In our limitations as human beings we depend on time for our existence. Seconds turn into minutes, minutes open up to hours, hours step up to days and days pile up to a week and weeks give us a month and months proceed to a calendar year. There are no pauses; life keeps moving. People come in and out of existence; there are nights and days, the year begins (as new) and it later ends (as old). Change is generally constant.
No doubt people are eagerly waiting for the birth of a new year and there is normally a great feeling of enthusiasm connected with the coming year. With this disposition people formulate positive oracles in anticipation of better times. It is not uncommon to hear such things as: “This is my year of double honours, this is my year of divine elevation, and this is my year of abundance!” And so on. These are formulations that are done with deep positive mental attitude. Indeed nobody would like to paint the New Year with negative colours.
I do not contend the importance of such utterances like the ones we have above; even as a form of emotional analgesic for the coming year. My worry is actually directed at to us the “heir apparent” of these promises. The central question is: “with what disposition are we expected to receive these potential new realities in our lives in the New Year?” Put in another way: “Do we expect New Realities without a NEW US?” In the synoptic gospels our Lord Jesus Christ did instruct that new wine ought to be put in new wine skins (Matthew 9: 14-17, Mark 2: 18-22; Luke 5:33-39). This actually means that the new realities we desire in our lives in the New Year should be received with new lives. Often we pray and ask God to change situations for us but we don’t want to change. We want God to step up and speed up things for us, but we want to remain where we are and what we used to be as those changes occur.
This negligence of inner transformation has been the bane of our growth and development in so many areas of our lives. How would someone expect divine elevation when he or she does not have time for prayers, Masses and the sacraments? How can one receive divine abundance in the New Year when the individual does not know what charity is all about not to talk about practicing it? How could someone anticipate double honours from God when he or she has no time to honour things of God? We line up some “wonderful” plans for ourselves with the view of living out our lives in the New Year but we end up worse that we were in the previous year. Why? The simple reason is that our plans were merely rational; there was no deep inner conviction and readiness. We can only receive as much as we have given.
This same negligence of inner transformation has been destructive of our polity. For instance in Nigeria my country we have had and we are still generating programmes that are focused on social change: “War Against indiscipline, Structural Adjustment Programme, War Against Corruption, Rebranding Nigeria and a whole lot of others. Some of these programmes succeeded only at the conceptual level without producing functional fruits. This is largely because internally generative transformation was lacking; new wine were poured into old wineskins.
Further insights have shown that our plans and aspirations in form of resolutions for the New Year fail on account of our conscious and unconscious attachment to the past. The past here has to do with our mistakes, failures, acts of disobedience to divine and human laws, our inattention to good conducts and a whole lot of other dysfunctional attitudes and lifestyles. In the oracle of the Prophet Isaiah the word of God says:
Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.(Is. 43:18-19).
The point here is that we are often saturated with the past that the new realities find it hard to be admitted into our lives; like pouring water into a cup that is already filled with water. Our anticipation of better things and greener grounds in the New Year should necessarily be made possible by our disconnection with our unproductive past. It is actually the NEW US that will make the NEW YEAR plausible for us.
Some people will be making resolutions for the New Year. But the question that arises immediately is: “how many of us will keep to our resolutions. Concerning New Year resolutions, two dispositions are evident. A resolution can be made either from the head or from the heart. The one that is made from the head is the one that is entirely rational. It is like calculating how many litres of water that can fill a drum and being inexact at the end of the day. Rational resolutions will end up rationalized. The resolution that comes from the heart is the one that touches one’s inner being. It is the kind that is transformative, the kind that seeks the face of God in all things.
God stands as the author and finisher of all that concerns us. In God our New Year is blessed and doors are opened for us. God’s plan for us is benevolent and not malevolent (see Jer.29:11). But there is a precondition for God’s blessings and it is obedience to God’s words (Deut. 28:2-13). Obedience here entails dropping the past and all its pump and promises, it involves removing the old garment and going for the new garment that will attract and sustain new realities in our lives. It involves discarding the old wineskins and bringing in new ones for the sake of the new wine we are awaiting in the New Year.
The New Year is not some kind of a magical vista that automatically activates a whole range of favours unlimited. We should rather prepare for it, adapt ourselves to it and be confident and courageous to make a change. It is more about a NEW YOU in the NEW YEAR. The following points can be helpful to us as we make our resolutions for a NEW US:
Have a wonderful New Year 2013…. May God tighten blessing for you.
The Family is the world’s smallest community. It is the basic platform of the human society from which larger communities, nations and the human race came forth; even animals and plants belong to families. We are all products of families; even that child that was born and abandoned in the waste bin by a senseless mother is a member of a family; though a discordant one. We often say that: “charity begins at home (that is from the family)!” And so it is with other realities like hatred, rancor, strife, anger, immodest life and others. In essence we can say that the family as the early learning centre is the root of all good and evil.
Today we are called upon to reflect on the Holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This reflection is very important within this season of Christmas which is a family oriented celebration. It is also very expedient as family and family life in our day and age need to be revisited, reconstructed, revived and given new direction.
The first question that faces us as we do this reflection is: “what “made them holy?” This question leads us to another: “what constitutes holiness?” To be holy among other meanings has to do with being set apart and dedicated to something sacred or divine. So to answer the question, what made them holy includes but not restricted to their steadfast dedication of their lives to God and their commitment to divine direction. They were able to achieve these within the framework of their vocation as members of a family. This family is called holy because it loved God above all and the members were ready to do the will of God at all times. The family is called holy because each and every one in the family revered, appreciated, and celebrated the presence of God in their family. Joseph accepted and carried out God’s plan (Matt.1:19-24; 2:19-21). Mary fully and unreservedly accepted the will of God for her with striking humility (Luke 1:38). Our Lord Jesus Christ had the doing of his Father’s will as the indelible script of his mission on earth (Matt. 26:39; Luke 22:42; Jn. 6:38). In all these instances we can collectively agree that the first step to holiness is the readiness to submit oneself to God’s divine will. The ability to let go one’s interests and plans and concentrate on God’s own plans and will.
The holiness of this family was not without trials, temptations and difficulties. They had their sorrowful moments but they kept their faith in God. The flight to Egypt when Herod was planning to kill the infant Jesus few days after his birth was a great trial for the family (Matt. 2:13-15). The missing of Jesus when he was twelve years old on their way back from Jerusalem was a trying moment for the family (Luke 2:43-49). One common denominator is that these and other trials and temptations that the family faced, they were not distracted nor was their love for God and for one another reduced, neither was their connection to peace and carrying out the will of God.
The situation of many families in the world today raises profound questions and gives room for intense reflections. Pope John Paul II was attentive to the plight of families and thus said in the encyclical Familiaris Consortio:
The family in the modern world, as much as and perhaps more than any other institution, has been beset by the many profound and rapid changes that have affected society and culture. (FC.1).
In most families today people are staying together not living together because peace is farfetched. In most families people are disconnected and alienated from each other because love cannot be found. In most families parents take orders from their children while the children give their attention and allegiance to television, telephones, electronic games, internet and other prodigies of modern media of communication. In most families prayers and faith in God are outdated practices while respect and obedience (to God and humans) exist as archival materials.
The first reading today presents Hannah to us as a woman of prayer and faith in God. Her ardent supplications and trust in God brought her conception and the consequent birth of Samuel. Most families today are facing the same challenge of childlessness. On account of this some have decided to end their marriage unions, while some have despaired and dissipated finally. Hannah thus stands as an example of dedication and commitment to God in spite of the storm. On the other hand some families have become “abortuaries” where “unwanted” pregnancies are removed like pimples. Some give reasons like: “I was not ready for the pregnancy”. But this should have been a question before the event that led to it and should have been formulated thus:”Am I ready for the pregnancy that may result from this?” Some families have been on the constant practice of taking their worries and other challenges to other gods. This is blunt inattention to the word of God (Psalm 16: 4): “Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows”.
The various families in the world are called upon to reflect the values that formed the foreground of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Our families need to be hallowed especially in a world like ours that is overwhelmed by so much profanity. We need to set our families on the part of holiness not by how many times we attend masses or other devotions but on how often we are able to love, forgive, assist, and bear with one another. There is every truth in the fact that the easiest way to destroy the world is to destroy families. This is actually the tactics of the devil and those who are knowledgeable in the things of the spirit are attentive to this work against it.
Like cars and other automobiles, families need servicing every now and then. This feast of the Holy Family comes at the right time for families to gather together and revamp their structure in order to make a fresh and more reintegrating beginning as the New Year draws near. This is an auspicious time for families to take some time to evaluate their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. This will be a time to accept our mistakes, make amends and work towards a better and more rewarding life in the family. Whichever family you find yourself is divinely willed; it is not by accident that you are a member of your family. There is a purpose for your being where you are now. Some people waste their lives blaming their families for the ill situations in their lives. Thus, cursing the darkness instead of bringing in a light. Though your family background may not be good enough, but your background has no right to keep your back on the ground.
As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family let us make effort to imbibe those undying virtues that hallowed the little family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We don’t actually need have large family members in order to have God at the centre of our family life. Just like the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph our families can become hallowed through our commitment and attention to God in faith, hope and love.
Have a blissful celebration of the Holy Family.
The movie “Home Alone” is a 1990 Christmas comedy series of four films. The first two series were written and produced by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus. The story is a about an 8-year old boy named Kevin (acted by Macaulay Culkin) who is incidentally left behind while his family travels to France for Christmas. One important fact in the plot is that Kevin actually wished that he had no family because of the punishments he received for his insubordination. On the day of the planned journey to France, an electrical fault alters the alarm system and waking up late, Kevin’s family hastily rushed to the airport with another family that was doing the journey with them. Kevin stays in the basement where he is locked up as a form of punishment.
Kevin wakes up to realize that he is home alone, hence his wish came true. He was overjoyed and began to do all the things that he was forbidden to do. He goes about eating junk and watching films beyond his age. He plays with his brother’s toy gun which he never had access to; he actually took charge of the house. Kevin’s joy at being alone suddenly turns sour with the appearance of two die hard burglars who are so proficient in sneaking into people’s houses to steal. With this new development Kevin is harassed, scared but resolute in his plan to fight the intruders especially with booby traps. At the end of the story Kevin succeeded in creating the condition that brought about the arrest and imprisonment of the burglars. In Home Alone 2 Kevin travels with the family for another Christmas holidays but got lost at the airport and mistakenly boards a plane to New York where he spends the Christmas again confronting the burglars who escaped from prison.
From my knowledge and experience Christmas is better celebrated in the company of other people especially one’s immediate family. That is actually the reason why some people travel from one part of the world to the other to join their families to celebrate the Christmas. Christmas is essentially a family-oriented celebration. It ushers in a time when families gather together from different locations and are inebriated with uncommon yuletide gusto. The Christmas festival essentially suggests, activates and celebrates togetherness, fellow feeling and community. The clearest example of this is the Holy Family of Nazareth during the birth of Jesus Christ and the flight to Egypt.
Beyond being with one’s family at Christmas, there is another form of communion that is essentially indispensable for us at Christmas. This communion explains and defines the celebration; a communion that underpins the reason for the season. I mean the communion with Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. Like Kevin, some of us have always being home alone at Christmas. To be home alone in this context means being separated from the ideal purpose of the Christmas celebration. To be home alone means to be left in the basement of divine disconnection while others fly away with the object of the celebration. To be home alone at Christmas is to celebrate ourselves rather than celebrating Jesus Christ. To be home alone is to neglect the needy at Christmas. To be home alone is summarily to celebrate a “Christless Christmas!”
The air is now filled with the glamour of Christmas. There is this sudden “madness!” Everything seems to have the stamp and imprint of celebration because it is Christmas. New things have to be bought because it is Christmas. Prices of goods and services have to appreciate because it is Christmas. Lies have to be told, people have to be cheated, morality has to be immolated, prayers have to be abandoned; all these and more have to take place because it is Christmas. Incidentally those who operate from these angles end up being alone at Christmas. Our Lord Jesus Christ warned us in the gospel of John (15:5): “Cut off from me you can do nothing”. This directly tells us that without Christ in the context of our Christmas celebration we are alone and when we are alone we can do nothing. Doing nothing here means that our operational aptitude will lack divine substance and support. We will be wallowing in abject despair; running from pillar to post.
As we celebrate the Christmas let us have Jesus Christ as the focus of our celebration; let us bear in mind that the celebration in not ours but rather his. As we eat and make merry this Christmas let us acknowledge the fact that nearly one billion people all over the world will go to bed this Christmas day without food (the reason why I will eat only once later today in solidarity with the hungry at Christmas). As we wear our colourful and expensive clothes and other accessories let us remember that some people somewhere could make a big celebration out of our old clothes, shoes and other things. As we enjoy our beautifully decorated homes let us remember that many people are out there in squalors exposed to cold and heat as the Christmas celebration heightens. As we take our friends and children out to parks and other exotic places, let us remember that there are many children in orphanages and homes for the poor who would sit in there as the Christmas day comes and goes. As we power up ourselves for the celebration of Christmas in full health, let us remember that there are so many people in various hospitals lying down there on their sick beds as the Christmas day unfolds and recedes. As we move around today visiting families and friends let us remember that there are people in prison most of whom are suffering for crimes they did not commit and who will not have the privilege to move around as they are in chains!
If we do not pay attention to the above details, then we will be home alone at Christmas. Christmas trees, lights and songs cannot give us the essential company we need; in fact they will soon become obsolete and needful of removing as the Christmas passes by. The family and friends with us at Christmas will sooner or later go back to their respective destinations and we shall be left alone again. It is only with Jesus Christ that we shall have lasting companionship at Christmas and after.
The experience of one of my friends makes a lot of sense here. This friend of mine was meant to travel to the United States of America for the first time. He was very happy to be among the few that were picked in his office in Nigeria to attend an international conference in the State of Florida. On their departure date he packed his bag with the things he bought for himself as well as for some relations he intended to visit after the conference. He was almost running late and needed someone to drop him at the airport in Abuja the capital city of Nigeria. I offered to drop him off. On reaching the parking lot at the airport it suddenly occurred to me to ask him if he had all he needed for the journey and he assured me that everything was in place. The answer did not satisfy me so I asked him further “Do you have your international passport with you?” At this question he froze and started a frantic search for his passport which also contains his visa to the United States. After turning his bags upside down it was obvious that he forgot his travelling documents including his ticket on the dining table in his house.
There was nobody in his house to bring them along and so we had to travel all the way back to his house to collect the documents. By the time we went through a heavy traffic to the airport the flight was set to leave; in fact he was hopelessly late for the journey and consequently he missed the flight that day and the next schedule available was in five days and the conference would end by that date. Like my friend we could have prepared everything and left the most essential for Christmas namely our hearts. There are so many people who will be preoccupied with cooking and its accessories and end up missing the Christmas Mass or worship as the case may apply. Actually Christmas means Mass of Christ. It is not Bonniemass or Johnnymass but Christmas. Let us give Jesus Christ our lord his day and in full; let us abide with him and not be left alone at Christmas.
Have for yourself a merry Christmas.
Anyone who knows about the building of structures will understand the concept of FINISHING or FINISHING TOUCHES. It is often said that the beauty of a structure lies mostly on the finishing. The finishing of any undertaking whatsoever shows the dexterity, competence, patience, and expertise of those who were involved in the undertaking in question. There is always a finishing in everything; sports, education, travels, relationships, and ultimately in religious creed. If I may use a common saying in competitive sports: “it is not over until it is over!” Put in another way we can say: “ it is not over until the finishing is done!”
Attentive to the description above, we can say that the advent period can only be over when we do the finishing touches. The readings today draw our attention to the needful finishing we need to do before we launch into the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Particularly our attention is drawn to the inputs of two women who stand close to the Nativity that is Mary and Elizabeth. Last Sunday we were asked to rejoice because he is near; today on the other hand we have been called to share that joy with others. We are told not only to accept this divine invitation to rejoice, we are also asked to become vehicles for the spread of this message of hope and joy. The best way to enjoy anything is to share the thing in question; after all it is often said that: “THERE IS JOY IN SHARING!” In other words, one of the finishing touches we are required to do is to spread this joy we have received to others.
Our attention is drawn to Mary and Elizabeth as they show us what it takes to undertake finishing touches in view of the coming of the Saviour of the world. In a very dramatic way, we reflect over the visitation which was the most prominent final acts before the birth of the Lord. Mary was visited by an angel called Gabriel (the same seniour angel that came to Zacharia). She was given the massage that she had been chosen to be the mother of the messiah; something that will happen through the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary’s acceptance confirmed the divine oracle in Isaiah (7:14). And as soon as she accepted, she was inundated by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore she had the privilege of a “divine gossip”, which made her to understand that her cousin Elizabeth had been blessed with a child and lost her title as barren to that of an expectant mother.
The gospel today began with the journey Mary made to the house of Elizabeth upon hearing the good news of God’s divine intervention in the family of Zacharia and Elizabeth. Mary’s visit was divinely motivated as we know that she was already filled with the Holy Spirit. Her visit to Elizabeth is one of the major finishing touches needed on the road to the nativity of the Lord. The necessity of this journey was confirmed when Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary. She testified under the influence of the same Holy Spirit that overwhelmed Mary that as soon as she heard the voice of Mary the Child in her womb leapt for joy. Some theologians would say the Holy Spirit filled voice of Mary brought about (through God’s grace) the untying of John from original sin; hence he leapt for joy at being liberated. Others would say that at the greeting of Mary John could see his mission as forerunner very well and could not wait to start announcing the filling of valleys, leveling of mountains and hills and smoothening of rough paths (Luke 3:4-6).
Mary’s visit on the other hand was a mission to share twofold joy. The joy of her cousin in view of the blessing with a child as well as the joy God had put into her by choosing her to be the mother of the saviour. Elizabeth’s response to Mary’s greeting as well as Mary’s song ( the magnificat) is an indication of the sharing of this joy. It seemed that all these had to take place before the birth of our Saviour as confirmatory of God’s hand in the whole affairs.
Today’s message is an ardent call to put finishing touches before the Saviour is born. John had earlier called for the construction of a spiritual super highway that will usher in the messiah. Now we are called upon to put the finishing touches on the spiritual construction work we had done. Some things may still be out of order, some edges may still need more straightening, some beautification may still be lacking. This final finishing touches need to be done in Bethlehem as the location of this birth. Obviously Micah in the first reading is actually referring to our hearts not just the town of Bethlehem. That small hidden part of our being (like Bethlehem little to be among the clans of Judah) namely our hearts will become the birthplace of our saviour. To make this to become more effectual we need to go back to the first reading and replace Bethlehem with “my heart” and Judah with “my being”.
There may still be some imperfections in your life, there may still be some attachments to inordinate things, and there may still be some elements of unforgiveness in your life and so on. This is the right time to do the needful finishing touches in your life so that your heart will be ready to accommodate the birth of the saviour. At this point we could ask ourselves some questions like:
By the time we give answers to these question we would be better placed to know our strengths, weakness, opportunities and challenges in view of celebrating a blissful and Christ centred Christmas. As we light the fourth, may God give us the grace to see clearly the areas in our lives that need to be amended before Jesus Christ is born in us!
Have a happy Sunday and a fruitful celebration of the Nativity of the Lord!
My grandmother was one of the most interesting human beings I had so far encountered in life. She was such a humane and awesomely accommodating person. Her door was always open to anyone anytime, any day. As a little child, the best place to visit during holidays was her house. She had welcoming hands, comforting smiles, soothing voice, and a giving heart. She never spanked me or anyone I knew of. Whenever anyone of us (her numerous grandchildren who would always visit from various places) becomes insubordinate or mischievous she would wait till evening to analyze the person’s behavior by means of a story with a corresponding moral lesson.
My grandmother, Mrs. Janet died when I was just twelve years old (I always wished she lived longer) but most of her stories remain ever relevant till date. She told me a story of how they would wait for their mothers to return from some market place that was miles away from their home. According to her, anyone who intended to go to that market would normally leave very early in the morning by foot in order to make it early to this particular market that only operates every eight days. Towards evening, children whose mothers went to the market would wait at one particular spot along the way to welcome them as they come back. According to her, it used to be a very long and frightening waiting. Children become jubilant and get extremely excited when they see their mothers returning. As some mothers arrive they would encourage the children whose mothers had not arrived to cheer up and rejoice because they would soon come back. Some would even formulate their consoling words like this: “I saw your mother buying akara (bean cake) and agidi (corn-flour pudding)for you, so be happy and rejoice she is on her way coming back!” With these and similar words the children who were expecting their mothers to come back would put smiles on their faces with joy at the news that their mothers were indeed coming back and with gifts. My grandmother would also add that some mothers who had stubborn and disobedient children never came back because of the bad attitudes of those children; hence such children would have to live without a mother! The moral lesson would now be that children should behave well so that their mothers would come back from the market place.
Today being the 3rd Sunday of advent we hear the loud voice of prophet Zephaniah (3:14-18a) telling the Israelites to rejoice and exult because of the reversal of their hard times and the arrival of their King in their midst. St. Paul writing to the Philippians (4:4-7) asked them to rejoice because the Lord is at hand. This is much like in my grandmother’s story where the children waiting for the arrival of their mothers from the market place were asked to rejoice because they were already close coming home and they are coming with gifts.
On this 3rd Sunday of Advent we are called to rejoice because we can see the signs indicating the fact that the one we have been preparing and waiting for is indeed very close to us. It is like anticipating a heavy rain by means of the gathering of thick clouds. It is like seeing smoke rising up into the sky which indicates the presence of fire.
While the first and second readings today expressly tell us to rejoice and exult because the coming of the messiah is near, the gospel reading today (Luke 3:10-18) tells us that he is not yet here. We are thus expected to be doing something before he comes. This means that something must bring about his coming; some things must stand in the gap between now and the time he comes. Those things are contained in the dialogue between John the Baptist and the multitude. In Luke (3:10) The multitude asked John: “what then shall we do?”. The multitude here represents all of us who are preparing and waiting for the coming of the Lord; the multitude represents the human race for whose sake the saviour is coming. We obviously need to be active in our faith, hope and charity before the Lord comes. This can be found in the responses given by John to the multitude. He said: “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food let him do likewise”. Tax collectors came and he gave them the direction to fill the gap (do not collect more that you should). Soldiers came, he also gave them spiritual counsel to fill the gap (do not rob people). The coming of all these people from different backgrounds and professions is an indication of the fact that we all will be judged from our employment or duty. The way and manner you carry out your career or employment will determine your assessment before God. If politicians had come to John, he would have told them play by the rules and fulfill your promises. If people in business had come to John, he would have told them not to exploit people and be fair in their dealings. If married people had come to John, he would have told them live by their marriage vows and let love rule their families. If lawyers had come to him he would have told them to uphold justice and not to distort the truth. If doctors had come to him, he would have told them to preserve lives and not to encourage the destruction of life through abortion. If Priests had gone to John, he would have told them to bring people closer to God through the word and sacraments and not to scare them through selfish interests. We can name as many professions as possible and the possible responses from John the Baptist.
The saviour is near but not yet here! The world seems to be inattentive to this. It is very unfortunate that Christmas which is supposed to be a religious celebration has turned out to be a platform for commerce and consumerism. People are so much concerned about external preparation and decorations than the needful inner spiritual preparation and waiting. John the Baptist was gracious enough to let us know the way and manner we are expected to prepare and wait. In his words our preparation and waiting should involve not only faith and hope in the coming of the messiah but also charity concretized in our alms giving especially to those who are helpless.
Actually nobody seems to understand the language of waiting as everyone seems to be in a hurry for the day to come by. For many people like the stubborn children in my grandmother’s story Jesus Christ may not come anywhere close to them because there is no place prepared for him. It thus follows that for him to come, a place should be prepared for him. As we rejoice on account of the fact that his coming is near, let us not forget also that he is coming into our hearts not in Bethlehem anymore. This song composed by Isaac Watt (1719) captures the message of today:
Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.
Have a happy Sunday and a joyful week as we light the 3rd candle.
SPIRITUAL SUPER HIGHWAY ROAD CONSTRUCTION: HOMILY FOR THE 2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR (c).
In life there is a constant need of a way or road; more so we are always attracted to better ways or good roads. Most people in some deplorable areas in the world can attest to the pains they experience navigating through bad roads. Often such roads are filled with gullies, trenches and potholes (if you like death-holes). Good road network is one of the most needful amenities that a government can give to its citizens because it enhances other forms of development as well as the economy generally.
Much as we desire good roads and enjoy them, we are today called upon to undertake a spiritual super highway road construction which will be more beneficial than the roads we use in our day-to-day life situations. Today we encounter a super abundantly skilled spiritual engineer namely John the Baptist leading us in our wilderness experience to commence an important task of constructing a formidable road which will serve as the platform for the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist is convinced of the necessity of this super highway road construction given the prophecies of his predecessors like that of Prophet Baruch (5:1-9) in the first reading today. The recommendations are the same “filling of the valleys, leveling of the mountains and hills, and smoothening of the rough paths and edges”. Three important facts are of great importance in our reflection today: the person of the messenger (the chief road engineer), his message (the super highway road construction) and our response!
It is worth nothing that the voice of John was heard CRYING in the wilderness (desert place). Why wilderness and why the lament? Wilderness is basically not a fun place to be and it cannot be a rendezvous of enjoyment. The wilderness is actually a dry, lonely, dangerous and uninhabited place. It is a place of suffering. We could recall that in their journey to the Promised Land the people of Israel had to pass through the wilderness where they experienced hunger, thirst and even death. The psalmist described the wilderness as a dry weary land without water (Ps. 63:1; 143:6).
The voice cries and laments in the wilderness for those who are in the wilderness (not outside the wilderness). It is in this context that we see wilderness here as pointing not just to a geographical wasteland, but more poignantly, the region of sin. Hence John was crying out in the wilderness for those who are held down by wilderness per se. For those who are engulfed by sin, those who are lost, those who are walking in the shadow of death. He came to show them how to gain their liberation. When John decided to take habitation in the wilderness, he was going to confront the obstacle and to let people know the way out; he went to identify with and assist sinners. The temptation of Jesus Christ after his baptism took place in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-4). Wilderness is indeed a Place of great disconnection from God as well as a place of victory over Satan and sin.
Now in this wilderness people are required to prepare a way for God by: filling up the valleys, leveling every mountain and hill, straightening winding ways and making rough roads smooth. Filling up the valley entails replacing lost values and virtues that have made us empty before God. Leveling the mountains and hills entails removing all those obstacles hindering us from reaching to God. These are obstacles created by our pride and wayward lives. Straightening the winding ways entails living upright lives. Making smooth the rough paths entails humility and obedience to the word of God.
What we have above are very important and necessary spiritual steps that will lead us to a new life in God. In fact we are called to conversion. The lament of John and indeed the message of the advent period is that of conversion. We either get converted or risk being convicted. The question is: “how responsive are we to the message of Advent?”
When we look around in our cities what do we see? Christmas lights, Christmas trees, melodious Christmas songs and all the colours of the Christmas season. The world seems to be in a hurry for the saviour to be born, but few are attentive to the fact that a room should be prepared for him. People all over the world want to celebrate Christmas but few are ready to observe the advent. Paramount in observing advent is the need for us to know that we are in a wilderness and we ought to come out from it; hence the need for conversion, the need to construct the road through which the messiah will reach us.
Reading the very end of the prophecy of Baruch from the first reading, I see a picture of a well constructed super highway road. A road that is illuminated by powerful and beautiful lights, a road that is guarded completely leaving no room for fear of being hurt. Yes the glory of God will overwhelm and guide those who have successfully completed their road construction which is namely in our hearts.
Do have an enriching experience as you construct your own super highway road for the saviour this season.
Happy Sunday and more blessings in the coming days as we light the second candle!
THE GREAT EXPECTATION: HOMILY FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR C)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD
This story appealed to me and I wish to begin with it. Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families; their homes; their jobs; their involvement in the military service; where they had been on vacation.
Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and colour of the world outside. The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every colour and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. As the man by the window described all these in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene.
One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man could not hear the band – he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words. Days, weeks and months passed.
One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window.
The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed. It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled the deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, ‘Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you and give you hope for the future’.
In the first reading today Jeremiah sounded more like the man by the side of the window. Jeremiah seems to be looking through the window of the future and could see the better days that are coming when divine promises of liberation and blessings will dawn. But unlike the pictures of the blind man by the side of the window, Jeremiah’s foresight lies in the future that is attainable; a divinely ordained and realizable future.
Today begins a new year in the Church’s calendar and we could really say “happy new year” to ourselves. We have entered into the 3rd Year (C) of the Church’s calendar which is being ushered with the Advent period. The word Advent means “future coming”. In this wise we are anticipating the coming of Jesus Christ. Significantly, there are three senses we understand this coming:
Life is generally filled with a lot of expectations. When we are born, we are expected to grow; as we grow we are expected to mature, as we mature we are expected to be successful in various areas. Expectations mark and make the world. People are expected to marry, women are expected to conceive, and pregnant women are even called expectant mothers. At a time we are even expected to die if we dare live so long. In Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, Pip’s life was driven by wonderful expectations which included but not restricted to being a gentleman in London and marrying Estella.
Today we are reflecting on the great expectation. Unlike Pip’s material / temporal expectations, we are looking forward to a spiritual / eternal expectation which in our context refers to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. In connection with the readings, Jeremiah tells us that it will be the fulfillment of God’s promises. The fulfillment of these promises will be at the due season and time and through the right person (Jesus Christ) and the right channel. God is a wonderful planner and His plans are tested ok! In the second reading (1 Thess.3:12-4:2) St. Paul advised that for us to enjoy the promises which Jeremiah outlined, we need to adopt love as a principle and holiness as a way of life. And in the gospel reading (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36) our Lord himself presented us with the drama of how his second coming will be like. After the frightening reactions of the heavenly bodies and other elements, the Son of Man will emerge. The warning is that we should be watchful so that we are not caught unprepared!
One of the worst things one could ever imagine is to be caught off guard in anything at all; especially when one could have managed the situation. The bewildering pictures of the sun, the moon and other phenomena that our Lord presented were not meant to scare us. They are more of reminders to us that even the things we see as built to last will crumble; but not our faith. That is why he went further to encourage us to stay awake (with hope), praying (with faith) having confidence before the Son of Man (with love) so as to survive all that is going to happen! This summarily is a pointer to the fact that the theological virtues of faith, hope and love are the basic elements we need during this season of Advent. Faith enables us to believe (without doubt) in the coming of the Lord. Hope enables us to trust in his promises relying on the grace of God not on our own strength; and love urges us to live good lives by pleasing God and our neighbours! It is on these that the Advent period germinates and takes root!
There is need for us to understand that the Advent season is a holy season. A period of staying awake, praying, and performing acts of charity. This is not the time to plan and execute evil. This is not the time to waste our lives running after things that have little or no values in our lives. Our lives should be reflective of the lives of those who are waiting for something they value more than any other thing. As we light the first candle of the Advent period let our lives be set afire with enduring expectation for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ not in Israel but in our hearts!
I wish you an awesomely blessed Advent season!
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.
Long time ago, as a seminarian, I was posted on apostolic work to a certain town in the southeastern part of Nigeria, West Africa. My apostolic work that year was really eventful and I went home wiser. The town in question was (and is still) a big one being the home of rich and successful men and women.
I reported at the parish house quite earlier than the other seminarians largely because I left home earlier considering the distance from my home. The parish priest welcomed me and asked me to hold on for the others to come. After some hours the others arrived as well as some parishioners who had been invited to pick us to their respective out-stations. I happened to be the most senior and the parish priest assigned me to the out-station that is directly under the parish so that I could as well be of assistance to him. After the usual instructions from the priest we were asked to join those who came to pick us.
While the others were going I was still hanging. I observed that two different parties came to pick me. Each came with two cars but I could not go because there was a contention. One party claimed to have arrived earlier than the other and the other party claimed that at the last meeting which the first party did not attend, there was an agreement that the second party should be the host family to the seminarian. The parties argued and the exchange of words took a fierce and personal dimension.
The priest later intervened and told them that none of them could take the seminarian given the situation; he added that I would be staying with him in the parish house. They all felt better about it (no-victor-no-vanquished situation) and left. When they had gone the priest told me that the two men at the head of the argument were contesting for the “Igwe” (Kingship) of the town since the incumbent king died. This piece of information helped me throughout my stay.
Within the time I was there, each party tried to get close to the parish priest and to tell him the bad side of the other party. He just listened. Actually the town was torn apart by these two contenders to the throne. It was so bad that in the church, one could notice that members of each faction sat on one side while the other faction sat on another side. The kingship tussle became more deadly and ruthless the time the council of elders gathered to decide who would be enthroned. The elders were still trying to sort things out on one occasion when violence broke out between the two parties. There were gunshots and general malaise to the extent that some people sustained various degrees of injury as they tried to escape from various directions.
The next morning one of the contenders died in his sleep! Two day after the surviving contender was shot by unknown gunmen outside the town. With the deaths, nobody spoke about ascending the throne for a very long time. Thereafter, the government of the State intervened and set someone on the throne as the Igwe (king).
The history of the world is actually replete with the rising and falling of kings and kingdoms; the rising and falling of empires and emperors. The entire gamut of world history presents us with tales of enthronements and dethronements of individuals and groups with their transient powers. We are conversant with the Pharaohs of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon during the exilic experience of Daniel’s time. Down the path of history we know of Alexander the Great whose reign was felt around the known world of his time, we know of Alfred the Great, Darius the Great, Charlemange, Louis xiv and others. Many empires rose and fell: Roman Empire, Spanish Empire, and the Empires of France and Britain.
In modern history we know of Haile Selassie (the 225th and last emperor of Ethiopia), Adolf Hitler (the Nazi machinery of the holocaust), Idi Amin (the ruthless self acclaimed field Marshal and president for life of Uganda). In contemporary history we know of the Saddam Husseins, the and the Mubaracks. The last from this era was Mommah Gaddaffi who organized his crowning as king of kings of Africa. One common denominator is that all these kingdoms and their kings crumbled at some historic points.
Our celebration today is focused of Jesus Christ the universal king. We are today drawn to Jesus Christ the King who reigns for eternity. That our lord Jesus Christ is King is not a figment of imagination or mere wishful thinking; testimonies abound in the scriptures:
Psalm 24:7 . Tells us that he is the king of glory.
Isaiah 9:6-7. Calls him our ruler, the Wonder Counselor, Mighty Father, Prince of Peace whose kingdom will have no end!
Zecharia 9:9. Calls him our King that rides humbly, triumphantly and victoriously on a donkey.
Zecharia 14: 9. Calls him the King of all the earth.
Matthew 2:2 . Calls him the King of the Jews.
Luke 1: 33 : Says that his kingdom will have no end.
Luke 23:38. His executioners confirmed him as the King of the Jews.
John 1: 49. Calls him the King of Israel.
Rev.17:14. Calls him Lord of Lords King of Kings.
The King we are acknowledging and worshipping today is very much unlike the earthly kings. His Kingdom is also very much unlike the Kingdoms of the earth.
Do you believe that:
In our world today, there are many kings and kingdoms springing up everywhere. In our contemporary human society money has constituted itself as a king as many run after it as if their lives came from it. The same is applicable to materialism, immorality and fashion. In the area of modern means of communication the story is more disheartening.
All over the world people give “101” attention to television, internet, mobile phones and indeed the social media to the detriment of the required attention to Jesus Christ the King. Often the only time most people remember that Jesus Christ is the most powerful King is when they go through some deplorable experiences. At such time they “order” Jesus Christ to intervene immediately and confront the situation. When the challenge is over they tend to drop him by the side until yet another time. That is why people merely call him a helper, provider, sustainer, rewarder etc. But he is beyond all these. He is our HELP, PROVISION, REWARD, SALVATION, SUSTENANCE etc.
Actually we cannot put a limit to what Jesus Christ our King can do for us and with us. If you read the encounter between Moses and God in Exodus (3:14ff) you will find out that when Moses asked God “who should I tell that sent me?” God said to him tell them that “I AM” sent you. This is actually an open withdrawal cheque which God left for us. God did not say I am the protector for instance so that all He owes us would be to protect and nothing more. But He said “I Am…….” And left the spaces for you to add whatever you desire from him. It is from this that we understand Jesus expanding into various areas like: “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the resurrection. I am the life, I am the good Shepherd” etc.
As we go out to proclaim Jesus Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords, let us remember that this proclamation must surpass mere verbalization. It must resonate with our lives. The little and useless kingdoms in our world would all pass away; they are incomparable with the eternal Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ which should be our utmost concern and focus!
Happy Christ the King!