What makes the Year New? Look around; the things around you have not changed from what they were in the previous year. Think about it; we live in the same houses, driving the same cars, having the same family and friends; we could still have the same job and other things. So, nothing changed around us. Could the newness of the year be reduced to merely the change of our date and time? No!
The ideal New Year should be a profound personal transition, not just the change of time and date because those two are constantly changing. Most people enlist various things they would like to achieve at every beginning of the year, but they often end up just having a list of unaccomplished tasks.
The blessings of the New Year would not come from what you say you would do. They would not come from what you write in your notes. They would emerge from what you do. The characters you display, your attitudes, and habits would become the fruits of the new you. The New Year is just the new you; yes! The latest version of you.
Generating the “New You” in the “New Year!”
I have heard and seen people make declarations and resolutions at the beginning of each year, but they end up worse than they were in the previous years; why? The reason is not far-fetched. We do not start from within us. We are often preoccupied with what we want to achieve out there, especially to win people’s admiration, while neglecting our needed inner housekeeping. Let us look at some highpoints that go into the making of the “New You” in the New Year.
Keep the Useful Things
Not everything about the past year was bad. The experience of the covid-19 pandemic made most people resent the year 2020 completely. Some people feel that there was nothing good in the past year, while some prefer to say that the only good thing about the year 2020 was that it ended. That’s is false and irrational.
There are many good things an active mind would have learned from the past year. We had profound lessons from the virus. Did we not rediscover the power of home during the lockdown and the truth of the statement that there is no place like home? Did we not discover that the world needs God more than anything? What about our resilience and our revamped survival disposition? We emerged from 2020 stronger than ever. With that strength, we shall face the challenges of the coming years, and we shall win!
So, keep all the useful things you had in the previous year. Remember that it was not completely bad; at least you have your life as many people could not make it even a few hours to the new year.
Discard the Useless Old Things
If you are sincere, at least to yourself, you would agree that there are useless things that need to go in your life. They may be attitudes, habits, and even friends that keep you stagnated in a comfort zone. By the way, listen, “your comfort zone may not be your conquer zone.”
Take some time to examine yourself very well. Self-understanding is an important key to better living. How much of yourself do you know? If you can tell yourself the truth about yourself, you will understand that certain things you do are simply ruining your life while you have the illusion that you are happy. In life, do not force anything or anybody for favors; do your best and leave the rest to God!
Keep the old and unproductive things away from your life. In Isaiah’s prophecy (43:18), God advised us to forget past things and not consider them anymore. Do not bring your bad attitudes and habit into the “New You” in the New Year. In Matthew’s Gospel (9:17), Jesus advised against putting new wine into old wineskin as the skin would burst and the wine lost!
Discard those past hurts, forgive the past, let go, live, laugh, and love.
Start New Things
To start something new, one needs to disconnect from one’s present attachment to another reality. Let us take a clue from the story of Abraham. When God wanted to begin a new project with him, God asked him to disconnect from his father’s house and his homeland and head towards another land (Genesis 12:1-2). Abraham’s blessing could only come when he disconnects from his homeland. Joseph had to disconnect from his family to receive his blessings in Egypt, which benefited his family.
To start something new, you need to be purposeful and committed. There may not be a rising if you do not detach from something below. Please think of the airplane that flies; it must separate from the ground following aerodynamics’ principles, particularly the lift, weight, drag, and thrust elements. You can also be on a supersonic speed to make for a “New You” if you decide to disconnect from so many unnecessary things and people in your life.
To start something new, you need to change your mindset. A changed life is nothing short of a changed mindset. Okay, let us put it in another way, your life can only change when you change your mindset; “your mindset sets the miles of your life.” Albert Einstein defines insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result; that is a sick mindset right there.
To start something new, you need to work on some of the major defaults of human nature.
Laziness: It starts from the mind. Laziness happens when you give yourself excuses for not doing what you are supposed to do.
Procrastination: This is one of the consequences of laziness. You leave what you need to do now to a later time, and you may never do them.
Distraction: This is a growing problem in the world today. Many people are mentally sick because of social and conventional media distractions through their phones and television. The mobile phone is has become the god of distraction.
Comparison: In this journey called life, do not measure your success with what is going on in other people’s lives. Hold on to what makes you different. The Psalmist says: “you are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Wait for your due season; it would come if you do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
Life is never on the reverse. Do not expect things to go back to the way they used to be. Rise and embrace the new beginning. Please, take these final words seriously: “From now on, I will always prepare, I will pray constantly, and I will persist.”
God bless you and have an amazing New Year with a “New you.”
Once upon a time, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards decided to adopt a girl to be a company to their only daughter Marissa since they could not have another child. Though their daughter initially accepted the idea, when the girl, who is about their daughter’s age, showed up, something unexpected happened.
Marissa was no longer excited when she discovered that her soon-to-be sister had a different skin color from hers, and she was looking a little bit untidy. She despised her and was very unwilling to welcome her to stay in her room.
The efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Edwards to make Marissa accept Jane as a sister met severe opposition. One day, Marissa was so mad at Jane for using her musical instruments, and when the parents instructed that she should be kind to her sister, she yelled back, saying, “Jane is not my sister and would never be one!” Hearing that, Jane ran to a corner to cry.
Marissa was still yelling when her parents looked at each other and started crying at the same. She was confused to see them holding each other and crying. Her mom mustered the courage to say, “Marissa, we wanted to tell you this all the time.” “What?” Marissa said impatiently, “your dad and I had a hard time having a child,” Mrs. Edward started. “We visited so many doctors and specialists without success. They all concluded that we could not have a child. We desperately wanted to have a child of our own, and so we adopted you from an orphanage when you were just three weeks, and we loved you like nothing till date”.
Marissa was speechless. She could not believe that he was adopted, recalling how Mr. and Mrs. Edwards have loved and treated her like their biological child. Marissa burst into tears and ran to look for Jane. Seeing Jane, she hugged her, saying, “I am so sorry for discriminating against you. Now I know that we do not have to be related to be family. I love you, my sister. For your information, I was also adopted, I just realized that today”.
We could learn from the story that we do not need to be biologically related to be a family. Family in God’s design and plan is beyond human blood. There is a higher dimension of connection that brings people together to a unified bond. Family is not just a collective noun; it is a progressive action among individuals having a common purpose.
The Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the Prototype Family
Family is a divine gift that reflects God’s very nature, a family of three divine persons. God was thinking about family when He saw that it was not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). God was thinking about family when He said, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the whole earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).
When God decided to redeem humanity from the sin of the first human family, He came through the family of Joseph and Mary. Mary was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit and not through the biological contribution of Joseph, yet Joseph, who comes from the tribe of Judah and the lineage of David, becomes the Father of Jesus. Like in the opening story, we do not need to be related by blood to become family. The Holy Family teaches us that family goes beyond blood relationship.
Friendship: The best family is where people share friendship. Friendship is foundational for the sustenance of any relationship, including marriages. People who marry their friends fare better than those who just married a man or woman.
F.A.M.I.L.Y makes a Family
The family stands here as an acronym with great relevance and meaning that would potentially enrich our minds and transform our relationships.
God values friendship, and that was why he could call Abraham his friend (Isaiah 41:8). In John’s Gospel (15:15), Jesus called the disciples friends because he told them everything he heard from the Father. Here, we understand that friendship entails knowing and understanding each other very well. You can be friendly, but not friends with a stranger.
Acceptance: Family is where people should be accepted and not shamefully judged. All fingers are not equal, and we see this very clearly in the family. W should not reject people because of their weaknesses, but they should be encouraged just like we do when a child learns how to walk with all the rising and falling.
Thinks about how God still opens His hand of acceptance despite our failures and mistakes, as we can see in the divine invitation of Isaiah (1:18). Family cannot function well when there is no acceptance. George Orwell says that happiness can exist only in acceptance.
Mercy: Family is not always sweet; there are times when we feel hurt, offended, and trashed. How do you react to these? Fight back or begin a war? The worst part of family wars is that they often never end until mercy takes a seat.
Mercy is a step ahead of forgiveness. It means being able to let go of the past and give help for the future. We all are living on account of God’s mercy, and our Lord Jesus Christ encouraged us to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).
Interaction: The primary meaning of interaction is the exchange of action. In the family context, we think of gainful and positive communication that helps build and not destroy. Positive interaction would include helpful directions, encouragement, and constructive instructions, while negative interaction includes gossiping, blaming, shaming, and rash judgment. Positive interaction builds a family.
Love: Love is the heart of the family. Where true love exists, it is sacrificial, not transactional (John 15:13). One of the sins against love is loving because of what you would gain by loving or to love when it is convenient. Family cannot be effective without true love. Remember that love is not what you say; it is what you do.
Yield: To yield is to give another person a chance or an opportunity to do something or to have one’s way. St. Paul advised in the Letter to the Roman (12:10) that we yield to one another. Sometimes you need to yield to let peace reign. When you are wrong, apologize, but when you are right, keep quiet.
Moving Forward: Make Family Work
Family is what we make it to be. Everything about family depends on the contribution of every member of the family. St. Paul took the time to explore everyone’s functions in the family in the Letter to the Colossians (3:12-21). When everyone is at their best in wherever we find ourselves, we could build a family that reflects God’s purpose for family.
Your family could rise again. Do not allow the challenges surrounding your family the snatch away the blessings of God. Family is a good thing, so we should be careful about the devil’s destructive antics (2 Cor 2:11). The easiest way the devil could destroy the world is to destroy every family. Do not allow the destruction to start from yours. Save the family; save the world. God bless you.
The greatest story ever told is not the Midsummer Night’s Dream comedy of William Shakespeare; it is not the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet nor the tragicomedy of the Merchant of Venice. The greatest story ever told, which has no comparison and would never have any, is the story of the incarnation; God coming down to us, taking our human flesh, and dwelling with us (John 1:14).
Many Christians today do not have the proper insight and understanding of the Christmas story, so we have unfortunately allowed many unconnected accessories to come into the holy celebration.
Christmas is now a highly commercialized “commodity” as people give greater attention to the triangular-shaped trees and exotic bright lights than to the celebrant, Jesus Christ. Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist nation (70% of the population), has the tallest artificial Christmas tree globally, which is about 72.1 meters tall (236 feet 6.58 in). If you ask if the Christmas tree has a dependable representation and homage to Jesus Christ, the reason for the season, the answer would be in the negative.
What should we celebrate at Christmas?
There should always be a reason for any celebration we undertake. The funny thing is that most people celebrate for the wrong reasons. For instance, how many people celebrate their birthdays by thankfully reflecting on the purpose of their lives on earth?
At Christmas, we do not just celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but more profoundly, we celebrate God’s unfathomable love and humility. Let us take a more decisive look at the two essential pillars in the context of the celebration of Christmas.
Christmas celebrates God’s love:
God’s love for us is immeasurably profound. Jeremiah (31:3) tells us that God loves us with an everlasting love. And in the Gospel of John (3:16), we read that familiar but resonant statement that God loved the world so much that he gave us His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in him would not die but have eternal life.
There would be a need for us to take a little time to reflect on God’s gift of love to us. Imagine that you decide to give out the best thing you have to someone; I mean something irreplaceable; what would you give? On the platform of love, God gave us Himself, in the person of the Son, so that we can live because we were dead to sin (Ephesians 2:5).
At Christmas, we celebrate the love of God made flesh. God’s love is no longer a mere scriptural text or message. It is now a fact of lived experience. Love is born for us, and this birth marks the beginning of a new era for humanity.
The love of God brought light into the world. The first light at creation (Gen. 1:3) departed when Adam and Eve sinned. Now, we have the light back. The prophet Isaiah said, “Those who are walking in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a great light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2).” Light brings life, warmth, sight, and hope. Now we understand what it means when we talk about Christmas light; Christ, the light of the world, is the true light of Christmas.
Christmas Celebrates God’s humility
It often makes me emotional to talk about God’s humility, which is another reference point for us at Christmas. God humbled himself to the extent that the creator could be in the womb of one of His creatures and be born from the same womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Divinity took the birth route of humanity.
At Christmas, we celebrate the humility of God when He had to depend on us for provision, though he is our eternal provider (Philippians 4:19). At Christmas, we celebrate God’s humility by making Himself vulnerable to the point that he needed human protection from murderers like Herod. However, He is our refuge and strength, a present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). At Christmas, we celebrate God’s humility by allowing one of us, Joseph, to lead him to safety in Egypt though He is the shepherd that leads us along the right paths and through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23: 3-4)
Responding to the Christmas Message Amid the Covid-19
I was recently talking about the love of God to a lady who lost her husband and her mom to the covid-19 virus. Turning to me in tears, the lady asked me where God’s love was hiding when the virus claimed the lives of the two most important people in her life? Of course, I did not answer her because nothing could have made sense to her at that grieving moment.
We are celebrating Christmas with face masks, though we did not imagine this at the inception of the year. Many people could be mad at God for the sudden disappearance of what we use to know as normal. Some people feel that the Christmas celebration does not worth the stress this time because we may not do things the way we used to do them. If you have these or similar thoughts, you need to know that it could have been worse. Yes! We complain just because we are still living, not that we are better than the millions who are cooling off in the cemetery.
If you are alive on this day, you should have it as an obligation to thank God. The ravaging effect of the virus does not mean that God loves us less. Even amid what is happening, we could still attest to God’s love. God says in the Book of Jeremiah (29: 11) that he has great plans for a future and a hope for us. There is hope for us with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ this Christmas; light cannot be born, and we remain in darkness; no; We shall rise and shine!
Moving forward with the Pillars of Christmas Story
There would be the need for us to respond to the two pillars of Christmas, namely, God’s love and humility. Love St. Paul says, conquers all things (1 Cor. 13:7). We respond to God’s love by giving love a chance in our lives. And we could do this by being generous with what we have just as we continually receive from God. We also respond by our intentional humility like the newborn King, who was so humble as to take our human form without counting his equality with God (Phil. 2:6-9).
May, the love of God, which surpasses all things, including the challenges around us, grant us renewed strength and energy as we set to launch into the new year. Merry Christmas and remember to love and be humble as not to stumble. Keep Christ in the Christmas! God bless you.
The 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was once traveling in a stagecoach with a military officer for an official visit. While on the way, the officer pulled out a bottle of whiskey and invited the president to take a sip. But the president declined the offer. And the journey continued peacefully.
On their way back, the officer from Kentucky pulled out a pack of cigars and asked Mr. Lincoln to join him to smoke. At this point, the president looked at the kindhearted officer and smiled. Then he says, “I will join you to smoke, but I would first tell you a story”.
The officer was eager to hear the president’s story. Lincoln related to the officer how when he was about nine years old, his mom called him to her sickbed and revealed to him that her doctor said she would not recover from her illness. He further recalled how his mom asked him to promise her that he would never drink liquor nor smoke in his life, and he promised.
Turning to the officer, Abraham Lincoln asked, “would you advise me to keep the promise I made to my mom or break it for the sake of the company we are having now?” The officer who happens to be a colonel was shocked and encouraged him to keep to that precious promise he made long ago to his mom. Of course history tells us that Lincoln never drank alchohol nor smoked.
A promise is a verbal or written declaration of one’s intention to follow a certain line of action or conduct. It is often easy to make promises, tempting to believe them, but often challenging to keep them. If you scan through your life, you might recall some promises you made which you never fulfilled. They could be something you declared that you would do but never did. They could be secrets you agreed to keep, but you later revealed. It takes something more than words to make and keep a promise; we shall return to that reality.
The Book of Second Samuel (2 Sam. 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16) tells us about the promise God made to David after God rejected his offer to build a house for the Lord. Among other things, God promised to raise an heir from his loin whose kingdom shall be firm and would endure forever.
In the Gospel of Luke (1:26-38), the angel Gabriel comes to Mary to announce God’s gracious choice of her to become the mother of a son whom she would call Jesus. Furthermore, God promised through the angel that the child shall be great and would be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give him the throne of David, his father, and he will rule over the house of Israel forever. An active review of the angel’s message would easily remind us of the promise God made to David between 490 to 1,000 years earlier.
The Keys to Promise Keeping
The activities of God in the scripture have both inspirational and teaching powers. In fact, our Lord Jesus Christ encouraged us to learn from him (Matt. 11:29). There are two prominent keys in every divine fulfilment of promises and we shall learn from these to power our relationship with God and others.
(1) Commitment: Abraham Lincoln is credited with the statement that says, “commitment transforms a promise into a reality”. Here we understand that the fulfilment of a promise would not be possible unless one commits to it. But what is commitment?
Commitment is often confused with interest in something or someone. Interest is not as stable as commitment, that is why we often hear about people losing their interests. Commitment involves devotion and dedication. God is the author of commitment and we see a lot of instances in the scriptures. The Book of Numbers (23:19) tells us that God is not a man that he should lie,or the son of man that he should change His mind.
(2) Loyalty: Loyalty is more than a word, it is a desirable act that involves trustful allegiance and fidelity. In fact another way to describe a loyal person is to say that the individual is faithful to a course or an agreement.
A loyal person does not change even when situations change; therefore, the loyal person is consistent and constant. Loyalty is a characteristic of God. The Book of Deuteronomy (7:9) tells us that God is faithful and keeps his covenant, and Psalm (33:4) says that the Lord is upright and all his works are done in faithfulness.
Moving Forward: Responding to God’s kept Promises
The feast of the birth of Jesus Christ, just like the Easter event, is the celebration of the fulfilment of God’s promise.The Book of Joshua (21:45) tells us that not a single one of the good promises of the Lord to Israel was left unfulfilled; everything spoken came true.
The challenge we have now is how to respond to the fulfilled promises of God in our lives. We should quickly know that such a response would be of immense benefit to us and the best way to respond would be by our active commitment and loyalty to God. Psalm (18:25) says with the loyal God shows himself loyal and with the blameless, he shows himself blameless.
Our commitment and loyalty to God should begin in the relationship we share among ourselves. How far do you go with keeping the promises? Are you just a promise maker and not a promise keeper? Can you be trusted with a secret. Are you committed and loyal to the Christian life. Can God boast about you commitment and loyalty like in the case of Job?
As we come to the end of the Advent season and enter the Christmas season let us try to make the soon coming King super happy by our profound resolve to keep our baptismal promises of renouncing the devil and all his empty promises that could lead us to destruction. We are also invited to place our trust in the triune God who promised not to leave nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6)
God bless you.
Once upon a time, a military general who did not believe in God learned about the sudden conversion of his only daughter to Christianity, and he was incredibly sad about it. Calling on her, he gave her three days to renounce her new faith. After three days, she showed up before her dad, but she did not show signs in the direction of leaving her Christian faith. The general was angry and ordered his men to put her in prison without food and water for two days.
After two days in prison, the general was surprised to see her radiating with smiles. He was confused but still asked if she was ready to renounce her faith in Jesus Christ. The lady replied and said, “I would never renounce my faith because I have never known the kind of joy I experienced in the past two days in prison without food and drink. I am ready to go back to prison to experience more of that joy with Jesus Christ”.
The general was shocked and curiously asked her to tell him about Jesus Christ and this joy that filled her for two days without food and drink; She did. The good news you need to know is that the general later converted to Christianity.
Happiness vs. Joy
There is a significant difference between happiness and joy. We need to understand this distinction before we launch deeper into the reflection. The major difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is conditional, while joy is unconditional.
Happiness could temporarily excite the body and the mind, but joy endures even in the face of tribulations. Joy is a facility of the Spirit (Gal.5:22). In response to Elizabeth’s greetings, the Blessed Virgin Mary said my soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:46-47). In the Gospel of Luke (10:21), we read that Jesus rejoiced in the spirit and praised the Father.
Today we come to terms with the theme of joy. In the First Reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a,10-11), the speaker in the narrative says, among other things, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” In the Second Reading (1Thess. 5:16-24), St. Paul tells his listeners to rejoice always with prayers and thanksgiving in all circumstances.
In the Gospel of John (John 1:6-8, 19-28), the writer uses the image of light to describe the testimony of John the Baptist about the coming of the Messiah. We learn from the passage that John is not the light, but he came to testify to the light, and that is Jesus Christ. The image of light promises joy to those who are sitting in the sad corners of darkness.
Rejoice, You Deserve it
People often talk about natural and fundamental human rights like the right to life, property, and liberty. There are rights in the spiritual plane, and one of them is the right to be joyful. You deserve joy in your life. And nothing and nobody has the right to take away your joy.
There are many joy killers in and around us. For brevity, we shall look at a few of them in this reflection. One of them could be your past. They include but are not reduced to your past mistakes and bad choices. They could have been stupid and even had multiple bad consequences. You need to know that there is nothing about the past you can change; it is gone! Often, we get fixated about the past that we lose the joy we can get from the present time. Snap out of your past and own your joy now.
Another factor that impacts our joy is our attention to what people say and how they feel about us. One truth you need to know and accept is that you cannot please everybody; do not even try. You often must displease people to please God to have your joy coming. Your excellence will bring more attacks to you, but do not be discouraged; people talk about important people, so do not be disturbed when they include you.
Another factor that disrupts our joy is our consistent worrying. Some people worry about nearly everything on earth. But worrying would never change anything; rather, it would complicate issues. The worst form of worrying happens when we imagine and worry about things that would never exist.
Moving Forward: Own and Keep Your Joy
Nothing could have taken away your joy if you did not permit it. Own and keep your joy. Do not hand over your joy to your past. The prophet Isaiah (43:18) says, do not remember the former things or consider old things.
Let nobody, and not even your family take away the joy of the Lord in your life. Our Lord Jesus Christ says (Matt. 10:13) that a man’s enemies will be members of his household. Allow God to take handle those worrisome situations. In Matthew (6:34), our Lord Jesus Christ encourages us not to worry about tomorrow as tomorrow will worry about itself and today has enough trouble already.
Joy is not a choice; it is the consequence of our choices about things we allow or let go of our lives. Own and keep your joy and remember, as the Nehemiah (8:10) advised the people, the joy of the Lord is your strength. It is about time you need to rebuild your walls of joy in your life; you deserve it. God bless you and have a blessed week ahead.
Once upon a time, a king observed that his kingdom was becoming very filthy. He sent his messengers to instruct the people to keep their homes and surroundings clean every day, but the response was inadequate. Hence, the king thought about doing something different about the kingdom’s uncleanliness.
The next day, he sent a message throughout the kingdom, demanding a private audience with each family chief from all the families in the kingdom. The king made each of the heads vow not to reveal the meeting’s content to anyone, even their immediate family members.
Few days after the meeting, the entire kingdom suddenly transforms into a perfect haven. One could see every household cleaning, repairing, and even decorating their houses. The same thing happened to the roads leading to various homes. The kingdom was never that clean. Still, nobody knew what the king said to each of the family chiefs.
One day the king’s only daughter summoned the courage to ask the king to share with her what he said to each of the family chiefs that suddenly transformed the kingdom. The king opened up and said, “I had to tell each of them to clean up their surroundings as I would be coming to eat and stay a night with them, and I will come with a special gift. I also said to each not mind if others are doing the same thing that I will surely come to them”.
The king’s daughter marveled at her father’s wisdom by making every household comply with the directive of cleanliness, thinking that they were preparing for the king’s coming to their homes. But the king’s daughter asked, “what about the gift you promised? Who would get it?” Replying, the king said, “I did not name any gift, but all of them already have it.” “What is it?” the king’s daughter asked, and the king said, “cleanliness, that is what they have been lacking, and they now have it by their conscientious preparation for my coming.
Preparation is the greatest gift anyone can give to oneself. Life is all about preparation, and by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. The word prepare comes from two Latin words, “prae” (before) and “parare” (make-ready). We understand from this Latin root that to prepare means “to make ready before.”
One can find the best examples of preparation in God. Notice that before God created animals, He prepared where they would live. Before making the first human being, God planted a beautiful garden and even gave it a name; Eden (Genesis 2:8), which means delight. God will never do anything without preparing the foreground; in fact, we can say that preparation is a significant characteristic of God.
The Readings of the Second Sunday of Advent have one standard message: the desirability of preparation in the context of our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming. The Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11) anticipates the comforting coming of the messiah while challenging the people to prepare by filling the lacks, and removing the obstacles, and being upright in their lives. In the Gospel Reading (Mark 1:1-8), the prophet John the Baptist, quoting the prophet Isaiah’s oracle, invites the people to prepare by renouncing their sins and accepting repentance. St. Peter adds in the Second Reading (2 Peter 3:8-14) that we should prepare by conducting ourselves in holiness and devotion.
Understanding the three types of preparation
We are very conversant with physical preparation because it involves our physical senses. We are often serious with physical preparation for the wrong reasons, like trying to impress, win favors, or get validated by people. While physical preparation is essential, it should not be our ultimate preparation; for instance, the preparation for the births of Jesus Christ should not be all about Christmas trees, lights, jingle bell, and other external decorations. Physical availability also involves making ourselves available at the right time.
The human mind lies at the border between the spirit and the body. The Book of Provers (23:7) says that as a man thinks so is, he. St. Paul writing to the Romans (12:2), says, “do not conform yourself to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind to discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect.
Physical preparation without mental preparation would look like driving without direction—mental preparation functions in giving vitality to our willpower, a sense of purpose, and readiness to function. Mental preparation helps us to form a dependable mindset and remember that your mindset determines the miles you go in life.
The whole essence of preparation is to make us get ready for the coming of the Lord. Physical and mental preparations can only take us so far. Spiritual preparation is the ultimate form of preparation; for this reason, St. Paul says: “live in the spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16)
The Prophecy of Isaiah (40: 1-5,9-11) gives us three dependable ways to undertake spiritual preparation:
(1) Filling the valleys. A valley is a low land between two high lands. Spiritually it shows that something is lacking. Spiritual preparation here entails bringing back the values that we have lost in our lives. These include but are not restricted to our lack of faith, hope, trust, patience, and ultimately our lack of love for God and others.
(II) Levelling the mountains and hills. Mountains and hills are elevated landscapes. In this context, they appear to be obstacles. Leveling the mountains and hills entails removing the obstacles on our spiritual terrains. They include but are not reduced to an excessive attachment to material things or worldliness and defective mindsets.
(III) Smoothening the rugged plain. Something is rugged when it ceases to be straight. The two essential things you need to make straight are your relationship with God and others and your prayer life.
The message today is clear; we either prepare or we pre-fail. What remains to be said is the primary key we need to unlock these three areas of preparation. That key is discipline. Discipline is the aptitude and consistency in complying with specific rules and expectations. Without discipline, preparation would be incomplete or even impossible. Furthermore, without discipline, we would continuously go back to our former ways and habits.
Now we know better. Our needful physical, mental, and spiritual preparations could be attained when we fit into the mold of discipline and the time to start is now because the Lord is coming near, and every heart needs to prepare him a room. God bless you. Have a blessed weekend and a more glorious week ahead.
The story of the Chinese bamboo trees would be immensely helpful for our reflection. Once upon a time, a farmer heard about Chinese bamboos and how they could make anyone rich. So, selling some of his properties, he went in search of the seeds. He found a seller in a distant town. After the transaction, the seller leaves the farmer these words before: “always water, wait, and watch!”
The farmer was delighted to tell his family and friends about the bamboo seeds when he returned. He shared how he would soon become rich when the seeds germinate and grow into tall bamboo trees. Everyone was happy for him and looked out for the magic.
Every day, the farmer goes to the farm watering the seeds. He did that for an entire year, but there was no sign of sprouting. He thought about it, but he remembered the seller’s words, “always water, wait, and watch!”
For the second and third year, there were no signs. The farmer’s family and friend became disappointed in him as he would still go out every day to water the seeds even when he could not see any sign. The fourth year was the same. But in the fifth year, something happened! He noticed some sprouting around the field.
In the following weeks, the stems were coming up in geometric proportions, and in just six weeks, there were bamboo trees everywhere towering up to ninety feet in height. It was then that the farmer realized that for all the five years he was watering the seeds, the roots were developing underground, and when they were strong enough, the bamboos sprouted and bloomed. The seller’s instruction worked: “always water, wait, and watch.”
Today, we enter the Advent period and a new trimester in the Church’s liturgical calendar. The Advent is a period of waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of the Lord we await is symbolic because he would be born in our hearts (the new Bethlehem). Furthermore, we also await his Second coming, which would be at an unnamed time and season.
We are in the season of watering, waiting, and watching and the readings today give us those indications. The Book of Isaiah (63:16b-17,19b; 64:2-7) describes the people’s intense longing for the intervention of God, who is referred to as Lord, Father, and Redeemer. St. Paul in First Corinthians (1:3-9) tells his listeners to wait for our Lord Jesus Christ’s revelation. Finally, the Gospel (Mark 13:33-37) takes up the theme of watchfulness or alertness.
The Principles of Watering, Waiting and Watching for the Lord
Watering involves praying. Notice that it is difficult for living things to survive without water. What water is to life is what prayer is to the Christian life. Any Christian that does not pray is like a fish that cannot swim.
Waiting is not something most people like to do, but life comes with waiting. It could be painful to wait and more painful to wait for something you cannot see or feel. Imagine the frustration that could have overwhelmed the farmer as he waited five whole years to see the first sign of sprouting from the seeds he planted.
Most people feel frustrated, disappointed while waiting on God. It could be your story too. Often, we think that God is too busy to attend to us. Sometimes we even assume that God is no longer mindful of us. “I have prayed and waited for a long time, and I cannot continue,” some people often say. It takes faith to wait. Faith helps us to be trustful and hopeful without searching for a sign or evidence while doing so (Hebrew 11:1).
Watering and waiting without being watchful defeats the whole purpose of our relationship with God. Being watchful requires patience. It takes patience to keep alert and watch even when there are no positive signs, like in the farmer’s case in our opening story.
The Obstacle to Watering, Waiting and Watching
The major obstacle that hinders our disposition to watering, waiting, and watching is the misfortune of distraction. Anything that takes your attention from a desirable goal or value is a distraction. Distraction often starts from ourselves. We can become a distraction to ourselves through our choices and the things we allow into our lives. Family and friends could also become objects of distraction and other things around us that may be helpful in some material ways.
Your distraction might be during your prayer times when your mind begins to run around the entire world instead of focusing on God. Your distraction may be distrust and hopelessness when you ought to be trustful and hope on God. Your distraction may be impatience when you need to rely on God’s timing.
Often, some people wonder why they should wait on God. It could be your burden too. We should wait on God because God’s worth the wait. Next, we stand to gain when we wait on the Lord. Isaiah says that those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31). So, waiting on the Lord revitalizes and renews us.
Furthermore, we ought to wait for the Lord because He is bringing something bigger and better. I would not know exactly where you are now in your life; maybe you are fed with your current situation, and you want to quit. Please, before you log out, try to look up!
There is power in watering, waiting, and watching. St. James (5:7) tells us to be patient until the coming of the Lord just as the farmer waits for the crops to receive the early and latter rains to germinate and flourish. This is the same way you will thrive if you would keep watering, waiting, and watching.
God bless you; have a blessed weekend and a joyful week ahead.
“The Proud King” was originally a story in the poem of William Morris before it got many versions. It talks about a wealthy and influential king who became arrogant and proud. He even imprisoned the local priest who preached that God could make a rich man poor and a poor man rich. One day as he was indulging in his riches, he said to himself, “I am the richest and wealthiest king in the entire world; what prevents me from being god?”
The next day, he asked his servants to prepare the King’s escort for a hunting activity in the woods. While they were hunting, the King decided to ride to the nearby stream to cool off. As he was swimming, an angel with his resemblance appeared, and taking up his royal garments, the angel left with his horse and joined his servants, and they all left for the palace. Meanwhile, the servants noticed that their King suddenly became calm and humble.
When the proud King was done swimming, he could not find his clothes nor his horse; he was naked and alone in the woods. Calling out to his servants, he could not hear anyone because they all left with the angel who took up his appearance and other things he had.
Frustrated, the proud King decided to stop by the house of one of his knights. The knight could not recognize him and even chased him away into the cold night for impersonating the King, who stopped by his house earlier.
The next day, the proud King shows up in the palace, barely clad. Unfortunately, the palace guards could not recognize him nor allow him to enter the palace. Suddenly, the angel having his appearance showed up at the palace gate with the queen. The proud King called out to the queen, but she thought he was a mad man and asked the guards to throw him out, and they did.
Beaten and defeated, the proud King goes to a private place to ask God for forgiveness. He was still crying when he heard a voice that asked him to look up. Raising his eyes, he could see his royal garments and the horse. He dressed up and riding to the palace, he gets a royal welcome. From that moment, he learned to be humble and respectful to God.
Today, the Church celebrates our Lord Jesus Christ, the universal King. The feast became urgent at the dawn of the twentieth century through the encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas. The twentieth century brought the geometric rise and spreading of secularism, leadership struggles, two world wars, and even the Spanish Flu Pandemic that affected a third of the global population and claimed about fifty to a hundred million lives.
Standing today in the twenty-first century, one could still see the relevance of proclaiming Jesus Christ as the Universal King. We are living in an age of growing inattention to God. Materialism is a ruling king; politics has become a notorious kingdom with malicious kings everywhere. Modern technology is currently ruling the lives of many people. At this point, each one of us needs to answer the question, “who is your king?”
The Kingship of Jesus Christ
The Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ is typically unusual, unearthly, and, therefore, unacceptable to those who conform to this world’s patterns. Earthly Kings stay in palaces, and their subjects provide for them and protect them even with their lives. But our Lord Jesus Christ the Shepherd-King who provides for the sheep. He knows each one by its name and lays down his life for them (John 10:11-18). Every King exists to serve and not to be served (Matt. 20:28).
Most earthly kings are arrogant and prideful like the proud King in our story. But Jesus Christ, our Lord, and King, did not count on his equality with God but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:6-8). Note that anyone in any authority position that is not humble would never get a divine endorsement (James 4:6).
Unlike the Kings of this world, our Lord Jesus Christ is:
What can we do with all the benefits we have in Jesus Christ the Universal King? There would be the need for each one of us to enthrone our Lord in his or her life. Who is your King? It is easy to say that Jesus Christ is the King of your life and another thing to allow him to reign in your life. The same way we have bibles, but we do not read them, and we have different prayers, but we do not say them.
Let us strive to enthrone the Lord in our lives and let Him reign in everything we do. May Jesus Christ reign in our souls. May the Lord reign in our homes. May He reign in our families. May Jesus reign in our communities. May Jesus reign in all the nations of the world forever and ever. Amen
Australian pelicans have the most extended and beautiful beak or bill (as often called) among the other avian creatures. The beak should be about twenty inches long, and it could expand in size when they hunt to get food. One day, three female pelicans decided to visit a famous lake many hours away. They were excited as they fly through the sunny weather.
Suddenly, one of them thought to herself: “I will just display my beautiful bill for other animals and people to admire, so I will not bother picking anything by the lake.” The second also had similar thoughts. She said, I would have to pick just a few small fish in the shallow areas; I cannot risk hurting my beautiful beak.
The third pelican had a completely different thought. She said, “I am thankful for my long, beautiful beak. I will make optimal use of it today to get as much fish as I can from those deep areas rich with big fish. Getting to the lake, they all acted according to the scripts of their thoughts.
The first went about displaying her beak and getting all the attention from tourists and other birds. The second did the barest minimum with her bill, being careful not to hurt it. But the third went to the deep areas to catch fish, and she had a good meal. When it was time to go, the first could not fly because she had no strength to make the journey back as she was starving all day. The second tried flying but could not go too far because she had a little meal. But the third was up in the skies strong and able to make the journey back.
Everything we possess in life is for a purpose. Success is when you put what you have to the right use. In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 25:14-30), our Lord Jesus Christ tells us about the parable of the unfaithful servant.
In the narrative, a man was going on a journey to an unknown destination and calling his three servants together, he entrusted them with his possessions according to their abilities. He gave five talents to the first; to the second, two, and the third, he gave one talent. The one who got five talents traded with them and made another five more. The one who got two did the same and got two more. The individual who got one dug a hole in the ground and buried the talent.
The master returned after a long time and called them to render accounts. We already know what the first two servants accomplished with their talents. The master commended them as good and faithful servants and promised to give them greater responsibilities since they excelled in the little they were given.
The third servant got it all wrong to bury the talent he received from the master. He calls the master a demanding person who harvests where he did not plant and gather where he did not scatter. Imagine the arrogance!
Replying, the master called him a wicked and lazy servant and asked why he did not deposit his money with the bankers so that he could get some interests when he returns. Finally, the one talent was taken from him and given to the person with the ten, and he also lost his place in the master’s employment.
The Real Problems of the One-Talent Servant
A very attentive insight into the parable shows that the one-talent servant had not just one issue but many attitudinal challenges. We shall explore these and how to overcome them to turn our talents into treasures.
Laziness is the unwillingness to do something even when one could do it. The designation lazy servant is an oxymoron because a servant has to serve, and when you say that a servant is lazy, it means that the purpose of serving is defeated.
The one-talent servant was a lazy bone. Notice that when the master delayed returning from his trip, he relaxed and became complacent and inactive. There is a close relationship between laziness and procrastination. The First Reading from the Book of Proverbs (31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31) gives us a contrast to laziness with the example of a worthy wife who is always willing to work with her hands.
We become envious when we become dissatisfied with ourselves and wish that another person’s quality is ours. We cannot rule out that the one-talent servant was envious of the other two who got more talents than he got. There would be no guarantee that he could do better if he got more talents because we already know that he was lazy.
Furthermore, the narrative tells us that the master gave them the talents according to their abilities. So, the one talent fits into what he could do following the master’s knowledge about them.
In the Gospel of Matthew (23:13), Jesus denounced the scribes and Pharisees for locking out people from the kingdom of God. They would not enter nor allow people to enter. This aptly applies to the one-talent servant. His wicked heart made him stagnate the talent of the master for all the time he was away. He did not make gains from it and did not allow it to bring interest by depositing it in the bank; that is inconsiderate and wicked. The heart of the servant was evil.
It is not usually difficult to dictate a prideful person from the individual’s statement. Notice the audacity the servant uses to tell the master how demanding he is and how he harvests where he did not plant and gathers where he did not scatter. He was trying hard to justify his inability to use the one talent he got from the master. He was not humble enough to accept his laziness, envy, and wickedness.
He could also have over-rated his ability and felt that one talent was below his capability, which was pride. The Book of Proverbs (16:18) says that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before destruction.
Moving Forward: Turning your Talents into Treasure
The first thing we need to do is to appreciate whatever talents we have received from God. Next, there would be a need for us to activate our talents, which means being willing to work with it. The book of Proverbs (10:4) says that the lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. St. Paul would also add that anyone unwilling to work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10). We need to snap out of the laziness of both the body and the spirit (sloth). Work out your salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).
God has given gifts to each one of us according to our abilities. There should be no competition when it comes to talents. Envy distracts us from appreciating and using the skills we have received from God as we keep focusing on others. Notice that the envy of the one-talent servant could not stop the success of the others.
Moving forward, let us resolve to turn our talents into treasure by accepting, appreciating, and utilizing them not only for our personal development but also for the good of others and to the glory of God, the giver of every talent. Remember that the highest talent we have is love, which conquers everything (1Cor. 13:7).
Have a beautiful weekend and a glorious week ahead.
Could you recall any foolish thing you did recently for which you can boldly accept your foolishness? I could remember running out of gas one rainy evening as I was returning from a funeral. Though I saw a gas station, I was, however, hoping to stop at the next one, but none showed up until my car came to a dead stop. After calling for roadside assistance (AAA), a towing truck lifted me and my car to the next gas station twenty-five minutes away. I felt foolish because I made the wrong choice.
I have come to understand and accept lately that life is a field of choice-making, and we become as good or as bad as our choices. In the Gospel Reading from Matthew (25:1-13), our Lord Jesus continues to teach about the kingdom of God with another parable. He talked about ten virgins waiting for the arrival of an unnamed bridegroom.
Typical of most parables, Jesus makes a distinction. Here the contrast is between five of the virgins who were wise and the rest five who were foolish. Note that this distinction lies in the choices they made before coming to the ceremony. The wise ones made the right choice by bringing extra oil in their flasks for their lamps, not knowing how long they would wait. The other five were foolish because, though they had burning lamps, they thought they had enough oil that would last the whole time
The bridegroom arrived late; in fact, they were all asleep when he came, and quickly, they started trimming their lamps to enter the wedding feast. Naturally, all their lamps were running out of oil and needed topping up.
Those who had extra oil added some to their lamps but could not share with the others who did not come with extra oil when they asked them. They instead advised them to go to the local sellers to buy. They went, but before they could return, the marriage banquet started, and the door was shut. Their persistent knocking and calling could not change the bridegroom’s decision, who made it clear that he does not know them. The door closed, and the case closed!
Foolishness Equals Wrong Decision
The opening story shows me deciding to get gas from an imaginary station while driving past a real one, and that was a wrong decision, which could be called foolish. The Book of Psalms (14:1: 53:1) tells that the fool said in his heart, “there is no God.” Here we understand that the most foolish things we do start from our defective thought patterns that eventually move us to make wrong actions
In the parable, the five foolish virgins thought that flasks of oil would be needless, and that was the foreground of their decision to come without additional provision. On the other hand, the rest five virgins took their flasks of oil, leveraging their wise choices.
The Flask of Oil
The turning point of the narrative is undeniably the “flask of oil.” The product sets the standard between the wise and the foolish virgins. On a deeper level of thinking, we need to understand the meaning of the flask of oil.
As used among the Jews, the oil flask appears to be a jar-like that could contain less than a litter. The oil comes from beaten olive, which keeps a lamp burning continuously (Exo. 27:20; Lev. 24:2). The lamp itself is a spherical-like pottery object with an outlet for a wick and another opening for the oil.
From the narrative, we understand that the ten virgins came as light-bearers for the wedding feast. That explains their invitation to the wedding. They needed to make sure that each had her lamps burning, and the “policy” did not permit the sharing of oil. Without their burning lamps, the virgins were useless in the wedding feast.
What do you think made the five foolish virgins leave their flasks of oil behind? The answer is presumption. The attitude of presumption is one of the deceptions of the mind that leads to bad choices. In their minds, they could be thinking that the others would bring enough oil, and they could share or that the bridegroom may not take much time before he shows up. The attitude of presumption is often a bad transaction!
Keeping in mind that our Lord Jesus Christ was giving a kingdom parable, we understand here that the flask of oil represents those virtues that would help us attain the kingdom of heaven. We cannot share them with anyone. It is all about your faith, your hope, and your love. St. Paul would call them the three things that would endure (1 Cor.13:13).
We also remember that the narrative is about virgins, and one would think that the designation alone would help them go into the wedding dinner when they returned from buying the oil. Here we learn that virginity without virtue is vanity.
It is not enough to be a Christian by name and identity; that would be foolishness. There would be a need for us to have the “essential oils” that would keep aflame our Christian life. As we march into a new week, let us try to re-examine our priorities, discard presumption, do the needful now, and run with those needful virtues that would lead us to God’s eternal kingdom.
God bless you.