Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent Year A
Theme: CHRISTMAS PREPARATION
By: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Homily for Sunday December 15 2019
Gospel: Mt 11:2-11 – The Messengers from John
Message # 462: “The Bright Cave”
(TO THE PRIESTS, Our Lady’s Beloved Sons, Marian Movement of Priests)
1. Background Information
a) This Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Advent. This is called Gaudete Sunday. The third candle of the Advent wreath is lighted, the pink candle. The message is that of rejoicing for the Lord is near. That is the exhortation of St. Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near” (Phil 4:5, 5).
b) On Friday, the 16th of December, is the start of Simbang Gabi, the 9-day Novena Masses, as our immediate preparation for Christmas. For us Filipinos, this is the official start of the Christmas Season. The Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines was given permission by Rome to have special liturgy for the Simbang Gabi. Although it is still Advent Season, in the Simbang Gabi Masses, the singing of the Gloria is allowed, and the priest wears white vestments. But in the other regular Masses (Sundays and weekdays during the 9-day period), everything is according to the Advent liturgy (no Gloria and the vestment is violet).
c) Simbang Gabi is a religious custom brought to us by the Spanish missionaries, and this originated in agricultural countries. As preparation for Christmas, a nine-day novena is held. Since the farmer needs to go to the farm, the Mass had to be very early in the morning, at dawn, so that he can attend the novena Mass before proceeding to the farm. That is why this was called “Misa de Gallo” (Mass of the Rooster) since it is the time the roosters begin to crow. This is also called Misa de Aguinaldo since this is our gift (prayers and sacrifices, especially the Mass) to the newborn Jesus. In the Tagalog region, this is called Simbang Gabi since we get up very early in the morning while it is still dark to go to Mass. Now we have the vigil (anticipated) Mass in the evening, and this is literally Simbang Gabi.
d) Simbang Gabi is a beautiful religious custom of Filipinos, and this is being spread in all parts of the world where there are concentrations of Filipino communities. Prayers, sacrifices, fellowship and Eucharist: these are the ingredients of a meaningful preparation for Christmas. We hope this does not become “Simbang Ligaw” or “Simbang Kain”.
2. The Message
a) The Blessed Mother speaks of two births of Jesus: the first is the birth in Bethlehem (letter b and c); the second is still to come, but very soon (letter g). While we prepare for the Christmas celebration reminding us of his first birth, we should also prepare for the second birth, his Second Coming.
b) The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is a clear manifestation that aside from being True God, he is also True Man. (Read letters c and f). As Scriptures tell us, Jesus was like us in ALL things, except sin. His mother was a normal woman like our own mothers, he was born in a natural way just like us, and he lived like any normal human being. That is precisely why his own town mates in Nazareth could not believe that he was the Messiah. There was simply nothing extraordinary in him. That is the Mystery of the Incarnation. This is so that he can gather us together and bring us to His Father. He is the sole Mediator between God and man. He is able to do this because he is True God and True Man.
3. The Gospel
a) John the Baptist was rather perplexed with the coming of Jesus. He had to be sure of his facts. So he sent messengers to Jesus: “Are you he who is to come or shall we wait for another?” Are you the expected Messiah, or just another precursor like me, and so do we still wait for another? Jesus answered by referring to Isaiah’s prophecy: the messianic signs, which he had been doing (the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, etc.).
b) John had to ask this question because Jesus was just a man like us in all things (except sin). His divinity is hidden behind his humanity. In other words, the experience of John was with the humanity of Jesus. For John, Jesus was truly human. So he had to ask the question just to make sure Jesus is also divine as Messiah.
c) Jesus is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is one Person, but has two natures: human nature and divine nature. These two natures are united in one Person. This is called “hypostatic union”. This case happened only in Jesus. He is true God and true man. Rejecting the divinity of Jesus is the heresy of Arianism. Rejecting the humanity of Jesus is the heresy of Monophysitism (which holds that Jesus had but a single nature, his human nature absorbed into his divinity). Rejecting the unity of the human and divine nature in Jesus is the heresy of Nestorianism (which says that Jesus had two loosely-united natures).
4. Mary and her Virgin Birth
a) The basic truth of the Incarnation is that Jesus was a man like us in ALL things, except sin. Any idea or teaching that attempts to exempt Jesus from the normal human experience should be rejected! That is the revival of Nestorianism.
b) Mary was a regular maiden from Nazareth. There was nothing extraordinary in her, except her being the Immaculate Conception: she was free from any sin, original and actual sins. God gave her this unique or singular privilege in view of her role as Mother of the Savior. (The example we can use here is that of prevention and cure. In medical terms, it is immunization or vaccination as compared to cure. Mary still received God’s mercy and benefited from the redemptive work of Jesus, though free from sin, because she was preserved from sin, as in immunization. That was a single act of mercy of God beyond compare! And Mary received that singular and unique privilege.)
c) Mary was a virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus. Before: she had no physical contact with any man at any point in her life (“How can it be since I do not know man?”). During: she gave birth to Jesus in a normal human way. It is natural to assume that her hymen was broken. But this does not mean she was not anymore a virgin. There are many women who broke their hymen while exercising or riding a bicycle, but they are still virgins. To say that Mary was pure, therefore, she must not have experienced menstruation, is to seriously undermine the doctrine of Incarnation. This could mean Mary was not a normal woman, and Jesus was not a normal human being. The fact is, impurity caused by menstruation is just a Jewish belief. It is wrong to say that Mary became impure just because she had menstruation, in the same way that Mary was not anymore a virgin just because her hymen was broken. (Who knows it remained intact? After all, nothing is impossible with God! If God preserved Mary from sin, God can surely preserve also her hymen! No big deal!) So even after the birth of Jesus, Mary remained a virgin.
The concrete evidence that she had normal birth can be found in Bethlehem. The early Christians were able to pinpoint the exact location of the birthplace of Jesus because of the blood of childbirth. It remained untouched for some time because nobody dared to touch it for fear of becoming unclean. In other words, the birth of Jesus was normal delivery, and the blood is the concrete evidence.
5. Related Issues
a) Christmas Tree: this is not originally a Christian symbol for Christmas. Proof: there is no Christmas tree in Bethlehem. Some people say that the biblical basis of the Christmas tree is the Jesse Tree (Jesse is the father of King David). This is a wild idea! In the first place, that particular tree is not a physical tree but only symbolic tree, tracing the lineage of the Messiah as in a “family tree”. Secondly, the Jesse Tree is used as a symbol of Advent, not Christmas. In the Bible, there are only two trees mentioned which are of great importance: 1) the tree of knowledge in Genesis, which caused the fall of man; and 2) the tree of the cross of Jesus, which redeemed mankind.
Nowadays, the Christmas tree is a common symbol for Christmas. It can be Christianized. In fact, there is now a giant Christmas tree standing at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican. This symbol has strong cultural roots and rich meaning particularly in Europe and America. During winter, all trees have no leaves except the evergreen pine trees. They clearly stand out as a symbol of life and hope in the midst of barrenness, death and gloom of winter. It is therefore very easy to give a Christian meaning to it.
However, when the Christmas tree is overemphasized, there is the tendency towards materialism: gifts at the foot, lights all around, abundant glitter and trimmings. In many cases, the Nativity Scene (Belen) and the Baby Jesus are totally absent. Hence, it becomes a counter witness to Christmas. Jesus was born in Bethlehem wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger, surrounded by poverty and simplicity. But our Christmas tree and our whole Christmas celebrations are overflowing in luxury and material abundance. Perhaps we are made to encounter economic difficulties so that we begin to celebrate Christmas in its true meaning of humility and simplicity.
b) The Cross and Bethlehem
The cross of Jesus still remains prominent on Christmas. It is not out of place. This is to remind us that the Child Jesus was born precisely to die, and offer His life for our salvation. He did not remain a child; he became a full-grown man and ended up on the cross. There are indicators of this from the Christmas event. The first is Bethlehem, his place of birth. “Bethlehem” means “house of bread”. It is already a prelude to the Eucharist: in the “house of bread”, the “Bread of Eternal Life” was born. Second, Jesus was laid in a manger. The manger is the receptacle of the food for the animals. Jesus was laid there because he will offer his own body as food for our salvation, the Eucharist. Third, the Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold is for the king (Jesus is King of Kings); frankincense is used by the priest in offering worship to God (Jesus is the Eternal High Priest); and myrrh is used for preparing the body for burial. Giving myrrh as gift for a newborn child is a big insult! (Parang sinasabing mamatay na sana ang baby n’yo!) But that gift is perfect because Jesus will die on the cross as ransom for us sinners.
So when we celebrate Christmas, let us put it in its proper context, by remembering always that it is part of the whole redemptive work of God done through Jesus which will reach its apex in the Paschal Mystery of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. That is why we Filipinos are more accurate in our terminology. We say: “Maligayang Pasko!” “Pasko” is Pasch, referring to the Paschal Mystery. After all, Christmas is not separate from the Paschal Mystery.
c) “Merry Christmas!”
This term came from the English-speaking countries. There are two words: Christ and Mass. The central event of Christmas is the Holy Eucharist. Christmas is “Christ’s Mass”. Without the Mass on Christmas, there is no Christmas at all.
There is a move to erase Christ from Christmas. So we become used to greetings, which are Christ-less: “Happy Holidays”, “Yuletide Cheers”, “Season’s Greetings”, and many others. This is to accommodate non-Christians who want to make money during this season of abundance. So we see the stores of Jews and Muslims (who do not believe in Jesus) also having Christmas decorations! That’s all for business and profits! So, in a not-so-distant future, “Merry Christmas” may disappear altogether. No more Christ and no more Mass in Christmas! That is what Mama Mary is warning us about: errors being spread all over, which result in mass apostasy!
Sing “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit!”
GUIDE QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE BEC
1. Ano ang kakaibang gagawin ko ngayong Pasko upang maging mabunga at makahulugan ang pagdiriwang nito para sa akin ngayong taon na ito?
2. Ano ang mga ginagawa natin sa Pasko na hindi tumutugma sa ating pananampalatayang kristiyano?
3. Ano ang naiisip o nararamdaman mo kapag naririnig mo ang saleslady o security guard ng mga mall, na sa halip bumati ng “Merry Christmas”, ang sinasabi ay “Happy Holidays”?