and Blood of Christ. And this is something that we cannot do for ourselves. It is a gift from God. Freely given to those of us who are willing to lay bare those areas in our lives that we prefer to keep under wraps. Areas where we are weak and vulnerable. Helpless and needy. Places where our consciences may have been pricked. Our egos deflated. Our hearts broken and torn...

Sisters and brothers, there seems to be no shortage of people willing to bare their bodies before others. Just to receive clothes that will last for a few years. How willing are we to bare our souls before God. So as to receive garments that will endure for all eternity? On this 3rd Sunday in Advent, how ready are you to stand naked before God today?
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