4th Sunday Of Advent Year B
Theme of the week: This Christmas, let us open our hearts and be truly receptive to God.
We are in the 4th week of Advent, with Christmas being less than a week away. My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: How has my Advent preparation been? Is my heart ready for Jesus? When Jesus comes to me at Christmas, will He find a receptive heart? What constitute a receptive heart? Many of us may think we have a receptive heart to Jesus at Christmas. After all, we will go to church on Christmas day, sing some carols, extend good wishes to each other, and may be even make a few donations to worthy causes. No doubt, these activities are on the Christmas to-do-list for many of us. For us believers, such activities are important – they remind us the meaning of Christmas, that it is a season of joy and love. But are they signs of a heart truly receptive heart to Jesus? Or do we act out these more out of habit? So, with Christmas less than a week away, let us reflect: Do I have a heart truly receptive to God?
Firstly, a receptive heart is a repentant heart. By our fallen nature, all of us have sinned. The question is, do I have the humility acknowledge my sins – especially those unspoken ones that I am most ashamed of? Or am I too proud to acknowledge them, as I sweep these under carpet and pretend they did not happen? King David committed a very serious sin – he committed adultery with Bathsheba (1 Sam 2-5). And when Bathsheba became pregnant, David tried to cover his tracks by murdering Bathsheba’s husband by the hand of the enemy army (1 Sam 14-27). Such is the nature of sins, with one sin leading to another, as we sink deeper and deeper. When the prophet Nathan pointed out David’s sins to the king (1 Sam 12:1-12), David unreservingly repented. He did not deny it, he did not make excuses, blame someone else or justify his actions. This is what David wrote in response: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” (Ps 51:1-4) By his repentant heart, David was able to rescue himself from his vicious slide into deeper and deeper sins. What about me? Do I have a repentant heart like David? Or am I too proud or perhaps too shameful to admit my sin?
Secondly, a receptive heart is also a forgiving heart. In Mt 18:23-35, Jesus told us the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In the parable, a servant owed the kings a huge debt. He begged the king for mercy, the king showed him pity and cancelled the debt. Immediately after that, the servant met a fellow servant who owed him a smaller debt. Instead of showing the same mercy he received from the king, the first servant threw the other servant into prison. When the king heard about this, he reinstated the first servant’s debt and handed him over to be tortured. Why didn’t the first servant show mercy to the second servant, especially considering the king has just cancelled his much bigger debt? The reason is: the servant did not reflect on the mercy he just received. My dear friends, if we are honest with ourselves, many of our hearts are hurting. Just as we commit sins against others; others commit sins against us. The sins we commit, the hurt we cause to others, God readily forgives us. But have we paused to reflect on God’s mercy? Because if we do that, then we will surely extend the same forgiveness to those who hurt us. Instead, many of us are hurting so badly that we harbour feelings of resentment and revenge towards those who wronged us. As a result, happiness eluded us. In the end, we are not just punishing the other party, we are also punishing ourselves. In not forgiving, we not only imprison the person who wronged us, but we also imprison ourselves. My brothers and sisters, let us set each other free this Christmas. Freely I have received God’s forgiveness and mercy. Freely let me show mercy and forgiveness to those who wronged me.
Thirdly, a receptive heart is a grateful heart, a heart grateful of God’s blessings, mercy and grace. Lk 17:11-19 tells the story of how Jesus cured ten lepers. Nine of the lepers went away happy. But only one leper “turned back, praising God with a loud voice” (Lk 17:15) and “prostrated himself at Jesus” (Lk 17:16). How often do I reflect on God’s blessings in my life? We live in a highly materialistic world. The materialistic value system is very prevalent in and around us. It is constantly being drilled into our consciousness. Consequently and sometime unknowingly, many of us bring the materialistic value system into our spiritual life. What is the materialistic value system? It is the notion that we do not do something for nothing. In other words, there need to be a payback for everything we do. And the payback need not be restricted to monetary gains either. In this way, I do not worship God out of love. Instead, I only go to Him when I need something – whether it is for financial gains, health or relationships reasons. Of course, there is nothing wrong with asking God for favours. However, we need to ask ourselves: have I reduced God to a vending machine of heavenly favours? In times of trouble, I pray to the Lord for deliverance. However, when good times come, do I grow complacent and forget about God’s blessings?
Under the materialistic value system, the human heart is never satisfied. So, what is the solution? St Augustine provides us the answer when he said, “our hearts are restless until they can find rest in God.” A heart that is able to rest in the Lord is a contented heart. Freed from the materialistic value system, it takes a contented heart to be grateful. The First Reading provides us an example. After years of wars, peace finally prevailed for the Jewish people. We hear that as a show of his appreciation for God’s blessing, David wanted to build a temple to house the Ark of God. Grateful for the Lord’s blessings, David remembered the Lord in his time of comfort (verse 2). What about me? Do I remember God’s blessings in my time of comfort? In the First Reading, in response for David’s reverence, God promised to be a father to David’s offspring (verse 14). Furthermore, the Lord said to David, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever” (verse 16). As Salvation History reveals to us, the eternal kingship promised to David is not an earthly one, but a heavenly kingdom established by our Lord Jesus Christ.>
Finally, a receptive heart is a trusting heart. The Gospel passage this week provides a great example. The Gospel story brings to fulfilment God’s promise of heavenly kingship to David in the First Reading. The Gospel passage tells the story of Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb, an event known as the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel promised Mary that she will conceive a child, to which Mary replied, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (verse 34) In those days, the punishment for a woman who conceives a child out of wedlock is death by stoning. Hence, the angel’s promise to Mary is not just a puzzling one, but also a very confronting one. What was Mary’s response? In spite of the uncertain future and the certain danger, Mary accepted her mission of becoming the mother of Jesus. She uttered these famous words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (verse 38). In spite of the risk and personal cost, Mary said ‘Yes’ to God. This is one of the reasons why Mary is held in such high regard in Catholic teachings. She is the perfect example of a trusting and obedient heart. In our modern world where secularism and relativism reign supreme, we too are often faced with challenges where living up to our faith would exact a cost. Let us ask ourselves: Do I followed Mary’s example and say ‘Yes’ to God, irrespective of the cost? If not, why not? Let us ask ourselves: In my deepest heart of hearts, do I trust God?
My brothers and sisters, God has given each of us a receptive heart – a heart full of repentance, forgiveness, gratefulness, contentment, and trust. In the Second Reading, St Paul calls this the “obedience of faith” (verse 26). It is a mystery, a paradoxical formula to leading a full life. Alas, through sins, we have hardened our hearts. To a hardened heart, this mystery remains hidden like a secret. As St Paul called it, it is “the mystery that was kept secret for long ages” (verse 25) This Christmas, let us open this mystery gift from God. Let us open our hearts to God’s love, grace and mercy: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ez 36:26) Emmanuel, my dear friends.