The goal of Biblical exegesis is to explore the meaning of the text which then leads to discovering its significance or relevance. Applying exegesis should make our reflection on the readings of the Sunday Liturgy more fruitful and helpful.
We have in one of our schools a facility
called “Joy Center”. It used to be the place where the students go during break
time to play table games and board games such as ping pong, table football,
pool, Games of the Generals and chess. It’s aptly called the “Joy Center”
because the boys go there to have fun, to enjoy themselves.
In the same way the Third Sunday of Advent
is called “Gaudete Sunday” or “Joy Sunday” because with Christmas getting
closer, we feel happy. And to highlight the joyful spirit of this Sunday, the color
of the candle of the Advent wreath and of the vestment of the priest is pink. An
alternative color for the vestment is rose.
Of course, this Sunday is not the only
Sunday that is joyful. The whole mood of Advent is joyful. And it is because the
spirit of Christmas itself is one of joy.
The joyful spirit of Christmas is expressed
in the holiday character of the season. Schools, offices, buildings, parishes
and streets are adorned with Christmas lights, Christmas trees, lanterns, and
Santa Claus. Christmas songs are heard over the radio. We hold Christmas
parties in schools, and in offices. We give and receive gifts and Christmas
cards. We wear new clothes. The 13th month pay and Christmas bonus are
awaited with eagerness.
All of these are good. But they are not
enough to express the joy of Christmas. The joy of Christmas comes from giving.
And this giving is to celebrate the giving that happened on that first
Christmas: “God so loved the world that he GAVE his only Son that those who believe
in him may not perish but have everlasting life.”
A Grade Six pupil experienced for himself the
joy that comes from giving. It is a practice to hold a Christmas party in
schools. Following the suggestion of their teacher, the class decided that they
will share the joy of Christmas with other kids. And so they invited some
children from an orphanage to attend their Christmas party in school. It was
after this party that I met this Grade Six pupil. He couldn’t contain his pride
and happiness. He said, “Father, I never thought I would feel this happy.” I
asked him why. And he replied, “Because I saw the orphaned children very happy.
That made me very happy.”
What I am suggesting is that you make your
Christmas joyful by giving. Just like that Grade Six pupil, make your Christmas
joyful by making others happy. Let’s see the ways.
1. Why don’t you share some of your Noche
Buena or Media Noche with your neighbors?
2. I have seen street children who cannot
go to school because they have to make a living by rummaging through garbage.
Why not prepare sandwiches for them? Or buy some hamburger, for example, and
give it to them.
3. You can also go to an orphanage or an
old people’s home or the jail and give them gift packs or food, like spaghetti
and ice cream.
Do you know that they celebrate Christmas in Japan like we do here in the Philippines? Is there any difference?
Yes, there is. Their Christmas is just a holiday. In the Philippines it is both a holiday and a holy day. What makes Christmas a holy day? We celebrate it with faith. The Japanese celebrate Christmas without thinking of Christ. We celebrate Christmas because of Christ. We celebrate the birth of Christ, the Savior of the world.
There are only three birthdays that we
celebrate in the Liturgy: the birth of John the Baptist on June 24, the birth
of Mary on September 8 and the birth of Christ on December 25. And the reason
why celebrate their birth is their important role in the plan of salvation.
John the Baptist prepared Israel for the appearance of the Messiah. Mary, of
course, is the one through whom the Messiah was born into the world. Jesus Christ
is the Messiah.
When we celebrate our own birthdays, one of
the things we need to do is to think about is the role that God has given us in
this world. That role is what gives meaning to our life on earth. That role
answers the question: Why was I born into this world? So let us ask ourselves: Do
I know what that role is? How well have I been fulfilling it?
Are there deeper reasons for celebrating
the birth of Jesus? Yes, there are.
In the first place, when we celebrate
Christmas, we are also celebrating the love of God for us. In St. John’s Gospel,
we read: “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that those
who believe in him may not perish but have everlasting life.” It was because
God loved us that he did not abandon us to our sins. It was because he loved us
that he sent us a Savior.
Secondly, when we celebrate Christmas, we
are also celebrating the “pagmamalasakit “ of Jesus Christ for us. The Second
Person of the Blessed Trinity agreed to become a human being so that he may
suffer and die on the cross to pay the price of our redemption. In Romans 5:7-8
St. Paul declares: “Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just
person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But
God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for
us.” Christ died for us – that is the “pagmamalasakit” of Christ that I am
There may be more reasons for celebrating
Christmas, but I end with a third reason. When we celebrate Christmas, we
celebrate the fulfillment of a promise made by God right after Adam and Eve
sinned. He promised not to abandon them but to send a Savior. This was the
promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your
offspring and hers; it will strike at your head, while you strike at its heel”
(Gn 3: 15). Christmas then is a celebration of God’s keeping his promise. Our
God then is a God who is true to his word. He is a God who has “palabra de
We have found at least three reasons for
celebrating Christmas. How then should we prepare for Christmas so that it does not become just a
holiday but a holy day above all else? Again when we say holy day, we mean to
say that our celebration is inspired by faith. And faith tells us that
Christmas is about the birth of our Savior. So how do we prepare for the
celebration of the birth of the Savior?
The First Reading and the Gospel answer
that question: “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make
straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled
in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a
plain, the rough country, a broad valley.”
What does this mean? It means remove
anything and everything that is an obstacle to meet the Lord. There is really
only one thing that can hinder us from meeting the Lord. Sin. But removing sin is a
process. (We call this process “conversion”.) It is a process because it is not
just about going to confession. Removing sin is also about removing the bad
habits, correcting the bad attitudes and avoiding the people, places and things
that cause us to sin. And all of these are not easily done. It takes time and
effort. And that is why to prepare ourselves for Christmas, we are given four
For some of us four weeks may not be enough. But at least come Christmas
day, we can offer to the Lord together with the Four Wise Men, all the time and
effort we have spent in removing our bad habits, in correcting our bad attitudes
and in avoiding the people, places and things that cause us to sin.
Christmas is a holiday. But it is more than
a holiday. It is a holy day. And it will become a holy day when our celebration
is inspired by faith and centered on Christ. That is why our Christmas greeting
should not only be “Merry Christmas” but a “Blessed Christmas”.
The theme of the Gospel of the First Sunday
of Advent is the end of the present age and the beginning of a new world, the
end of time and the beginning of eternity, the resurrection of the dead, and
the second coming of Jesus Christ as King and Judge.
Jesus Christ is king even now but it is not
obvious. At the end of the present age, his kingship will be seen by everyone.
He will also judge everyone who was ever born. Evil people will go to hell.
Good people will go to heaven.
The resurrection of the dead means that
body and soul will be re-united. But the body will be transformed so that it
can no longer get sick, nor age nor die. And with the transformation of the
body, the present world will also be transformed. How will the new world look
like, we do not know. The transformation of good people will actually be the
same as the transformation of Jesus Christ at his resurrection.
When Jesus returns, time will also come to
an end and eternity will begin. Philosophy explains time as the succession of before
and after. Eternity therefore means there will no longer be a before and an
after. It will always be now. What does that mean? It simply means there will
be no change. That is why if you go to heaven you will always be happy. Unlike
here on earth, there is change. One time you are happy. At another time you are
What is the teaching that Jesus gives us
regarding his second coming and the end of the old word? He says that we should
be on guard and stay awake. Be like the door keeper who is always ready to open
the door no matter at what time the master of the house will come.
Why is this the theme of Advent when Advent
is supposed to be a four-week preparation for Christmas?
First, Advent means coming. But the first
part of Advent is about the second coming of Jesus as King and Judge at the end
of time. It is the first part that is a preparation for his second coming. This
second coming is called the Parousia. The second part of Advent is about the
first coming of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem. It is in this second part that is
strictly speaking devoted to preparing for Christmas.
Advent is a four-week preparation. That is
why there are four candles in the Advent wreath. Except for one candle, all
three are violet because violet is the color of preparation. But one candle is
pink. This candle is lighted on the Third Sunday of Advent. And it is called
Gaudete Sunday or Sunday of Rejoicing because as we say in the Philippines,
“Ilang tulugan na lang, Pasko na!”
The preparation of Advent is, of course,
spiritual and it involves conversion. That is why the liturgical color of
Advent is violet as I have said. The liturgical color of Advent and Lent is
violet. Is there any difference? Yes, there is. While the period of Lent is
low-key, the period of Advent is joyful.
How do we put into practice the teaching of
Jesus to be on guard and to stay awake for his second coming?
I see a bit of a problem. While it is
entirely possible that the second coming will take place in our lifetime, it is
more probable that our death will come first. In other words, it is more
practical to prepare for death rather than for the Parousia. However, the
spiritual preparation for death is practically the same as the spiritual
preparation for the Parousia. So that simplifies matters.
So how do we prepare ourselves spiritually
for death and for the Parousia? Just follow this principle: live in such a way
that you are always ready to face the judgment seat of God.
Are you living a good Christian life? Go
ahead being a good Christian. Huwag pabayaan ang sarili na maligaw ng landas. Are
you living a sinful life? Don’t wait for tomorrow to change. Don’t say: “Saka
na lang.” Do it now. Now na! Is there someone that you are not at peace with?
Take steps now to reconcile. Is there a grudge that you have been keeping inside
you for so long? Let it go. Let it go. Move on with your life. Is there a bad
habit that has taken hold of you? It may take you a long time to shake it off.
But a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Take that step
now. Are you not at peace with God? Take steps to return to him. Magbalik-loob
sa Diyos. Take the first steps now to do that.
We go to the cemetery at least once a year
on the occasion of Undas or Todos los Santos. In a cemetery somewhere in
Scotland, a visitor saw this inscription on a tombstone: Consider, friend, as
you pass by: As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you too shall be.
Prepare, therefore, to follow me.
How do we prepare for death and for the
Parousia? Live in such a way that you are always ready to face the judgment
seat of God. And if you are not yet ready, fix your life. Do it now.