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.
A family that lives along a hurricane hotspot in Florida decides to do an emergency evacuation drill to let everyone in the family know what to do and not to do when there is an emergency alert. It was a bit of fun and anxiety as everyone scramble to grab what they need and escape through a ladder by the window and jump into their van after receiving a simulated emergency signal.
Reviewing their general response to the emergency alert, they discovered that some of them left important things behind and took what was not needed. For instance, their dad left his wallet containing his credit cards, driver’s license, and other essential items and took his shaver instead. Their mom took her expensive make-up set but forgot the bag containing all the vital family documents in her care. One of the boys was interested in his skateboard and left his pair of prescription glasses. However, nobody forgot their mobile phones as it has recently become a part of the human body for most people.
One month after the emergency evacuation drill, the family wakes up to a real emergency alert on a fast-moving hurricane heading to their area. Everyone acted fast, leveraging the practice they had in the previous month. Arriving at a safe place outside their city, they stop to check what they grabbed and what they left behind. And it was clear that they picked all the necessary things; one could conclude that they were watchful and prepared for the hurricane. Success often comes when preparation meets opportunity.
The Advent Season invites us to stand firmly on the platform of watchfulness and preparation, not for a deathly hurricane but for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Advent is all about being vigilant and preparing to welcome our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas. Advent is thus a reaffirmation of God’s demand for preparation. The divine due process tells us about the need for preparation before any activity; in fact, everyone and everything God uses would necessarily pass through the route of preparation.
Before the creation of first human beings, God prepared a garden with edible fruits for their wellbeing (Genesis 1:29). Before the destruction of the world, God prepared Noah to take up the task of saving some humans and animals (Genesis 6:11ff). During the walk in the desert, God would continuously ask Moses to prepare the people before a divine visitation (Exodus 19:10-15). David tells us in the Book of Psalm (23:5a) that God prepares a table before him in the presence of his enemies.
The First Reading today (Isaiah 2:1-5) gives us a preview of what the coming of the Lord would yield in our lives. Mountains are very significant in the bible. Most divine encounters happened on a mountain, for instance, the receiving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus19&20) and the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13).
The Mountain of the Lord’s house refers to divine presence and authority. Put in another way, it relates to God’s kingdom. In the passage, we read the following, “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.” This tells us that there are competing entities that would, however, not match the kingdom of God. Furthermore, the passage reminds us of a line in the Lord’s prayer which says, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
The Advent period prods us to set our minds on the on-coming kingdom of God, which the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ would activate. The passage invites us to pay attention to the Word of God so that He would instruct us in His ways and that we may also walk in his paths and his light. Here we have a snapshot of what the advent demands from us.
Watchfulness happens when there is light
The Second Reading (Romans 13:11-14), and the Gospel Reading (Matthew 24:37-44) bring us back to the importance of watchful preparation. In the Second Reading, St. Paul announces that the night is over and that we should throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Often, when people desire to sleep, they turn off the lights; in fact, lights-out is a way of inviting sleep. On the other hand, turning on the lights indicates that the sleeping time is up.
One cannot achieve proper watchfulness in the dark; you would need light to see. The message in the Second Reading is that as much as we need to be watchful, we should make sure that our light is shining. Our light shines through our detachment from sin and disobedience to God. Our Lord Jesus Christ shows the connection between light and good deeds where he says, “let your light shine before others so that seeing your good works, they may give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Moving Forward with Watchful Preparation
In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 24:37-44), our Lord Jesus Christ makes a connection between watchfulness and preparation. He uses the story of Noah to illustrate the importance of watchful preparation. At the time, as Noah was watchfully preparing for the flood, the men and women of his time were asleep in the darkness of worldly pleasure until the flood came and carried them away.
Staying awake involves making the proper and necessary preparations; otherwise, it would be useless doing so. One could be awake and do nothing, but anyone who is awake and prepared would do better.
In life, the way you prepare determines the extent you could go. You are as good as how prepared you are; things don’t just happen; there is always some preparation following the process. Preparation is one of the principles of success. The Book of Proverb (24:27) says prepare before you build. Real success is not usually by chance; it is by preparation.
To have a dependable Advent season and with the call for watchful preparation, there would be the need for us to focus on the following preparation tip questions:
Have a graceful First Sunday of Advent, and may God increase your blessings.
The following dialogue transpired between Pilate and our Lord Jesus Christ inside the praetorium early morning before the crucifixion.
Pilate: (Entering the praetorium again, summoned Jesus, and asked him): Are you the King of the Jews?
Jesus: Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?
Pilate: I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?
Jesus: My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.
Pilate: So, you are a king?
Jesus: You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
Our Lord Jesus Christ began the commissioning of the apostles to spread the good news by saying, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matt. 28:18).
In the Second Reading today (Colossians 1:12-20), St. Paul gives us a biography of our Lord Jesus:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.
All these references bring our minds to the reality of the universal Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we celebrate today. Pope Pius XI proposed and instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925. The feast came at a time when the world was becoming increasingly secular and dispassionate about the authority of Christ with the rising of dictatorship among world leaders.
Through the encyclical Quas Primas, Pope Pius wanted to achieve three things with the feast of Christ the King:
Jesus Christ, A King Unlike Others
We can appreciate the Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ more when we understand the nature and character of his Kingship. In the dialogue with Pilate at the beginning of this reflection, our Lord made it clear that his kingdom is not of this world. In the Gospel (Luke 23:35-43), the good thief on the right hand of the crucified Lord begged him to remember him in his kingdom and responding to him our Lord assures him that he would be with him in his kingdom.
Kings are born in palaces, but our Lord Jesus Christ, the Kings of kings, was born in a manger meant for little animals (Luke 2:7). Kings of the world sleep in cozy beds, but Jesus Christ, the humble King of glory, had nowhere to lay his head (Matt. 8:20). Earthly kings have people who serve and even die for them, but our King and Savior, Jesus Christ, came to serve and to laid down his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45). Kings are known for their pride and exuberance. However, our Lord Jesus Christ was humble even unto death (Phil 2:8). All other kings die no matter how long they live on earth, but our Lord Jesus is the only King that won victory over death (1 Cor. 15:57), and he would never die again (Romans 6:9).
Moving Forward: Enjoying the Benefits of the Kingship of Jesus Christ
The Second Reading relates how the Father has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son in who we have redemption and forgiveness of sin.
One of the expressions of the power of the evil one in the world is the prevalence of darkness. Spiritually, darkness is the absence of light, and the absence of light entails the lack of the loving presence of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John (8:12), he tells us that he is the light of the world, and whoever follows him will not walk in darkness. With Jesus Christ as our King, we depart from darkness and walk and live in the light.
The Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ leaves us with the hope of a better place after the changes and challenges of the present life. Here we could connect with the thief on the right hand of the Lord, who got an eleventh-hour rescue from the damnation of hell. Moreover, as co-heirs, we shall reign eternally with our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Tim.2:12).
As we celebrate the Feast of our Lord Jesus Christ, it would be worthwhile for us to make efforts to dethrone all the contending kings and kingdoms in our lives. These may come in the form of sin and toxic habits and lifestyles. May the King of Kings always reign consistently in our lives! God bless you.
There is an interesting story by Ernest Hemingway with the title “The End of Something.” It tells the story of a very busy lumber town called Horton’s Bay. The town is always agog with activities from morning to evening as the timber mill site work non-stop. One fateful day, the owners of the factory decided to move all the machines and workers to a new location. Suddenly, the former busy landscape became ghostly and silent as all other activities come to a dead end. Consequently, the town becomes deserted with no sign of the usual hustle and bustle.
The story goes on to narrate how two young lovers come to the town but could not recognize it at all. Only litters of sawdust heaps are visible in the open ruin. As they sail through the side of the lake facing Horton’s Bay in a boat, they recall with pity how…
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Walking along the ocean shore in Barbados during the summertime and enjoying the beautiful scenery with the warm tropical sun, I learned some life lessons that would live with me for a long time. One of my major takeaways is from the rushing ocean current that often comes with so much force and speed as it heads towards the shore, but suddenly it dies down, and there is calmness.
The intermittent ocean current tells me that nothing is permanent in this earthly existence. Beauty is just for a moment; it would soon fade or become obsolete. The physical strength you have would wane with time. Wealth and riches dwindle as time progresses. What about human life? The Book of Psalms (103:15-16) answers this when it says:
As for man, his days are like grass; it flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
Furthermore, the Book of Job (14:1-2), adds, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.
Life is precious, and we all tend to do all in our power to preserve life to the optimal level. I was once at the 96th birthday of a matriarch, and when she was responding to the guests at the surprise birthday set up by her great-grandchildren, she started by asking God to keep her alive to celebrate more years. That was not a bad prayer; however, we expected words of thanksgiving to God for the life and health so far.
One of the best things you can wish anyone is a long life; in fact, it is the most famous prayers in the world, followed by prosperity. On the other hand, the worst thing you can wish anyone is a death wish.
An armed man once entered a church in the middle of the service and facing the congregation; he asked those who are ready to die for Jesus Christ to stand and raise their hands while those who wouldn’t wish to die for the Lord should run away from the Church. The entire congregation moved except the minister, and a few elderly ones and the armed man turns and says to the minister, “preach on sir, these are the real Christians!”
Dying to Live
The First Reading today (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14), tells us about the seven brothers and their mother. They were arrested and tortured to death successively following the orders of the pagan king, Antiochus, who wanted them to denounce their faith in God by eating swine flesh. The spectacular thing about their death was their mother’s encouragement and their unwavering faith in God’s saving power that would lead them to everlasting life.
The narrative shows that their faith in God’s promise of life after the earthly life helped them to remain steadfast in their resolve to give up their lives. Before his gruesome death, the second brother says this to the King, “you accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us to LIVE AGAIN forever. It is for his law that we are dying”. The fourth brother on his part says that it is his choice to die at the hands of men with the HOPE of being raised by God.
In the Gospel Reading (Luke 20:27-38), some Sadducees come to our Lord Jesus Christ to ask his opinion about resurrection using a weird story about seven brothers who died successively but were married to the same woman. They wanted to know whose wife she would become at the time of resurrection.
Our Lord answers them by first indicating that at the time of the resurrection, people do not engage in marriage; neither do they die because they become like angels. Here our Lord Jesus Christ gives us an idea about life after the earthly life. The first thing we learn is that worldly concerns like marriage and death do not have relevance. Next, he indicates that the resurrected souls would become like angels and would be children of God. The basic fact about angels is that they are spiritual beings, and they exist only to do the will of God.
Moving Forward: The Best Life is Beyond the Earth
What is the best form of life? Life without stress and setbacks? Sure, nobody likes to go through stress and setbacks; however, they are part of our life on earth. The beauty of life is living in accordance with the will of God and not about having the best of the material comforts of the world.
On the first day of November, we celebrated the solemnity of All the Saints, which means all our departed brothers and sisters who are now enjoying life after this earthly life. If we go by the description of our Lord Jesus Christ, they are now like angels and have become eternally, the children of God.
The life after this earthly existence is not a right we have as Christians; it is a reward for our steadfast love for God, especially as we strive to defend our faith in God. Often when people die, we mourn and cry because we would miss them. However, we often do not consider if they would receive the reward of rising to life following their faith and faithfulness to God.
At the graveside of Lazarus, our Lord Jesus Christ responding to Martha says, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). It is our faith that life is not ended at death but transformed. For this reason, St. Paul tells the Corinthians (2 Cor. 5:1) that when our earthly tent is destroyed, we have a building not made by human hand in heaven.
The liturgy of the word today invites us to focus on life beyond earthly life. To achieve this, there would be a need for us to be open to the Lord’s strengthening in everything like St. Paul said in the Second Reading (2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5). The divine strengthening would, in turn, assist us in resisting sin and evil like the seven Maccabean brothers and their mother even at the cost of our earthly lives.
As we continue our journey of faith, let us keep our eye on the glorious life that would never end or be destroyed by anything. Have a beautiful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.
Stories are powerful teaching tools. Any attentive reader of the Gospels would notice that our Lord Jesus Christ would often use stories in the form of parables to convey essential messages because they are easy to recall. When you remember a story, you would not forget the message. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. An ideal storyline has a hero (or protagonist), who might start as a victim of the circumstances created by a villain who appears to dominate at first but ends up badly.
We are beginning this reflection by referring to the power of stories because the life of every one of us is a story, and we are co-authors with God. While God sets the scene of the story, which we cannot control, we make the choices about the characters that would play the lead role in the various stages in the story. So, we primarily write our story leveraging the choices we make in life. Everyday constitutes a new page, and each year represents a chapter. The last chapter concludes our existence on earth.
The Gospel Reading today (Luke 19:1-10) tells us about a significant scene in the story of Zacchaeus, a wealthy chief tax collector who shows up when our Lord Jesus Christ was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. He appears for one reason; To See Jesus. He could have heard about the revolutionary religious teacher in the region, and he wanted to see him. He could be wondering how Jesus was able to convince his colleague, Matthew, to leave the lucrative tax business (Matt. 9:9).
However, two obstacles stand on his way. One is personal to him; his smallness and the other is external, the large crowd. Did he give up? Nope. He heads towards a sycamore along the way Jesus Christ would pass, and sitting on that spot, our Lord Jesus meets him and graciously requests to be his guest. We shall be looking at the two obstacles on the way of Zacchaeus as he strives To See Jesus.
The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was short in stature. The latter description shows that Zacchaeus possesses an attribute that is fundamentally limiting. It would be beneficial to our reflection to understand this shortness beyond the physical. Often, we carry with us attitudes and dispositions that limit our view and perception of the essential values we need in our lives, including God. Hence, we have moral, mental, and spiritual shortness in addition to the physical.
Most times, you may turn out to be your worst enemy. Those times when you feel that you are too small to get to a certain point. Those moments when all you see is failure instead of success, and when you believe in “I can’t” more than “I can.” The highest imprisonment is the one you give yourselves. These go back to the mindset. The choices you make in life determine how you direct the story of your life either as a victim or a hero.
The Crowd Effect
The highest gathering of people so far in history has been in the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in India, which features more than 120 million people in two months. The crowd stands as a great limitation to seeing, moving, and hearing. There are numerous instances in the bible were the crowd constituted a hindrance.
God prohibits following the crowd to do wrong (Ex. 23:2). John the Baptist called the crowds brood of vipers (Luke 3:7). The crowd accused our Lord Jesus Christ before Pilate (Mark 15:8-15). Woman with the issue of blood had to struggle through the crowd to touch the garment of Jesus (Luke 8:42-43). The crowd hushed Bartimaeus while he was calling out to the Lord for mercy (Mark 10:48).
Overcoming the Self and the Crowd and Climbing the Tree of Salvation
The narrative about Zacchaeus would have been ineffectual if he gave up in the face of his self-limitations and the obstacle from the crowd. Zacchaeus did not accept the accident of his dwarfism nor the discouraging wall of the crowd as he heads towards the sycamore tree that stands along the path our Lord was going pass.
The first lesson we could learn from Zacchaeus is the ability to look beyond the current situation of our life. There is a need for us to strive towards that which lies ahead always. Overcoming limitations is a choice you make. Zacchaeus could have given up and returned to his office, but his hunger to see our Lord Jesus Christ made him beat both his self-limitation and the barricade of the crowd.
The sycamore tree is very vital in this narrative. Zacchaeus’ instant surveillance aided him to locate the sycamore tree at a distance, and his preview of the procession revealed to him that Jesus Christ would pass through that route. We could call this geographical awareness, but it has spiritual resonance for us.
The sycamore tree with Zacchaeus on it turns out to be an attractive billboard that caught the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the point of climbing the sycamore tree, Zacchaeus’ stature and the obstacles of the crowd became irrelevant as out Lord stops to converse with the wee little man in the presence of the crowd that posed a barrier for him earlier. There was an instant reversal of the situation.
The high point of the dialogue between our Lord Jesus Christ and Zacchaeus was our Lord’s disclosure of his intention to stay in his house, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house”; sounds like an obligated self-invitation. Remember that Zacchaeus set out to seek the Lord, and the Lord found him. The word of God says that those who seek me will find me if they seek me with all their hearts (Jeremiah 29:13).
Note that the crowd followed Zacchaeus to his house and still tried to dissuade him but refused to be intimidated. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not only come into the house of Zacchaeus but also into his soul. Our Lord’s transformed Zacchaeus as he promises to give half of his possession to the poor, and with the other half pay those, he extorted four times over; that means with interest and more.
Moving Forward and Rewriting our Story like Zacchaeus
We all share in the story of Zacchaeus in one way or the other. Sometimes we contend with various self-limiting factors that could be physical, behavioral, moral, or spiritual. At some other moments, we battle with the crowd effect, which could come in the form of people and events around us that retard us from reaching out to the Lord, who is ever ready to go into our hearts to renew us from our sinfulness. The First Reading (Wisdom 11:22-12:2) tells us among other things that God loves us and would spare us because we belong to Him
One of the great privileges we have in scripting our life story is that God gives us a pencil with an eraser so that we can erase and rewrite our story before a chapter ends. Zacchaeus was apt to change the narrative of his life by overcoming his self-limitation and the crowd effect.
You can do the same for your life. Your current situation can only define you if you choose. The difference between where you are and where you intend to be is what you do. Furthermore, it takes focus and commitment, like in the case of Zacchaeus, for you to get there. Do not allow the following things to limit you:
Your present condition. Nick Vujicic was born without limbs, but he is one of the best authors and motivational speakers of his time. Remember that no circumstance has the right to stay forever with you.
The opinion of the crowd. In the route of your life, you will encounter a lot of “nay-sayers” who would deter you and even stop you from attaining the height you wish to reach. They would only win when you give.
Your Past. The past is gone and sticking to it brings depression. Let the past go so that you can embrace what lies ahead. For Zacchaeus, his small stature and the crowd became the things of the past as he runs to the sycamore tree.
Have a glorious Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.