Wednesday, 28 December 2011

‘I Am Not the Messiah’ (John 1:20): Of Undue Anxieties and False Alarms:


Isaiah 61:1-2. 10-11; I Thess 5:16-24; John 1:6-8. 19-28

On this third Sunday of Advent, Jews from Jerusalem have sent priests and Levites to ask John the Baptist to declare his identity. “Who are you?” (V 19) they ask. But having admitted he is not the messiah they still ask; “What are you then? Are you Elijah? And he said, ‘I am not.’ Are you the prophet? He answered ‘No’ (John 1:21).

The Jews can wait no longer. They are overwhelmingly anxious. They even have the kind of false alarms that we all occasionally experience, especially when we are waiting for those truly precious to our hearts. We imagine at such times that every ship that docks, every plane that lands, every vehicle that pulls up has brought the one we were waiting for. Sometimes, we even see others exactly like those we are waiting for and we draw closer in excitement, only to retreat in disappointment. (I am told that first time parents have many false alarms of labour…).

Some Pharisees have also gone to John the Baptist. “Why then do you baptize if you are not the messiah or Elijah or the prophet” (John 1:25). Among the reasons John the Baptist gives for not being the messiah is the fact that he baptizes with water as well being unworthy to untie the sandal straps of the Messiah (v 25). These are weighty distinctions that we will hopefully revisit someday in our Sunday Bread.

The question we must however raise and attempt to respond to today is whether we have rightfully identified the Christ of our Faith. What signs could there be that we are worshipping Jesus of Nazareth; the true Messiah. The sheer number of churches and ministries in our country alone points to the possibility that a good portion of us could have settled for contraband messiahs!

Hear what the true Messiah says of his divine mission and vision;

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free
And to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2).

The Ministry of Christ as we may all see is tinged with mildness and mercy. He comes to redeem those who do not belong, the rejected or less respected, the poor, people who are marginalized in society, the unclean, the sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes… He has overflowing compassion for all humanity. He is meek and humble without losing urgency, radicalness and authority.

And if the foregoing is the authentic identity of our saviour, then you might share my reservations with the powerful televangelists who send scores of believers down by the wave of a handkerchief. They even have full time ushers to assist members to fall with dignity. When our attraction become miracle healings; when our testimonies border on wealth after a period of languishing in unyielding poverty; when our families lack peace because we are no longer available to our children and spouses in the name of harvest crusades, then we have most certainly lost the way. Something is terribly wrong with our understanding as well as our choice of a messiah. These preachers who wield more power than the son of God – methinks – have a different messiah; not the one born in the manger in a little known village of Bethlehem. Not the son of Joseph, the village carpenter. The one we are waiting for.

Behold the simplicity of the son of Mary and think again.

But we are not the first to donate ourselves to religious hoaxes. St Paul, while urging the Thessalonians not to despise prophetic utterances tells them, ‘test everything; retain what is good’ (I Thess 5:20-21).

Our anxieties and false alarms have led most of us astray. True Christian spirit is peace-filled, cheerful, supportive of the weak, patient with all (I Thess 5:14). If we are familiar with these experiences, then we are most certainly home and dry in our Christian faith.


Freedom Is Coming…Tommorow:


2 Samuel 7:1-5. 8b-12. 14a; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

At the homestretch of our prayerful waiting, our hearts can now intone the famous song in the movie ‘Sarafina’; a song belted with verve and charisma epitomizing the growing impatience of South Africans seeking to bring to an end the apartheid era. ‘Freedom is coming tomorrow,’ we may now sing too on this last Sunday of Advent.

At last, a prophecy made to David through Prophet Nathan must come to pass; “I will fix a place for my people Israel… I will give you rest from all your enemies… I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins. It is he who shall build a house for my name. And I will make his royal throne firm forever…” (2 Samuel 7:10-13).

The Prophet is immediately talking about Solomon; and remotely about Jesus Christ the son of David, through whose baptism we receive the spirit that allows us to cry “Abba Father!” (Romans 8:15; Gal 4:6); a spirit that makes us daughters and sons of God by adoption. Through this spirit, we are freed from all forms of slavery. The son is surely coming on Christmas day to free us, for ‘if a son frees you, then you will truly be free’ (John 8:36).

This son of David it is, who would in time destroy the temple of his own body and ‘…raise it up in three days’ (John 2:20). This Son of David it is who would become a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek (Hebrew 7:17). He will soon be here to set us free from the excesses of Mosaic law; to transform us from being children of the law to children of a promise – “children, not of the slave woman but of the free born woman” (Gal 4:28-31).

Freedom is coming tomorrow. A tomorrow of that salvific ‘hour…when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…’ (John 4:23). Just imagine what Christmas is bringing to all of us who believe…

The betrothal of Mary ‘…to a man named Joseph of the house of David’ (Luke 1:27) fulfils Prophet Nathan’s prophecy. The angel even adds that ‘…the LORD God will give him the throne of David his Father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever’ (Luke 1:33).

We should not hesitate to wonder then if our Christian experience can boast of this freedom that is beckoning. We should search our hearts to ascertain whether our lives reflect the privilege of being daughters and sons of our Father.

Are we able to call God ‘Abba Father’ with unfeigned affection? Could it be the case that some of us still live in fear as though there were still powers that can threaten our Father’s Absoluteness? The fact that these unfoldings were already recorded in prophetic writings fills St. Paul with genuine joy, and he tells the Romans as much in our second reading (Romans 16:26).

What then can prevent us from marvelling at the power of our eternal God? What can prevent us from making every moment, a moment of thanksgiving, and of praise and adoration of such a loving God? What can prevent us from waiting for the coming of the ‘hour’ when our new identity will be that of freedom? Freedom will soon be here in the humble form of a little child in a manger!


Saturday, 24 December 2011

Silent Night; Holy Night!


Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18

As we celebrate the spiritual birth of Christ in our hearts dear friends, kindly join me in reflecting on what ‘Silence’ this famous Christmas Carol might mean. What holiness? What calmness? What brightness? And, if you want, why night?

We are all familiar with the eeriness and scary silence that characterize the many nights of our experience. Today however, as we try to peer into the mysteries of God, we appreciate the fact that Christmas night is no ordinary night – both literally and figuratively. Like other nights, it is a dark moonless night, but a salvific night as well. It is a real night. A historical night that was the subject of many prophecies; a night that many generations waited for.

But it is also a bright night; a night that has brought light to the world. It is a night that brings light into the darkness of human souls; the light that John testified to in our gospel reading (John 1:6-9). We notice too that the brightness of the Star is aided by the darkness of the night. The Star is bright enough to guide the Magi to the birthplace of the child (Matthew 2:9-10). When St John of the Cross speaks of the dark night of the soul therefore, he perhaps is clearly inspired by our many dark moments in the life of faith that need to be guided back to the Bethlehem of our individual Christian beginnings.

It is a calm night as well. And within its calmness, Prophet Isaiah speaks of ‘…the feet of him who brings glad tidings, Announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, “Your God is King” (Isaiah 52:7). This King, the son of David, has now been born. He is ‘Emmanuel’ (God with us), and he comes to comfort his people, and to redeem Jerusalem (Isaiah 52:9).

Christmas night is a Holy Night. A night when in the mystery of incarnation, ‘…the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…’ (John 1:14). It is a night when all creation is hallowed yet again, death is put on notice to be killed forever, and slavery, vanquished. Like Moses, Christmas night gives us a reason to remove our shoes and realize that the ground on which we stand is Holy. God is here!

Henceforth, God will now speak to us through a son, Jesus Christ ‘who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being…’ (John 1:3). Today, God allows the possibility of encountering him more intimately than ever before. His Son who is like us in all things but sin has been born. A Son who is of the same substance as the Father, God form God; True God from true God; begotten not made. This is what this word refulgence wishes to underline. He is begotten today and humbly joins in our ranks to teach us with his own life the crucial lessons on how to live, how to love, how to suffer, and even how to die.

And so while the little child Jesus sleeps in heavenly peace, we had better preoccupied ourselves reflecting on the many nights in our own lives that he needs to brighten; the many noises and voices that rob us of all calm; the many false attractions that hinder us from seeing his bright star. Yes! The Son of Mary is in town. He comes to hold our trembling hands and walk beside us as a friend (John 15:15).

Do you believe this?



Friday, 23 December 2011

Adore the Baby Jesus in the Manger

22 December 23:56
Let us adore baby Jesus in the manger. A baby easily wins the heart and love of anyone with human feelings, but how much more does this baby win our heart and love. Let us kneel before baby Jesus and thank him for coming to save us. Thank baby Jesus now in your own words.

Imagine, Jesus, the Son of God and our Saviour born in a stable and placed in a manger instead of in a cot! When God comes he usually comes in humility, silently and peacefully, without causing a great disturbance. God’s humble coming in Jesus would not surprise us if we knew God better. But of course we will never know God sufficiently to understand. So no matter how much we try to understand God becoming human in Jesus we will not be able to comprehend, it will remain a mystery. The best reaction is that of the shepherds, simply to praise God. Let us praise God now in our own words. 

As we look on baby Jesus we think of the mystery of God’s love for us. Why did God who is almighty and all-powerful become small and powerless as a baby? Quite simply, out of love for us. God became human so that we might become more like God. Jesus if you had not come as a human like us, we might have had difficulty in believing that God really loved us. But now we know for sure. John the Evangelist says, “This is the revelation of God’s love for us, that God sent his only Son into the world that we might have life through him”. Let us thank God for revealing his love for us in Jesus, that he who is so big and powerful became so small and weak for us, that he became one of us, to help us be more like him, to have life through him.

As we see baby Jesus in the manger we reflect on God’s way being a way of gentleness and tenderness. God’s way is not one of violence but gentleness. There is a lack of goodness and love in the world but God is tender and loving. As we look on baby Jesus in the manger we see that he is the answer to today’s problems. Instead of violence, in baby Jesus in the manger we see gentleness. Instead of hatred, in baby Jesus in the manger we see tenderness. Instead of selfishness, in baby Jesus in the manger we see love for us. Let us ask baby Jesus to help us to be gentle, tender and loving with those around us as he was in the manger.

Jesus in the manger, you give us hope. In the darkness of our world, your light has shone. Your coming in gentleness encourages us to hold out the hand of reconciliation, to help one another, to work for peace. We remember the message of the angels; “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace”. Baby Jesus, help us to be people of peace and to spread peace everywhere we go. Let us pray now for peace.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Timely Consolation

By John Abraham Ayieko
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; II Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

The consolation that we prayed for Last Sunday is granted in today’s first reading; ‘Console my people, console them says your God’ (Isaiah 40:1).

It is only the second week of Advent and there is a strong temptation to begin looking at the calendar with a frustrated longing. ‘Will the beloved really come? Will we stay the course? This might as well be the feeling of a person whose spouse has just jetted out on a five-year postgraduate scholarship! And since matters Love are matters of the heart, Yahweh’s directive to the prophet is exact; ‘Speak to the HEART of Jerusalem and cry to her, that her period of service is ended.’

There is no room for idle waiting. Israel had better got down to the task of ensuring that when the beloved returns, his reception may be intensely comforting; ‘prepare in the desert a way for Yahweh. Make a straight highway for our God… Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be leveled, every cliff become a plateau, every escarpment a plain…’ (vv 3-4). In short, get busy. Prepare!

Don’t you forget that the Prophet has clear instructions to “speak to the heart of Jerusalem.” We, who are the New Jerusalem, must therefore turn to the direction of our hearts to see the mountains and hills; the cliffs and the valleys; the escarpments and the wastelands that may need to be fixed. For within the privacy of our hearts lurk hideous spiritual mountains and hills of pride and arrogance, cliffs of selfishness and egoism, valleys of faithlessness and unbridled lust, as well as escarpments of anger and unforgiveness. There may also be wastelands of sloth and despondency, restraining us from enjoying a lively faith. We have quite some work as you might see.

But we are also encouraged to remain in a state of unfailing preparation beyond this year’s advent. Our God lives outside time. He can never “delay” since for him, ‘one day is like a thousand years and one thousand years like one day’ (2 Peter 3:8-14). Chronological time with its hours, days, weeks, months and years only serves our finitude. God uses opportune time. The perfect moment. God uses the hour of salvation. And for this hour we must wait. Peter further reminds us that ‘the day of the Lord will come like a thief,’ thus the need to repent and to take advantage of God’s patience (2 Peter 3:8-10).

‘John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 1:4) reports Mark. The Lord should surely not find us our houses in filth. There is need for a clean-up. But there is something else here though. John the Baptist only appeared in the desert (v 4), and then, the ‘People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem WERE GOING TO HIM…’ (V 5). Not the other way round. Going means making efforts to get help.

Going means travelling. Going is a journey. Among the many journeys we must make is the journey to the confessional. It is the only journey that will make us enjoy anew the state in which we were in at baptism.