Isaiah 52:7-10; Ps. 97:1-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; Gospel of John 1:1-18
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 25th December 2019
In today’s Gospel, St John proclaims, “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things came to be.” This means that John’s Gospel is proclaiming that God has no beginning and no end; that God is Eternal and Almighty, and He created everything that exists – the universe, our planet earth; all creatures and all of us human persons.
The Gospel, then proclaims further that God is the “True Light that shines in the dark, a Light that darkness could not overpower. . . And this Light enlightens all men . . . but, the world did not know Him. . . His own people did not accept Him. But, to those who did accept Him, he gave power to become children of God.”
This second part of the Gospel points out that Jesus being The True Light and True Love, is the great contrast to the reality of the darkness of sin, evil and destruction in the world. Our Christmas celebration, is a celebration of bringing Jesus’ Light and Love to dispel this darkness of suffering, sin and evil that threatens to destroy our faith, lives and human existence.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, John’s Gospel may sound overly theological and abstract to many of us but, as we celebrate this Christmas Mass, let us ask ourselves a concrete question. “What can we look forward to this Christmas celebration that we can say is going to be radically different from the other Christmases that we have experienced?
Instead of looking forward to what we may receive from unwrapping the gifts we are to receive perhaps, we may instead wish to reflect on how we ourselves can become a “Christmas gift” to those who do not expect to unwrap any gifts because they are living in the “darkness” of the cruel reality of suffering and sin. And as such, do not seem to have any Christmas gift of the Christ-Child to unwrap.
To become “that Christmas gift”, let us begin by connecting with the reality of the world we live in. If someone were to come up to us and say, “Father, I am hungry . . . I have been drinking water for the past three days. . . can you help me?” What would our response be when we hear of such a cry of the marginalised and homeless person? Would we respond with a respectful compassionate heart?
Are we going to make a real difference to reduce their pain and suffering, and stop rationalizing and condemning them by muttering to ourselves, “He is just trying his luck to get some money from me?” Worse still, would we say to ourselves, “He is going to get drunk with the money I give him; or he is just too lazy to work . . .” and such similar unkind and disrespectful remarks?
Ponder for a moment: “What if the cry of these marginalized people are genuine?” If so then, “What have we done to these children of God?” Can we truly celebrate the Joy of Christmas . . . with the realization that we have abandoned such marginalized persons in the “darkness” of their suffering and sorrow?
What if we receive a similar appeal from a poor village in India who is asking for $2,000 to install a bore well for clean water for his villagers of 30 families so that they each do not have to walk 2-3km daily to fetch a bucket of clean water for cooking and drinking? Will we be the “Christmas gift” they long to unwrap? The “darkness of suffering” in the world is real, and real people around us are suffering . . .
Will we soothe our conscience by giving them some loose change, and hope that they do not disturb our lives? If we were to reflect on the year 2019 alone and ask ourselves, “How much have we contributed and what percentage of our wealth have been shared with these poor and needy, and marginalized of society? What would our answers be? Would God be proud of us or would He be very sad? What about the many previous years of our lives? What would God be saying to us, today as we celebrate this Solemnity of Christmas?
My sisters and brothers in Christ, it is so convenient for us to ignore or worse still consider these “nobodies” of society as a nuisance when they approach us for help. Praise the Lord if we are not guilty of this sin of omission. But, if we are, then let us not forget that all the blessings, comfort and joys of our lives are all God’s gracious and gratuitous gifts to us.
In other words, all that we have are God’s free initiatives of His gifts to us. And when God give us abundant gifts and blessings He expects us to share them with others, like a good mother who buys some toys of her children. She expects them to share with one another. And so, if we do not share God’s gifts and blessings especially with people in need, the peace in our hearts and homes will not be deep, not only during the Christmas season, but every day of our lives, until and only when we actually share them with others and those in need. This is because any form of self-centered way of living is not the Christ-like “Peace, Joy and Compassionate Love” that He proclaims to us and all peoples, in the Gospel.
It is in this context that we are happy to say that our Cathedral of the Good Shepherd alone, spends some $50,000 each month to offer financial support to some 400 or more local poor, needy, and homeless of our society. And, I would like to thank the many who has contributed generously to this needed Social mission ministry; without which none of our ministry of Christ Compassion would be possible.
Drawing our reflection on to a different perspective, let us remind ourselves then, “What if the reality of our lives experiences a reversal, and we become the homeless and the helpless who have to go around begging, with great humility? How will we feel being in the shoes of these poor and rejected of society, especially so, when we are falsely accused and condemned for being lazy and for being a drunkard?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have thus far in the reflection on this homily focused on the example of the economic poor and needy of our society. However, this “poor and needy” are only one of the many different categories of people who are living in the “darkness of the suffering”. In fact, many of these people can be persons living within the very same homes we live, and are daily crying out for Christ’s Light and Love.
The following few questions will further help us to recognize that such a reality exists within our homes, community and people around us and in the world would be in order. For example: “Have we turned away in exasperation from people we know who are living in the darkness of their depression because we don’t have time for them? Have we considered what Jesus may be asking of us to do for someone who is diagnosed with a terminal illness, or is totally helpless like our aged parent, or still, how can we be a compassionate and non-judgmental support to someone who is at a loss due to a recent divorce, or a sudden retrenchment or have unexpectedly just heard their child say that they no longer want to go to church anymore and the like?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us yet remind ourselves that the sharing of the Light and Love of the Christ-Child at Christmas does not exclude those who are living in the darkness of a very mundane, materialistic and meaningless life, in the secular world; more so, if they have chosen to reject God and have turned away from the Truth of the Gospels, that Jesus has proclaimed.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that this “Light and Love” of the Christ-Child did not seek to be born in the grandeur of a palace, but humbled Himself to be born in the poverty of a stable; in the piercing cold of the night . . . vulnerable, yet in the secure and warm embrace of His Mother who is filled with the Grace and the Light of the Holy Spirit. His Mother who answered “Yes” paved the way for Jesus, Her Son, to enter our human world of the darkness of suffering and sin, as Saviour and Lord.
Mary, said “yes” decisively and kept to her promise with an unflinching fidelity regardless of the trials and tribulations that She faced; even to the point of allowing herself to be stoned to death in shame and in public, as the Jewish Law demanded. Mary is truly God’s special gift to us, so that Jesus, the divine Gift of the Son of God can become the Gift of Salvation to all peoples in the world who are suffering and living in the darkness of Sin.
The True Light and Love, Peace and Joy of Christmas can only fill our hearts and homes, if we can in good conscience say to God, “Lord, I have witnessed and shared the abundant blessings of Your Light, Love, Peace and Joy with those who are living in the darkness of their suffering, sorrow and sin.”
Let us then pray that you and I have the “new eyes” and “new heart” like those of the wisdom of Mary to say “yes” to God’s Will that we become the “Christmas gift” in the Christ-Child to those who live in the darkness of their suffering and sin . . . and allow the “Light, Love, Peace and Joy” of the Christ-Child to be born in our hearts and homes, to whom ever we reach out to with our compassionate respectful response to their needs, regardless of how small this may be, provided they are shared with a sincerity of heart, and out of our genuine love for Jesus.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.