There is a common knowledge that says, “first impression matters or counts.” To a considerable extent, this assertion holds because we are very sentient beings and by nature, we desire to know even the smallest details from visual, sound, and tactile cues when we meet people for the first time.
Some people contend the idea that subsequent impressions count when they can disapprove of the first impression. However, some still argue that one may need to have all the conditions and persons involved in the first impression to change the narrative using subsequent impressions.
Weighing in on this debate, Author Dobrin would say that “first impressions matter but the substance has the final word.” The substance of any reality is that which lies beneath the thing which is different from what is perceived physically with the senses.
Imagine the impression of people around and within the temple area seeing the humble family of Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus to the temple to present him to God with their pair of turtle doves. And coming from Nazareth “where nothing good could come” (John 1:46) did not give them a lofty impression from the people either.
Beneath the external impressions lies the real substance of the one coming into the temple. In other words, the King of Glory was entering the temple, but it needed the in-depth discernment of two individuals, Simeon the priest and Anna the prophetess to understand what the people could not comprehend.
The Real Facts about Simeon and Anna
Simeon gives us the ideal characteristics and functions of a priest. The Gospel narrative says he was righteous, devout, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Simeon came into the temple in Spirit at that moment the parents of Jesus brought him to the temple (Luke 2:27). Furthermore, we learn that he blessed (praised) God and blessed them (Luke 2:28-34).
On the other hand, there was in the temple at that same hour the eighty-four years old Anna, a prophetess, and a widow for many years. She had devoted her life to God in worship, prayer and fasting every day and rarely left the temple. Encountering the presentation of the Lord, she gave thanks to God and proclaimed the good news of redemption to all she met.
Simeon (the priest) and Anna (the prophetess) represent the priestly and prophetic offices which together align with the kingly office represented by our Lord Jesus Christ himself, the new-born King to make up the three offices of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. Notably, we all share in these offices through our baptism (1 Peter 2:9).
Purification of the Temple
According to the Jewish law of the time, a woman remains unclean after the birth of her son for forty days before coming to the temple for purification (Leviticus 12:1-5). So, ideally, the presentation of Jesus Christ in the temple also meant the purification of Mary according to the law as it is now forty days after the birth of Jesus Christ.
In the case of Mary, there was no need for purification because there was no pollution in her. The entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ in the temple was to purify the temple just as the entry to the Jordan river for the baptism of John was to sanctify the water of baptism.
When the Holy One entered the temple, he purified the temple, cleansing as it were the stain of the blood of the animals used in the past for sacrifice while preparing to be the pure lamb for the sacrifice that would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Presentation means Offering
The word presentation comes from the Latin word praesentare, which means “to place before” put in another way; it means to offer. So, whenever we make a presentation, we are offering something.
What the parents of Jesus Christ did today in the temple was to offer our Lord Jesus Christ to God. A more profound way of looking at it would be to see it as offering back to God His excellent gift to us (John 3:16). Here, we recall the story of Hannah the wife of Elkanah who asked for the gift of a son with the promise of offering him back to God which she did with her husband (1 Sam.24-28).
In the Holy Mass, we continue this exchange of offering between heaven and earth. During the offertory, we present the bread and wine (God’s gifts to us), and in the Holy Eucharist, we receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so generous that He gives back to us whatever we give to Him and He does so in amazing and spiritually rewarding ways.
Moving Forward: What are you Presenting to God Today?
All our thoughts, words, and actions are presentations to ourselves and our immediate environment. When we make presentations, we offer what we have and that means we disclose ourselves to the entity before us. Our presentations could harm or safe, help or hinder. Therefore, we need to be careful about what we present.
The parents of Jesus presented him to the temple; in other words, they introduced him to the sacred path. It is no wonder then that the next time we would hear about Jesus, he was found in the temple amid teachers listening to them and asking them questions (Luke 2:46).
Where you present your child determines to a great extent what goes into the formation of the child. Parents should be careful about what they present to their children. If a child receives aggression, anger, fighting, and other destructive attitudes, the child will grow that way. It is essential for us, as the bible says, to teach a child the way he or she should go and when the child grows, he or she will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
Have a blessed Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.
Everything our Lord Jesus Christ ever did or said had a purpose underneath. So, we can say that with his ministry, nothing was said or done for no reason. Today, the Gospel Reading (Matt. 4:12-23) gives us the narrative about the beginning of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with deep introspective lenses, we could see that all the actions and words used have relevance to his central mission.
Our reflection this Sunday would take us through the main highlights at the inception of our Lord’s ministry, and these would leave us with transforming lessons.
The Power of Location
The Gospel begins by telling us about our Lord’s relocation from Nazareth to the upper northern city of Capernaum by the sea in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This movement fulfills the oracle of the prophet Isaiah which we read in the First Reading (Isaiah 8:23-9:3). The region of Zebulun and Naphtali and in indeed the then Galilee was not the abode of the rich and the learned. Unlike big cities like Jerusalem and Jericho, one would see here the ordinary people, fishermen, and people of low class.
It was God’s plan for the preaching of the Gospel to start with the poor and ordinary people just like the birth of Jesus was first revealed to poor shepherds (Luke 2:8-20). God is always identifying with the lowly and lifting them (Luke 1:52).
The ministry of our Lord thus started from the far north and ended in the south, where he was crucified and died on the cross. Now, there is a need for us to know that for every divine orchestrated activity, there is always a divine location. Put in another way, there is a divine ground for fruitfulness and striving. If we go back to the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis (37,39, 40,41), we will discover that God planed the prosperity of Joseph but it has to take place in Egypt and circumstances took him to Egypt just like the death of John pushed our Lord to withdraw to Galilee from Nazareth.
The Ministry of the Word, Light, and Repentance
In the Gospel of John (1:1-5), we read the following:
In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
If we go further in the Gospel of John (1:14), we shall see where he concludes by saying that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”
Here we have a testimonial of the person and mission of our Lord Jesus Christ identified as the Word made flesh. From the Gospel outline of the public ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, we understand that he began preaching the word of God which brings the light to dispel the darkness beclouding the people and leading them to repentance.
Note well that our Lord Jesus Christ did not start performing miracles and healing people of their physical sicknesses. He began by preaching to instruct the human soul that has been down with the illness of the soul, which is sin.
With the reign of sin, everything became dark because there was no light; darkness does not exist when there is light. So, those sitting in darkness are those living in sin and who need the light repentance powered by the Word of God. Our Lord Jesus testifies about himself saying, “I am the light of the world anyone who follows me will not walk in darkness” (John 8:12). Walking in darkness means walking in sin but walking in the light means repentance.
To advance the full length of his ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ goes out to the seaside of Galilee to get fishermen who would, in turn, help to fish people into the community of believers through prayers and preaching.
By calling the first four disciples, our Lord Jesus Christ indicates to us that his ministry is collaborative; in other words, it is not the prerogative of just one individual but the action of individuals working together.
Our Lord goes further to demonstrate the importance of collaborative ministry when he sent the twelve apostles out in pairs to the places he was to visit with the mandate to preach and pray over the people (Mark 6:7-3). The same he also did with seventy-two other disciples.
In the apostolic times you, we discover that the apostles excelled using the facility of collaboration. Peter worked with John; Paul worked with Silas, Timothy, Titus, and others. Collaborative ministry reflects the heart of the trinitarian functionality.
Ministry of Healing
Healing is a significant aspect of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, his missionary portfolio includes the duty of healing. In several places, the Gospels tell us that our Lord Jesus Christ brought healing to many people with different ailments (Mark 6:56).
However, the most significant healing he brought was the healing of our transgressions and sins through his passion and death, “But He was wounded[a] for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him And by His stripes[c] we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).
There is a need for all of us to open our minds to learn these exceptional lessons from the early ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is especially very instructive for those in ministry to pay attention to a location, not for gain but redemptive value for those in need of God’s liberation. We need to be where God needs us to be not where we want to go.
The Word of God should come first in our ministry, which should be collaborative in the manner of our Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles. It is very fitting that Pope Francis is has instituted this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time of the Year for us to reflect on the power and potency of the word of God in our individual lives and our families.
We encounter God when we read the bible; in fact, one could say that God did hide in the Bible and as much as we read the Bible, we continually discover Him in new and beautiful ways.
Have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.
One of the most amazing but unfamed wonders of the world is our fingerprints. There are no two identical fingerprints in the world, even among identical twins who share the same DNA. Every one of us in the world has a unique fingerprint and they do not change even with all the processes of growth, development, and maturity.
For many years, most scientists have been battling with the mystery of fingerprints, and some have ended up with ideas about their formation from the tenth week after conception, information about its use for gripping things, and the three forms of fingerprints, namely the loop, whorl, and arch. However, there are no universally accepted and concrete findings on why no two individuals cannot share the same fingerprints.
The United Nations estimates, as of April 2019, that there are about 7.7 billion people in the world. If this demographic information stands, it means that there are about 7.7 billion distinct fingerprints. This information makes it plausible that each person in the world is uniquely endowed with an unchanging identity. The bible supports this uniqueness from the words of David in the Book of Psalms (139:13-14):
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
The Testimony John the Baptist and the Identity of Jesus Christ
The Gospel Reading today (John 1:29-34), narrates John’s testimony about our Lord Jesus Christ as he makes his identity public. The Gospel Reading tells us that as John the Baptist was coming towards Jesus, he said among other things, “behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Furthermore, he reveals that Jesus Christ is the one who is coming after him and ranks above him. He further testifies that he knows that Jesus is the Christ through God’s revelation that on whomever he sees the Spirit descends and remains would be the one, and we observed this happening during the baptism of the Lord.
It is one thing to have an identity and yet another to activate that identity; that is, to put it into action. After John’s testimony and identification, we watch as the elements of the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ play out in his mission on earth which culminated in his death on the cross where he paid the debt of our sins (John 19:30).
Searching for our Christian Identity in a World of Multiple Identities
There is no doubt that the world runs on multiple identities, and most of them are false identities. With the rapid rising and spreading of modern means of communication, most people now find it easy to highlight and ascribe to themselves identities that are far from whom they are in reality; a tour through Instagram and Facebook and other social networking sites show the rising chaos in the search for identity.
Identity theft is not something new in and around us; in fact, falsehood rides on the wings of distorted identity. To tell a lie, one would need to add or remove something from an existing identity.
The Light Identity
The First Reading today (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6) tells us about one of the identities we have received from God and that is about our being “a light to the nations.” The power of light is not something we can negotiate. We depend on light from dawn to dusk for almost everything we do including seeing. To be a light for others means helping them to see, giving them warmth and hope.
We could recall this light identity from the sermon on the mount when our Lord Jesus Christ said, “you are the light of the world, a city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). Here our Lord Jesus Christ is asking us to live by our identity. The primary duty of light is to shine, not for itself but others. In the First Reading God says I will make you a light for the nation. Furthermore, the sermon on the mount also says:
No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. (Matthew 5:15).
The Holiness Identity
In the Second Reading (1 Cor. 1:1-3), St. Paul instructs the Corinthians who have received sanctification to live by that identity, namely, holiness. Holiness does not entail locking oneself out from the world and praying from morning to morning. It instead means making the right choices in our relationship with God and others.
Some time ago, while reflecting on the Holy family of Jesus Mary and Joseph, we said that the word HOLY is an acronym which means humility, obedience, loving, and yielding; we shall hold unto that in this reflection. There is no contention with the fact that without humility, obedience, love, and yielding to God, we cannot achieve the life of holiness.
When we acquire the holiness identity, we, at the same time, gain the grace of God that would produce the spiritual fruit of peace in us as St. Paul further said in the narrative.
Moving Forwards and Living by our Identity
When adults start behaving like children, there would be every reason to suspect that something is fundamentally wrong somewhere, at least attitudinally. In the same way, when we as Christians fail to live by our Christian identity, there would be every reason to conclude that something is spiritually wrong.
In the Gospel of John (4:23-24), our Lord Jesus Christ instructs that God is Spirit, and those who come to worship Him must do so in Spirit and truth. From the preceding passage, we understand that we fail to live by our Christian identity when we depend on the flesh and falsehood. Writing to the Galatians St. Paul says, “live in the spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. Regarding the truth, our Lord Jesus Christ encourages us to know the truth because only the truth would set us free (John 8:32), just as the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44).
As we march into a new week, may we resolve to live by our Christian identity by becoming the light in a dark world striving to be holy through humility, obedience to God, loving without limits and yielding positively to God and others in all things.
God bless you and have a wonderful week ahead.
Unfortunately, there are limited reflections on the theme of baptism among Christian preachers and teachers from year to year. There are more pieces of literature, sermons, and talks on prosperity and healing than on baptism, which is the gateway to the Christian life. We all know that it is impossible to become a Christian without receiving the sacrament of baptism; in fact, baptism makes us Christians, children of God and members of the Church.
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. It would be fitting to ask why our Lord went to John for baptism because the baptism of John was that of repentance for the forgiveness of sin (Luke 3:3; Acts 19:4); and the scriptures tell us that our Lord Jesus Christ is the sinless one (Hebrew 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).
In the Gospel Reading today (Matthew 3:13-17), John the Baptist identifies with the same confusion as to why the sinless one comes to him for baptism; “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Our Lord answers John and says, “Allow it now, for thus, it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” The next question would be, “what is this righteousness?”
It would fit for us to understand that righteousness here means what is appropriate or necessary. But why is it appropriate or necessary for the sinless one to receive the baptism of repentance? Our Lord comes to John’s baptism to show the importance of baptism, to sanctify the water of baptism and also to baptize John the baptizer through his desire to receive baptism from the Lord, remember he said, “I need to be baptized by you.”
The Power of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism
The water of baptism derives its power and efficacy through the impartation of the Holy Spirit. All the Readings today tell us about the action of the Holy Spirit in connection with baptism. The First Reading (Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7) gives us the exact words of God the Father during the Baptism of our Lord while adding the active presence of the Holy Spirit; “here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit.”
The Second Reading (Acts 10:34-38), presents a section of Peter’s sermon in the house of Cornelius before administering the sacrament of baptism on him and his household. Peter recalled that after receiving the baptism that John preached, God anointed our Lord Jesus Christ with Holy Spirit and power.
The Gospel Reading (Matt. 3:13-17), presents the scene of the baptism of the Lord. The most intriguing part of the narrative was when our Lord came up from the water after John’s baptism. We learn that the heavens opened FOR HIM, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. Then, also comes the voice of God the Father saying, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased .”
Moving Forward: Activating our baptismal Impartation
Baptism typically inaugurates our Christian life. It is also essential to note that Christian life is impossible without the active and functional presence of the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26). It is little wonder then that our Lord Jesus Christ instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the power from on high; the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5).
When we receive the sacrament of baptism in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19), we at the same time receive a special seal of authority as children of God with the ability to trample upon all the powers of the enemy (Luke 10:19).
As baptized Christians, we carry within us the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul says that we have the Spirit of God in us (Romans 8:9). St. Peter (1Peter 2:9) has this to say about the identity of the baptized:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Through our baptism, we become like commissioned combatants with all the arsenals to conquer the formations and fortresses of the enemy. However, we have more privileges than the conventional combatants because our weapon of warfare is not carnal (2 Cor. 10:4); furthermore, we only need to make ourselves prayerfully available as God will do the fighting for us (Exodus 14:14; Deuteronomy 3:22).
As we celebrate the feast of the baptism of the Lord, we are invited to rethink and relive our baptism in our lives as Christians. As the heavens were opened for our Lord as he stepped out from the Jordan, in the same way, our baptism has opened up the heavens for us and through that portal, the Holy Spirit is continuously poured on us to give us the right directions in our Christian journey.
Furthermore, the voice of the Father speaks to us His beloved ones through the Word of God and the voice of God in our hearts. As the beloved sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, may the voice of the Father speak into our lives and bring that transformation that would take us to the next level of divine grace and sustenance. Have a beautiful celebration and a glorious week ahead.
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God is always manifesting Himself to us in various ways. Abraham encountered God through the divine invitation that took him away from his father’s house to an unknown destination (Gen.12:1). Moses met God at the burning bush, and he also experienced the presence of God alongside the people of Israel with the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire (Ex. 13:21). Elijah had diverse experiences of divine manifestation including the still wind at Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:12-13).
There are other examples of divine manifestation through the vision of angels, for instance, Abraham (Gen.18:1ff), Gideon (Judges 6:11), the mother of Samson (Judges 13:2ff), Isaiah (Is. 6:1ff), Zachariah (Luke 1:11ff), and the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26ff), to mention but these. The peculiarity of the feast of Epiphany is that God decided to manifest (show) Himself to the whole world in His Son, Jesus Christ, the Word that became flesh…
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Various characteristics and attitudes go with different families. It is not strange to hear people credit or discredit a family because of some recurrent virtues or vices the members exhibit. Consequently, there are good families and there are bad ones; there are nice families and not so nice ones. Furthermore, there are happy families and unhappy ones. Finally, there are fighting families and peaceful ones; what’s your family type? Don’t be shy about it!
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Typically, the feast comes on the Sunday following Christmas day. Christmas generally is a family-based event as it gives the narrative of the family where God decided to use as the first point of His contact with humanity as per the incarnation. We could rightly say that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) through the family of Joseph and Mary.
As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, the word “Holy” jumps out for us for a more profound understanding. There are numerous definitions of the word as there are various religious dispositions and creeds. The dictionary definition would refer to holy as something consecrated, sacred, revered or hallowed but these are not all about holiness.
Still, in dire search for a more inclusive definition, we have a more insightful approach from the First Letter of St. Peter (1:15-16),
But as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.
A careful look at the quotation above shows us that holiness has a lot to do with our conduct than being exclusively devoted to prayers and estranged from the world. From this, also we understand that holiness is not a one-time accomplishment but a journey that ends with God, who is the author. In his letter to the Ephesians (1:4) St. Paul throws more light when he says that God chose us to be holy and blameless before Him. To be blameless means that our actions do not attribute any guilty to us; that is what holiness entails.
What Made Them A Holy Family?
There are thoughts that the family of Joseph and Mary became holy the moment Jesus Christ, the Holy One, was born. Other ideas hold that God poured holiness on them. We shall begin this section of our reflection by transforming the word Holy into an acronym. For this reflection HOLY as an acronym would mean Humility, Obedience, Loving, and Yielding. We shall locate and examine the resonance of these virtues in the lives of the members of the Holy Family.
The Humility of the Holy Family
Starting with the Blessed Virgin Mary, we discover humility at its height. She humbly accepted the awesome invitation to become the mother of the messiah in line with God’s plan. Furthermore, we see Mary humbly setting out to visit her cousin Elizabeth at the news of her sixth-month pregnancy not counting on her potential status as the Mother of Christ.
Two verses from Mary’s Canticle while visiting Elizabeth reaffirm her humble nature (Luke 1:48, 52).
For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed… He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted the humble.
Joseph and Mary had no accommodation available when the child was to be born. The only open space in the whole of Bethlehem was a manger in an animal’s house, a humbling cradle for the King of the Universe.
The life of Jesus Christ on earth has every detail of humility. St. Paul says that though he was in the form of God, he did not count on his equality with God but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6-8).
The Obedience of the Holy Family
Starting with Mary again, we locate her steadfast obedience to God. If we understand obedience as compliance Mary was excellent in that regard. Before the miracle of changing water into wine, she instructed those present to do whatever his son our Lord Jesus Christ tells them (John 2:5); in other words, she was telling them to obey our Lord.
Joseph was obedient to God’s instruction through the angels in his three-fold dreams (Matthew 1:20-24; 2:13;19-20). The life of our Lord Jesus Christ shows obedience at its apex. In the Gospel of John (4:34), our Lord Jesus Christ says, “my food is to do the will of my father and to finish His work. St. Paul concludes that Jesus was obedient even unto death.
The Loving disposition of the Holy Family
God is love (1 John 4:8), and every act of God is motivated by love. The gospel of John (3:16) tells us that God loved the world so much that he gave His only begotten Son.
The actions of all the members of the Holy Family was motivated by love. Mary’s loving heart made her intervene at the wedding at Cana (John 2:3). Joseph was a man of great love; in fact, the bible calls him a righteous man (Matthew 1:19). During his ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ gave us a new commandment of love (John 13:34).
The Yielding disposition of the Holy Family
To yield is to surrender, submit, or give way to someone or something. The members of the Holy Family lived the life of total yielding to God. Mary’s fiat, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke I:38), is an expression of yielding to God. Joseph yielded to God by following all the instructions he received; he allowed God to have His way.
The life of our Lord Jesus Christ shows total submission and commitment to God. Our Lord personally said that he does nothing on his own apart from what he sees His Father doing (John 5:60); that is yielding. And before the death on the cross, he yielded his spirit to the Father (Matt; 27:50).
Moving Forward: Becoming Holy in our Families
The elucidations we have made so far should prompt us at this point to have a rethink on what it means to be Holy. It is essential to note that we are not by implication, excluding prayer life from the route of being holy. We become more prayerful and connected with God when we are humble, obedient, loving and yielding towards God and others.
It is also important to note that having a holy family does not exclude your family from trials and troubles; being holy does not stop you from being human. The Holy Family of Nazareth had their share of human problems from the moment Mary conceived to the time our Lord was crucified and died on the cross with his mother Mary standing at the foot of the cross (John 19:25).
As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family today, let us try as much as possible to pay attention to the values in the Holy Family of Nazareth and learn how we could redefine and renew the face our various families and advance with the virtues of humility, obedience, love and yielding to God and those who constitute family for us.
Have a beautiful Sunday and joyous feast of the Holy Family.
Conception and childbirth are among the incredible activities that happen in the human body. Tiny cells meet and begin the process of development from an embryo into a fetus that eventually grows into a baby at birth. Imagine the scenario; all of us started our journey into life as tiny cells that transmuted into what we are now.
Let us look at some statistics. More than 355,000 babies are born daily around the world. Among these, there is an estimate of about 250 new lives every minute around the world. There is a flip side. World Health Organization reports that globally about one million babies die within 24 hours of birth. Furthermore, the UN inter-agency report (2017) shows that there is about 211 maternal death for every 100,000 live births globally.
Generally, there are various narratives for various births. No matter how would-be parents prepare, childbirths do not often go as planned. There are stories of women who had their babies on the road, malls, hospital hallways, even in flights, cruise ships, and other odd places; I have not, however, heard about childbirth in a cemetery; have you?
Our reflection started with the preceding elucidations to help us put the narrative of the conception and birth of our Lord Jesus Christ into our normal human context so that we can locate the nature and character of the divine orchestration that makes it amazing.
Before the birth of Jesus Christ, his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived through a different route never recorded in human history until then. Joseph was waiting for Mary to return from her three months visit to her cousin Elizabeth only to learn, upon her return, that she was already pregnant. Joseph wanted to dismiss Mary quietly, but he was asked to suspend action because the Holy Spirit was responsible for her pregnancy (see Matthew 1:18-24).
Bethlehem and the Manger
The time Mary was due to have her child was the same period the ruling government called for a census of the people. Joseph had to travel to his original home, that is Bethlehem in Judea with Mary. On their arrival at night, Mary went into labor as the child was fast coming. They searched for a place to stay but there was no room in the guest house, and nobody wanted to share the agony of an expecting mother.
Fast-forwarding help eventually came from an animal’s house where a Manger was offered to them as a cradle to hold the child after Mary’s delivery with the assistance of Joseph, her ever-supportive husband. Let us examine the high points connected with Bethlehem and the Manger.
The name Bethlehem is a combination of two Hebrew words; Beth, which means house and lehem which means bread. So, Bethlehem means house of bread. Every person or thing connected to the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ had a significance. Bethlehem as a birthplace of our Lord Jesus Christ, was an oracle of the prophet Micha (5:2) seven hundred years earlier:
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
One could still ask the question, why the town of Bethlehem and not any of the other towns in Judah? Like we pointed earlier, Bethlehem means house of bread, and our Lord would in the course of teachings, declare that he is the bread of life (John 6:36). In another place, he says more expansively:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:51).
From the references we have above, it is clear to us that God chose Bethlehem to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, who is the bread of life coming down from heaven. This description reminds us of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which is the summit of the Church’s life and ministry and one of the two great gifts we have received from God, the other being the Holy Spirit.
The Manger is also an essential accessory in the nativity narrative. Often the pictures of the nativity scenes around us look very magnificent and attractive. However, the real place of the birth of Jesus Christ was far from being what we see in pictures. First, it was an animal barn and you can imagine how fresh the air could be.
A manger is a wooden feeding trough for animals. And the word manger is traceable to the French manger, Italian mangiare or Latin manducare which means to eat. So far, any active mind may begin to make a connection between Bethlehem and Manger, in other words, between the house of bread and eating. Jesus Christ, the new-born King, is the bread of life and whoever eats him would have everlasting life.
Another relevance we can see from the manger is that it is a lowly place. When kings are born, they stay in royal cradles, but the eternal King is found wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Part of the oracle of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:2-7), says, “for a child is born to us, a son is given us…They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace”. One would expect that the child in this prophecy would be born in one of the most outstanding palaces in the world, but God’s thoughts and ways are always different (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Remember that in the message of the nativity angel to the shepherds who were keeping watch that night, the manger would be a sign for them about the Savior. Here, we see the manger as a sign of humility on the part of the Great One born in our midst. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians makes it more evident that our Lord Jesus Christ, though in the form of God, did not count his equality with God but humbled himself taking the form of a slave”. (Philippians 2:6-8).
Furthermore, the wooden manger reminds us of the wood of the cross. At birth, our Lord Jesus Christ was laid on the wooden manger and at death, he would be laid on the wooden cross. We know that wood comes from a tree, and the first sin of disobedience happened at the tree in the middle of the garden (Genesis 2:9; 3:3). The manger stands as a sign pointing to the cross where the debt of our sin would be paid finally and in full (John 19:30). The manger stands between the tree in the middle of the garden and the cross of Calvary.
As we gather around the nativity scene with the beautiful lights and relishing the sweet Christmas carol melodies, let us take some time to reflect on the resonance of some of the significant places, events, and actors surrounding the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, especially the ground meaning of Bethlehem and
Have a beautiful celebration, and have for yourself a Merry Christmas.
A sign refers to something that reflects the potential presence of another thing. In a more straightforward description, a sign is a reality that points to another fact which may or may not be present. In other words, a sign communicates value to the mind or understanding of anyone who encounters it. Generally, they are predictive guides.
There are natural signs like smoke indicating the presence of fire or thick dark clouds pointing to potential rains. In medicine, there are vital signs that show the status of physical health. Spiritual signs, on the other hand, are more complicated because one can’t understand them through the senses like the smoke indicating a fire. Instead, one gets to understand spiritual signs through divine revelation.
In the First Reading today (Isaiah 7:10-14), God encouraged Ahaz, the king of Judah, to ask for a sign as deep as the netherworld or as high as the sky. This conversation was happening when Rezin, the king of Aram allied with Pekah the king of Israel to attack Jerusalem the capital of Judah. Though they could not conquer the city, the king and the people were greatly troubled.
Responding to God’s instruction to ask for a sign, Ahaz the king, declined. God, however, gives a sign which states that a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. How does this same help Ahaz in his present predicament? Can we say that the sign is out of context since the prophecy was realized after seven hundred years when the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Emmanuel? Yes and no!
The beginning of that seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah tells that Jerusalem was attacked but not conquered. However, the king and the people were still in fear. God assures Ahaz that He is with them and would save them. Concerning the Virgin that would bear a Son, the Emmanuel, God was projecting that in the future, He would come to be with His people in human flesh (See John 1:14), and save them not just from the aggression of worldly kings but from the king of evil; the devil himself.
Can a Virgin conceive, have a Child, and remain a Virgin?
Biologically, a virgin is a woman that has not experienced intimate contact with a man involving any form of penetration. Some experts argue that a virgin can get pregnant when there is an intense petting that leads to the spilling of the male seed around the female reproductive organ; this is said to happen in rare situations.
If by chance, a virgin conceives, would it be possible for her to have her child in the usual way and route with her virginity intact? Obstetricians and gynecologists could respond to this scenario.
Mary’s Virginity and Virginal Birth
Mary’s virginity is undisputable. The account of Luke (1:26ff) tells us that, “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to…a virgin betrothed a man called Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary”
The sixth month here refers to the timing of the pregnancy of Elizabeth. The preceding verses (Luke 1:24-25) tells us about her fifth month. After the encounter with the angel Gabriel, we learn that Mary, hearing about the status of her cousin Elizabeth traveled to see her and stayed with her for three months (Luke 1:56). She could have witnessed the birth of John the Baptist.
Upon Mary’s return after the visit to Elizabeth, it became clear that she was pregnant as the Gospel of today reveals (Matthew 1:18-24). One could imagine the confusion and frustration of Joseph, who was waiting for Mary to return from her cousins to conclude the marriage rites. He was planning to end the union when the angel of the Lord visited to tell him not to dismiss her because child was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit and he obeyed and took Mary to his house but he did not have relations with her (Matt. 1:25); who would dare enter where God is sitting?
Moving Forward: Understanding the Sign of Emmanuel
From the following elucidations, we understand that the Virgin’s conception and the birth of the Emmanuel is the sign, but what is it indicating?
To answer the above question, we need to understand why our Lord Jesus Christ came in the first place. St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:15) says that Jesus Christ came to the world to save sinners. And talking about sinners, we all are (Romans 3:23). Furthermore, speaking in the first person, our Lord Jesus Christ says, “The Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Putting everything together, we can say that the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is a sign of our salvation; in order words, Christmas is a divine sign pointing at Easter. Without Christmas, Easter would have no relevance.
The most critical word in the Liturgy of the Word today is “Emmanuel” which means God-is-with-us. God’s presence in our midst should be the turning point of the narratives of our lives. When God is with you nothing and nobody can successfully be against us (Romans 8:31). God is with us to take away our sins (John 1:29). God is with us to fight our battles (Psalm 35:1). God is with us to give us life in abundance (John 10:10b).
As we celebrate this Fourth and last Sunday of Advent, may we continue to radiate in the joy of the sign of the Emmanuel that would lead to our redemption from the stranglehold of sin and damnation.
Have a blessed Sunday, and may your blessings increase with the presence of God in our midst!
Richie was expecting a Christmas present from his parents. Still, nothing was coming his way, and he becomes moody and would stay in one corner of the house by himself sulking. The parents had mentioned earlier that Richie was not getting any gifts for being naughty, especially in school. On Christmas eve, however, he wakes up to see a huge wrapped box in his room with his name on it, and he screamed with excitement.
There is a quick question from this story. “Was Richie joyful or happy when he discovered that his parents got a box of gifts for him contrary to the initial plan of denying him a present because of his naughty attitude?” One would expect a variety of answers because there is a long-standing argument on the difference between joy and happiness. Some people think that they mean the same thing while others disagree. Today is very strategic for us to weigh in on the distinction between the two concepts; much as joy is the theme of this 3rd Sunday of Advent.
The opening antiphon of the mass today from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians (4:4-5) says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. The Lord is near”. The Advent period is when we look forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The period challenges us to undertake three primary activities, preparation, penance, and prayer, but this Sunday adds one more thing; rejoicing!
Back to the distinction between joy and happiness, why do we have to rejoice instead of being happy? At this point, there would be a need for us to define happiness and joy. Both come with excitement like in the case of Richie getting the Christmas gift, but they differ from their sources, intensity, and durability. Happiness comes from something that is outside of the individual; put in another way, the cause of one’s happiness is always external. Richie was excited when he saw his Christmas gift. Joy, on the other hand, is a facility that is within us; in other words, it is internal.
While happiness could be strong, joy is stronger and more intense. Happiness builds on circumstances, that means, it could change when the circumstances that brought it change. Joy, on the other hand, is a divine orchestration, therefore, it comes out of “God-stance,” not on any circumstance. St. Paul tells us that joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22)
Furthermore, happiness is by coincidence of chance, but joy is by a convinced choice in God. At the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we hear that the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord (John 20:20). Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us also that the excitement in heaven is out joy, for instance, when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7,10).
Addressing the question of John
Why should we rejoice at the coming of the Lord? A quick answer to this question could be that it is the right thing to do. But one may still ask, “what makes it the right thing to do?” The Gospel Reading today shows John the Baptist struggling to have clarity about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ while in prison. He sent his disciples to ask our Lord Jesus Christ, “are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Earlier, John was excitedly preaching about the coming of the kingdom of God, which the Messiah would inaugurate while administering the baptism of repentance on the people in the Jordan River. Last Sunday, we heard him declare to the people, “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
It is ok, to wonder what prompted John the Baptist to ask such a question that seems to contradict some of his earlier statements like when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). To understand the narrative, we need to consider John the Baptist not only as a preacher but also as someone going through a rough time in prison. Furthermore, we could understand him as a human being with expectations for liberation, especially with the Messiah already present in the community where he is serving a prison term.
While in prison, John the Baptist could have been expecting the Messiah to show up and get him out of the chains. Still, he did not see any sign, and that could have prompted him to send a delegation to ascertain if he is the Messiah. In order words, he could be saying, “if the Messiah is in our midst, why am I still in prison; he should at least start with me.”
John was only thinking like the men and women of his time. Though he had an idea about the coming of the Messiah, he didn’t have the information about how we would accomplish the work. One of the thieves at the site of the crucifixion said a similar thing, “if you are the Messiah save yourself and save us” (Luke 23:39).
Moving Forward: What do you see and hear?
We often find ourselves in the shoes of John the Baptist when we are not very sure that God is still God. Those times we switch from believing and doubting what God is saying to us. Some people even feel short-changed by God when they find themselves in the middle of tribulations and challenges.
Our Lord gave an insightful answer to the delegation from John the Baptist, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me”.
From the above answer, our Lord Jesus Christ tries to let John know the description of work as the Messiah, contrary to what he may be thinking. The concluding words seem to tell John not to take offense for our Lord’s inability to rescue him from prison.
Here also we understand why we should rejoice at the coming of the Lord. He is coming to fix our lives from all forms of spiritual deformities. We need to rejoice because the one who would pay our debts is close at hand.
The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas is not the end but the inauguration of our salvation, and we have every reason to rejoice. So, on this day, may we rejoice and keep on rejoicing. May our joy never run out; the Book of Nehemiah (8:10b) tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Have a beautiful 3rd Sunday of Advent and a glorious week ahead.
There is usually a purpose behind every visit, especially when a prominent personality is coming to a place. It is common to hear about a president or governor coming to a city or town for one reason or the other. Journalists and news reporters would often dig through to find the underlying causes for such visits and relate the same to people through the media. In short, there is usually a reason behind every visit whatsoever; even “no reason” is itself a reason.
The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we anticipate with the preparatory facility of the Advent period, is for a reason. What is that? Our Lord Jesus Christ is not coming for thirty-three years paid vacation on earth. Instead, he is coming to take away the guilt and punishment for our sins and transgressions. He accomplished that through his teachings, suffering, death, and resurrection.
Among the numerous themes in the Readings today, the subject of repentance in the Gospel Reading (Matt. 3:1-12) from the oracle of John the Baptist catches the attention of this reflection. John shows up in the desert of Judea, saying, “repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He further ascribes to himself the passage from the prophet Isaiah that talks about a voice crying out in the desert, asking people to prepare the way of the Lord and to make his paths straight.
The theme of repentance does not appeal to most people because some feel that a preacher would make them feel bad about themselves, and some still feel beaten up or judged. If anyone feels that way, then that is a sign that the individual needs repentance.
Before we go into a more profound reflection on repentance, there would be a need for us to discard what we could call the perfectionist mentality. The perfectionist mentality gives us the false feeling that we don’t sin. Instead, it tells us that we only make small mistakes caused by someone or something out there
This perfectionist mentality is an illusion that is depriving a lot of Christians of the privilege of acknowledging their sinfulness and the opportunity of receiving God’s forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation.
The Nature and Power of Repentance
There is power in repentance, but it takes a reflective mind to discover it. From the gospel passage today, John the Baptist started by calling for repentance as a precondition to receiving the Kingdom of God, “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” In other words, nobody would be fit for the Kingdom of God without repentance. If we do a little research, we would see that our Lord Jesus Christ gave us a preview of what happens in heaven when someone on earth repents, (Luke 15:7):
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The passage above makes us understand that heaven endorses the repentance that happens here on earth. By the way, the earth is the only place that repentance can take place; there is no repentance in heaven nor hell.
At this point, we need to understand or review our understanding of repentance as a very important spiritual exercise. The word repentance goes back to the Greek word Metanoia, which means to change one’s mind or heart. In the Hebrew language, the word that translates repentance is Teshuvah, which means to turn back or to make a U-turn.
In our daily lives, we often change our minds about certain things. They could relate to what we want to eat, what we want to buy, or where we want to go. We also turn back or back off from people, places, and events, especially when we sense danger or something unsettling.
Moving Forward: Advent without Repentance has no Advantage
Preparing the way for the Lord calls for a total renovation of our lives, and this can only happen when we take the route of repentance. The Advent season will have no advantage for us if we do not change our minds about the things we do and do not do, and if we do not turn around or make a desirable U-turn.
The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-30) could give us a more illustrative example here. When the young man had exhausted his resources in the distant country, he suddenly comes to his senses (to himself). Here, we identify the moment of changing the mind, and following this change, he decides to turn around and go back to his father.
True repentance cannot happen if we do not accept that we sin. The First Letter of John (1 John 1:8) says that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. The Book of Ecclesiastes (7:20) says that there is no righteous person who does good and never sins. According to St. Paul, we all are sinners running short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).
The acceptance of our sinfulness would precede the feeling of sorrow for our sins and the intentional changing of our minds and turning back to God. If you take a reflective look into your life, you would discover that there are things that need to change. Often, we think that other people need the change, while in the real sense, we are the ones that need to restructure and repent.
As we march through this second week of Advent of this liturgical year, let us allow the word of God to speak to our hearts. Let us change our minds and turn around to God so that we can be on a dependable platform when he comes to us during this season of preparation for Christmas. Have a blessed Second Sunday of Advent.