4 December, Sunday – Repentance

4 December 2016 – 2nd Sunday of Advent

Dear Oxygen readers,
We are now in the second week of Advent. As we are fast approaching the Christmas season, we would like to invite readers to consider a one-off contribution for Christmas Day.

Reflections for contribution
  1. Vigil Mass for Christmas
  2. Midnight Mass – Christmas
  3. Mass at Dawn – Christmas
  4. Mass in the Day – Christmas
If you have benefitted from our past reflections, this could be a small but meaningful gesture to give back to the community.
Please leave a comment at the end of this post indicating your interest and your email address for us to follow-up with you. We look forward to hearing from you!
God bless you
Oxygen Core Team

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Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
a scion thrusts from his roots:
on him the spirit of the Lord rests,
a spirit of wisdom and insight,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(The fear of the Lord is his breath.)
He does not judge by appearances,
he gives no verdict on hearsay,
but judges the wretched with integrity,
and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.
His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless,
his sentences bring death to the wicked.

Integrity is the loincloth round his waist,
faithfulness the belt about his hips.

The wolf lives with the lamb,
the panther lies down with the kid,
calf and lion feed together,
with a little boy to lead them.
The cow and the bear make friends,
their young lie down together.
The lion eats straw like the ox.
The infant plays over the cobra’s hole;
into the viper’s lair
the young child puts his hand.
They do no hurt, no harm,
on all my holy mountain,
for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters swell the sea.

That day, the root of Jesse
shall stand as a signal to the peoples.
It will be sought out by the nations
and its home will be glorious.

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Romans 15:4-9

Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God. And may he who helps us when we refuse to give up, help you all to be tolerant with each other, following the example of Christ Jesus, so that united in mind and voice you may give glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you. The reason Christ became the servant of circumcised Jews was not only so that God could faithfully carry out the promises made to the patriarchs, it was also to get the pagans to give glory to God for his mercy, as scripture says in one place: For this I shall praise you among the pagans and sing to your name.

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Matthew 3:1-12

In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said:

A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.

This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’

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“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.”

As we light the second candle of Advent, we light the candle of preparation. What is it that we actually need to prepare for the coming of our Lord? At this time of the year, we usually find ourselves preparing gifts, food, entertainment, outings and celebrations.

The Gospel today calls for us to do otherwise, “A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.” We are called to prepare a way for the Lord. Given the example of John the Baptist, the preparation we need to make is that of a gift of ourselves, to prepare our hearts for Christ to enter once again. But more than that, it also speaks of a time of reaching out, a time of returning, a time where we share the excitement of the coming of our King, our Lord.

Why should we be excited? We read in the first reading of how life can actually spring from dead wood, we read of how “Integrity is the loincloth round his waist, faithfulness the belt about his hips.” Where God seeks for us to live together in unity, in peace. And in the second reading where “he who helps us when we refuse to give up, help you all to be tolerant with each other, following the example of Christ Jesus, so that united in mind and voice you may give glory to God”.

There is a sense of hope for humanity, especially in our world today, where there are so many things we don’t understand. Election candidates, ISIS, immigration, wars and many more. Where man seeks to protect, man also harms. Where man seeks to love, man also destroys. Where man seeks to unite, man also divides.

Imperfect and broken as we are, we should learn not to rely on our own strength but that of the Saviour who is to come. In all our selfishness and pride, we are called to repentance for it is only in Christ that we can bring perfect love, perfect unity by offering our hearts and lives to him. This is given to us by Christ through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a Sacrament that is really about hope, about love and mercy and not so much to instil fear and punishment.

Let us make a conscious effort to seek the true gifts this Christmas — the gift of our lives, the gift of Christ. To prepare ourselves and our hearts. To spread the hope of the coming of our Lord for, as the psalmist says, “In his days justice shall flourish and peace till the moon fails.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for wisdom, that we may truly cherish the things that matter, that we will make a gift of ourselves this Christmas to you for it is by the gift of yourself that we have this life, our hope and salvation.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the gift of your unconditional love, for your mercy, for your Son.

3 December, Saturday – Labour’s Lost

Dec 3 – Feast of St. Francis Xavier, presbyter, religious, missionary (Principal Patron of Foreign Missions)

Francis (1506-1552) was a nobleman from the Basque region. He studied and taught philosophy at the University of Paris, and planned a career as a professor. He was a friend of St. Ignatius of Loyola who convinced him to use his talents to spread the Gospel. He was one of the founding Jesuits, and the first Jesuit missionary.

In Goa, India, while waiting to take the ship, he preached in the street, worked with the sick, and taught children their catechism. He would walk through the streets ringing a bell to call the children to their studies. He was said to have converted the entire city.

He scolded his patron, King John of Portugal, over the slave trade: “You have no right to spread the Catholic faith while you take away all the country’s riches. It upsets me to know that at the hour of your death you may be ordered out of paradise.”

He was a tremendously successful missionary for the ten years he was in India, the East Indies, and Japan, baptizing more than 40,000 converts. His epic finds him dining with head hunters, washing the sores of lepers in Venice, teaching catechism to Indian children, baptizing 10,000 in a single month. He tolerated the most appalling conditions on long sea voyages, enduring extremes of heat and cold. Wherever he went he would seek out and help the poor and forgotten. He travelled thousands of miles, most on his bare feet, and he saw the greater part of the Far East. He had the gift of tongues, and was a miracle worker. He raised people from the dead, calmed storms. He was a prophet and a healer.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 30:19-21,23-26

Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

People of Zion, you will live in Jerusalem and weep no more. He will be gracious to you when he hears your cry; when he hears he will answer. When the Lord has given you the bread of suffering and the water of distress, he who is your teacher will hide no longer, and you will see your teacher with your own eyes. Whether you turn to right or left, your ears will hear these words behind you, ‘This is the way, follow it.’ He will send rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the bread that the ground provides will be rich and nourishing. Your cattle will graze, that day, in wide pastures. Oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat a salted fodder, winnowed with shovel and fork. On every lofty mountain, on every high hill there will be streams and watercourses, on the day of the great slaughter when the strongholds fall. Then moonlight will be bright as sunlight and sunlight itself be seven times brighter – like the light of seven days in one – on the day the Lord dresses the wound of his people and heals the bruises his blows have left.

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Matthew 9:35-10:1,5,6-8

Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.

And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.’

He summoned his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: ‘Go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge.’

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The harvest is abundant but the labourers are few

Hundreds of years ago, Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, preaching and healing as he did. He was a lone foreign missionary, carrying out God’s work. He recognized that the people were hungry for God as they had been in spiritual need for so long, and to fulfil the need to minister to as many of the lost and abandoned as possible, he sent out the twelve apostles to far-flung places to do God’s work. Thus you could say, began the foreign missions.

St Francis Xavier was one such missionary. His work carried him from present day Spain where he was born, to Goa, India, Malacca, Japan, and China, to name a few. There, his mission work was often met with resistance, cultural and language differences, lack of funds and support, and opposition. But he, like Jesus, recognized that the people were like lost sheep, and needed spiritual guidance. In most places, he was the first Jesuit, and therefore he had to carve out a road where no road had been before. There was much work to be done, and many a time he would get side-tracked and remain longer at a place than he had intended. Where there had been some in-roads before his arrival, those efforts had been previously focused on the nobility and officers; St Francis Xavier instead reached out to the ordinary folk in lower classes, and concentrated on teaching the children especially. He believed that there was an abundance of ‘lost sheep’ in China and had set his sights on missionary work there, but sadly he died before he could fulfil his purpose there.

Things have not changed much since. Few hundred years spanned between the time of Jesus and that of St Francis, and few hundred years have now passed between the time of St Francis and the present day. Yet one thing remains — that there are still many of us searching and yearning for Jesus. Our loneliness makes us feel abandoned, and the emptiness in our hearts makes us wish we were wanted and loved. We seek solace and comfort in other ways, sometimes in not so positive ways. As a result, we turn to habits that destroy us rather than help us, but thinking that these are resolutions to our emotional needs, we continue doing them until we realize too late that it has not helped us. We are now stuck in a vicious cycle, unable to break the habit, and nowhere near emotional fulfilment.

God is around us, and He could be our next door neighbor, or the soccer mum you see on the school run, or your colleague. God sends His labourers out to do His work and He hears our cry. He knows our hearts. Maybe it feels like He is distant or does not hear us. Sometimes we even question whether He is there. However, turn away from these thoughts and remember that God searches for His lost sheep, and He rejoices for every lost sheep that is found (Luke 15: 4-7). Every now and then, God sends out his labourers to find and gather His sheep; take heart that we too will be found.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer – Lord, I pray for your comfort for our loneliness, love for our empty hearts, and direction for our wandering souls. Hear our hearts as they cry out for you, and fill us with the Holy Spirit that we may rejoice with hearts overflowing at being found.

Thanksgiving – Thank you Lord, for the labourers that you send out to do your work. We pray for wisdom to recognize them, strength to emulate them, and courage to do your will.

2 December, Friday – Strength in Weakness

2 December 2016

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Isaiah 29:17-24

The Lord says this:

In a short time, a very short time,
shall not Lebanon become fertile land
and fertile land turn into forest?
The deaf, that day,
will hear the words of a book
and, after shadow and darkness,
the eyes of the blind will see.

But the lowly will rejoice in the Lord even more
and the poorest exult in the Holy One of Israel;
for tyrants shall be no more, and scoffers vanish,
and all be destroyed who are disposed to do evil:
those who gossip to incriminate others,
those who try at the gate to trip the arbitrator
and get the upright man’s case dismissed for groundless reasons.

Therefore the Lord speaks,
the God of the House of Jacob,
Abraham’s redeemer:
No longer shall Jacob be ashamed,
no more shall his face grow pale,
for he shall see what my hands have done in his midst,
he shall hold my name holy.
They will hallow the Holy One of Jacob,
stand in awe of the God of Israel.
Erring spirits will learn wisdom
and murmurers accept instruction.

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Matthew 9:27-31

As Jesus went on his way two blind men followed him shouting, ‘Take pity on us, Son of David.’ And when Jesus reached the house the blind men came up with him and he said to them, ‘Do you believe I can do this?’ They said, ‘Sir, we do.’ Then he touched their eyes saying, ‘Your faith deserves it, so let this be done for you.’ And their sight returned. Then Jesus sternly warned them, ‘Take care that no one learns about this.’ But when they had gone, they talked about him all over the countryside.

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Do you believe that I can do this?

In today’s Gospel reading, we encounter two blind men who cry out to Jesus, asking him to heal them. We see that Jesus doesn’t immediately stop. In fact, Jesus first meets them as he passes by. The two men follow him, crying out as they do, until he enters the house. Only then does Jesus show any sign that he has noticed them. Still, he does not heal them immediately. Rather, he asks them first and foremost if they believe he could heal them, to which they affirm their belief in him. Only then are the two blind men healed.

More often than not, when we ask the question, “Do you believe that I can do this?” it is set in a tone of self-doubt. Well, at least in my case. There have been so many circumstances in my life where I have asked that question of myself, but none more so than when I delivered my son.

When I found out I was pregnant, the first thing that came to my mind was that the pain of childbirth would be too traumatizing for me to bear, and I contemplated having a Caesarian section instead. I wasn’t aware that there were other ways of delivering, and more importantly, I had to re-wire my thinking to believe that my body was designed by God to deliver my baby naturally. I did have a natural birth eventually, after a long labour, but there were many times where I had questioned if I could do this. I found strength in myself that I never knew I had, and through prayers of family and friends, and the support of my husband and the birthing team, I was able to see through my pregnancy till the end.

I don’t quite know where that strength came from, but after having had time to reflect, I am convinced that it was through God’s grace that this was possible. God’s grace was sufficient enough for me (2 Corinthians 12:9). When I was drained from the many hours of labour, God gave me rest and strength to continue. When I doubted, God’s grace manifested in the relentless support of my wonderful doula. When my legs quivered from the contractions, and I couldn’t support myself, God gave me grace through the strong arms of my husband who held me up. At every turn, my faith was put to the test, as though in questioning myself, God was actually questioning my faith.

When Jesus asked the two blind men, “Do you believe I can do it?” he already knew that he could. But for him to work his miracle, he needed the right vessel to make it happen, and this would be a willing and faithful heart. Why did he wait to heal the men? I would like to believe that it was all in good time; that by waiting a little longer, their hearts would be better prepared and more open to receive God’s gift, and in so doing, the miracle of their healing and God’s strength would be made all the more pronounced.

2 Corinthians 12:10 goes on to say: “When I am weak, then I am strong”. I find that overwhelmingly comforting for during my difficult times, not just at birth, God used my difficulties to manifest Himself by giving me enough grace to see me through my trials, so that upon surmounting those trials, I would be able to give God thanks and praise.

As I write this, my little son lies sleeping next to me. God has rewarded and blessed me with the most amazing gift of all, and it was only through His grace that all this was made possible.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer – Lord, through my many trials and tribulations, I have questioned my ability to see things through the end. I pray for the strength, patience and remembrance always that Your grace is sufficient, and it is Your grace that will lead me home.

Thanksgiving – Thank you Lord, for making me strong in your grace when I am weak.

1 December, Thursday – Not always about connections

1 December 2016

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Isaiah 26:1-6

That day, this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
to guard us he has set
wall and rampart about us.
Open the gates! Let the upright nation come in,
she, the faithful one
whose mind is steadfast, who keeps the peace,
because she trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord for ever,
for the Lord is the everlasting Rock;
he has brought low those who lived high up
in the steep citadel;
he brings it down, brings it down to the ground,
flings it down in the dust:
the feet of the lowly, the footsteps of the poor
trample on it.

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Matthew 7:21,24-27

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. ‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’

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“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven

Have you ever noticed when things are going well and you are prospering, you may find yourself surrounded by multitudes of friends. But when the chips are down, you wonder where everyone is? Everyone wants to be in your camp when you’re popular, no one wants to be left out. The danger lies in who you can trust, and weeding out who is genuine and who is a hanger-on. People will use their closely-guarded connections and name-drop or claim association, like gaining access to the VIP lounge in the hottest night club of the moment. In our world of doing business, it is deemed important to ‘get a leg up’ on other people, therefore it is about who you know that can get you there.

Not with Jesus though; Jesus doesn’t care about who you know, or if you claim association with Him. He is only interested in the condition of your heart, and what lies within: “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jer 17:9-10). Jesus recognizes the “bad fruits” by their deeds and words. Their lips may have called upon his name, but their hearts may not be in sync with God. As such, in today’s readings we see that he disassociates himself from these people by calling them out, questioning their motives and actions.

In whatever that we do then under the standard of the church, be it in attending mass or volunteering in ministries, perhaps today’s reading is a call to us to re-examine our motives for doing so. Sometimes, the devil comes in to distract us so that we lose sight of the reasons why we joined a ministry, for example. When we lose our focus, it is easy to get caught up in the other things that we encounter in our work for God, from the simplest things like getting frustrated with the car park situation at the church, or annoyance at one of the members of the ministry for being ‘bossy’. We are human, and it is normal for us to feel negative feelings, but let us pray for patience and focus to prevent such things from distracting us from the reason at the end of the day — God. 

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer: Lord, we seek forgiveness for the times when we have let our actions become “bigger” than you. Help us to re-focus and remember that ultimately, all that we do is for God and with God.

Thanksgiving – Lord, we give thanks for the opportunity to carry out works in God’s name. We pray that we will glorify His name in all that we do.

30 November, Wednesday – The Messenger

Nov 30 – Feast of St. Andrew, apostle

Andrew was the first Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was a fisherman by trade, and the brother of Simon Peter. He was a follower of John the Baptist. Andrew went through life leading people to Jesus, both before and after the Crucifixion. He was a missionary in Asia Minor and Greece, and possibly areas in modern Russia and Poland. He was martyred on a saltire (x-shaped) cross, and is said to have preached for two days from it.

Patron Saint Index

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Romans 10:9-18

If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. By believing from the heart you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved. When scripture says: those who believe in him will have no cause for shame, it makes no distinction between Jew and Greek: all belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many ask his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

But they will not ask his help unless they believe in him, and they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will never have a preacher unless one is sent, but as scripture says: The footsteps of those who bring good news are a welcome sound. Not everyone, of course, listens to the Good News. As Isaiah says: Lord, how many believed what we proclaimed? So faith comes from what is preached, and what is preached comes from the word of Christ. Let me put the question: is it possible that they did not hear? Indeed they did; in the words of the psalm, their voice has gone out through all the earth, and their message to the ends of the world.

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Matthew 4:18-22

As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him. Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.

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How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!

I think I have been truly fortunate to live in a lifetime before the advent of email. As convenient and speedy as it may be, email has ironically made me appreciate snail mail more; and by snail mail, I do not mean the monthly bills and statements that we receive (sadly), but letters or greetings where someone has actually taken the time to sit down and write, in their own script, a personal message to you. The thought of that and the enclosed warm greeting would be enough to bring cheer to my heart and a smile to my face, and I’m certain it would be the same for you too.

Imagine then, in Jesus’ time, when the only way for news to arrive was if it were to be communicated in person, by word of mouth. The apostles were sent out to do just that, to spread the Good News of the Messiah, and this they had done via long journeys on foot, over land and sea. One such apostle was St Andrew, brother of St Peter. In the Gospel of John, St Andrew is depicted as one of Jesus’ first followers. In John 1:35-42, St Andrew, who was a disciple of John the Baptist, immediately followed Jesus, along with another disciple after John the Baptist pointed Jesus out to them. St Andrew subsequently brought his brother to Jesus after telling him that they had found the Messiah.

While in his lifetime, St Andrew preached as far as modern-day Ukraine and Greece, imagine if you would for a second, what it might have been for Simon his brother (later St Peter), to be out fishing, only to come home and be greeted in person by probably a rather excited and breathless Andrew, gushing that he had found the Messiah! Wouldn’t you, in Simon’s shoes, be terribly excited as well? Personally, I might have hugged him in delight and excitement! With such wondrous news, would you not also have done the same?

With the same level of enthusiasm, I believe this would have been how Andrew might have approached his mission. Yes, as the first reading indicated, not all heeded the good news, and not everyone who heard it, believed. However, for those who like him, had been waiting for news of our Saviour, his coming to preach would have been welcome tidings, and for them, this was their salvation.

In our modern day, our good tidings may come in an electronic form, but let us look beyond the form and see the substance that lies within, for what lies within may just be the good news that we are waiting for.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we hear all kinds of news these days over the media, some of which may be true, while others may be exaggerated. Help us to filter out the news that attempts to confuse us, and give us the wisdom to recognize the message of God.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the messengers whom you have sent out to spread your Word and carry out your works in your holy name. We pray that we too will be able to emulate them and spread the Good News to others too.

29 November, Tuesday – Propehcies

29 November 2016

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Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
a scion thrusts from his roots:
on him the spirit of the Lord rests,
a spirit of wisdom and insight,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(The fear of the Lord is his breath.)
He does not judge by appearances,
he gives no verdict on hearsay,
but judges the wretched with integrity,
and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.
His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless,
his sentences bring death to the wicked.

Integrity is the loincloth round his waist,
faithfulness the belt about his hips.

The wolf lives with the lamb,
the panther lies down with the kid,
calf and lion feed together,
with a little boy to lead them.
The cow and the bear make friends,
their young lie down together.
The lion eats straw like the ox.
The infant plays over the cobra’s hole;
into the viper’s lair
the young child puts his hand.
They do no hurt, no harm,
on all my holy mountain,
for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters swell the sea.

That day, the root of Jesse
shall stand as a signal to the peoples.
It will be sought out by the nations
and its home will be glorious.

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Luke 10:21-24

Filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them in private, ‘Happy the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’

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That day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples.

In this season of Advent, while we wait in anticipation for the good things that Christmas brings, I think back to the times of the olden days, in Jesus’ time, when such a thing had yet to materialize. I think back in particular, to Simeon, in the Gospel of Luke, who was a righteous and devout man. I think of what he might have experienced, the anticipation of a different kind, when the Holy Spirit told him that “he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26).

We will never know when that message was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. Who knows, he might have waited for years, and every day for him would have been like Advent. But what an anticipation it would have been, to see God’s salvation in the flesh! He recognized Jesus as the one who would be a light to the people and declared as such — “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32).

There is so much promise contained in Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah, it is almost too overwhelming to hear. But for those who believed and heard the word, they must have been waiting anxiously as Simeon did, for the day that this promise would be fulfilled.

Fast forward to current times — is there something that we are waiting for this Advent? Are we looking forward in earnest for the day when Jesus will come again in all His glory? Are we anticipating the wonders that He will bring? There are so many distractions that can lead us astray from the true meaning of Advent. Things are so complicated now, what with presents and shopping, and Christmas parties to plan and attend. I would like to invite us all to take a step back, and simplify our thoughts to waiting for the one thing, the one event that mattered, and that is the birth of Christ, the ‘signal to the peoples’ that salvation is at hand.

The reason for the season remains present; while we partake in our merriment during this time, let us not forget who this reason is, for He is very much still the living reason.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer: Lord, as we prepare ourselves this Advent, let us not forget that You are the reason for the season, and that is all that matters.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give you thanks that we can celebrate You every year. We give you thanks for the blessings that you have given us throughout the year.

28 November, Monday – How is your faith?

28 November 2016

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Isaiah 4:2-6

That day, the branch of the Lord
shall be beauty and glory,
and the fruit of the earth
shall be the pride and adornment
of Israel’s survivors.
Those who are left of Zion
and remain of Jerusalem
shall be called holy
and those left in Jerusalem, noted down for survival.

When the Lord has washed away
the filth of the daughter of Zion
and cleansed Jerusalem of the blood shed in her
with the blast of judgement and the blast of destruction,
the Lord will come and rest
on the whole stretch of Mount Zion
and on those who are gathered there,
a cloud by day, and smoke,
and by night the brightness of a flaring fire.
For, over all, the glory of the Lord
will be a canopy and a tent
to give shade by day from the heat,
refuge and shelter from the storm and the rain.

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Matthew 8:5-11

When Jesus went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed, and in great pain.’ ‘I will come myself and cure him’ said Jesus. The centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.’

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Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, only say the word and my servant will be healed.

We’re just over a month till Christmas and I am starting to stress about the state of my house, shopping for Christmas presents, making Christmas dinner, and just readying the house to look more ‘Christmas-y’. We are having family and friends over and I’m thinking to myself “Don’t come yet, I’m not ready!”

I’m a stickler for presentation and tidiness, which is a bit of a challenge when you have bedlam and a baby in your hands. It would drive me crazy not to have a presentably clean place for guests to walk into. I know that some people tend to cast a critical eye over your shelves, toilet and kitchen, and grunt their approval, or disapproval probably in my case. It is this scenario that Jesus would likely find me in should he come knocking tomorrow at my door, and it makes me ashamed to think about it. Imagine, if our Lord came calling tomorrow; what state would he find us in indeed?!

Yet, while we think we are unworthy to receive Jesus under our roofs, ironically Jesus wants nothing more than to come under our roofs. Yet our hearts though must be wanting his presence, clean house or not. As Jesus said, “I have not come to heal the healthy, but the sick”, I believe that the physical state of our being does not deter him from entering in. How our faith is like is what he is more interested in. The Pharisees used to dress well and sit at the heads of tables, but all this doesn’t make a difference to Jesus. He is knocking on the door of our hearts, the hearts of those who seek him and believe in him. The hearts who are calling for him, the hearts who need him. He makes no distinction as to your dress, rank, or race. The man who said this was a Roman centurion. He could have been cast aside for all you cared and labeled as the enemy. But his faith and humility amazed Jesus.

As we prepare our homes and plan our celebrations for Christmas, let us remember that the most important thing to prepare this Christmas is our hearts.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, we pray that even as we prepare for our Christmas celebrations, let us remember to focus and prepare the things that truly matter: our hearts.

Thanksgiving – We thank you Lord Jesus Christ, for persisting on knocking on the doors of our hearts, even when we are not worthy to receive us. Heal us and help us always oh Lord!

27 November, Sunday – Never going out of style with Jesus

27 November 2016

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Isaiah 2:1-5

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In the days to come
the mountain of the Temple of the Lord
shall tower above the mountains
and be lifted higher than the hills.
All the nations will stream to it,
peoples without number will come to it; and they will say:

‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the Temple of the God of Jacob
that he may teach us his ways
so that we may walk in his paths;
since the Law will go out from Zion,
and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.’

He will wield authority over the nations
and adjudicate between many peoples;
these will hammer their swords into ploughshares,
their spears into sickles.
Nation will not lift sword against nation,
there will be no more training for war.

O House of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

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Romans 13:11-14

You know ‘the time’ has come: you must wake up now: our salvation is even nearer than it was when we were converted. The night is almost over, it will be daylight soon – let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light. Let us live decently as people do in the daytime: no drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy. Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Matthew 24:37-44

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.

‘So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

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Put on the Lord Jesus Christ

I have a confession to make — I’m not a big fashion person. I’m totally clueless about the latest fashion trends, and my wardrobe contains pieces that are at least a decade old. I’d like to think that these pieces are ‘classics’ in that I can still wear them and not look like I’m from another era!

On the off chance though, I do sometimes catch runway shows when they are on TV. While some of the fashion itself is too avant garde for me, I do like watching how the show comes together, the build-up to runway day, and all the behind-the-scenes snippets. So much work is put into the seasonal wear, yet one wonders how long the trend for that piece will last.

The armour of Christ does not go out of season. It is not something that you would be ‘seen dead in’; quite the opposite — it keeps us alive. It is the Armour of God that is described in Ephesians 6:10-17, a beautiful description of the pieces that come together to make the best piece of ‘clothing’ against harm: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace on your feet, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Clothing ourselves in the full Armour of God will ensure that we will be able to stand firm with Jesus, and stand our ground against any evil schemes that may thwart us.

Clothing ourselves in Jesus also means that we take on the characteristics of Christ Jesus. Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” We are the elect of God the moment we accepted Christ as our beloved Saviour. We died to our old selves and, being born again in Christ, we put on our new selves, one that is borne out of love, and made of love. For with love, comes compassion and kindness, gentleness and generosity of spirit.

The Armour of God is designed to protect us from the devil’s schemes; love reinforces it. As we look forward to ‘don our gay apparel’ for Christmas, let us choose to wear a ‘classic’ that will never go out of style.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer: Father Almighty, as we greet the start of Advent, let us ready ourselves in the right apparel. This season of Advent is of love, to ready ourselves to receive the Son of Man You so willingly gave to us. Let us then clothe ourselves in love, in Christ Jesus, ready to receive You.

Thanksgiving: Father Almighty, we give you thanks and praise for making available the armour to protect us. We pray that we will wear it well, and wear it often.

26 November, Saturday – Tree of Life

26 November

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Apocalypse 22:1-7

The angel showed me, John, the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing crystal-clear down the middle of the city street. On either side of the river were the trees of life, which bear twelve crops of fruit in a year, one in each month, and the leaves of which are the cure for the pagans.

The ban will be lifted. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in its place in the city; his servants will worship him, they will see him face to face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. It will never be night again and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them. They will reign for ever and ever.

The angel said to me, ‘All that you have written is sure and will come true: the Lord God who gives the spirit to the prophets has sent his angel to reveal to his servants what is soon to take place. Very soon now, I shall be with you again.’ Happy are those who treasure the prophetic message of this book.

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Luke 21:34-36

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’

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Then a powerful angel picked up a boulder like a great millstone, and as he hurled it into the sea, he said, “That is how the great city of Babylon is going to be hurled down, never to be seen again.

Yesterday, we spoke of the fig tree and how its blooming heralded the arrival of summer. After the season’s harvest of fruit and vegetables is over, we move on to the next fruit and have to wait till the next season before we get to enjoy it again. How nice it would be if we could have fresh figs or berries all year round!

At the start of the Bible in the book of Genesis, we read about the creation of a garden in Eden. The tree of life is first mentioned here, planted alongside the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. A river flowed from Eden to water the garden (Genesis 2:9-10). It is from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that God warns Adam not to eat, for the day that he eats of it, would be the day he dies. As we know, Adam and Eve do eat of it and they become aware of good and evil. God becomes angry and disappointed, and bars Man from eating of the tree of life as well, lest he lived forever, and banishes Adam and Eve from Eden, stationing an angel with a flaming sword to guard the tree of life.

At the end of it all, in the book of Revelation, we encounter this tree of life again. It appears to be the only variety of tree around, albeit there are several trees of life, growing on both sides of the river. Evil has already been conquered in this new ‘garden’; God will renew the heavens and earth and no evil shall enter therein. The tree, we are told, is bountiful in harvest; the leaves itself are a cure, not a way to hide shame. The trees are watered by a river of life that comes from God, clear as crystal.

God is the source of all life in this new heaven and earth. He is the eternal light in this place. He is the life in the river that waters the new earth. However, He has already made this new life available to us right now. The Word of God is already our eternal light: a “lamp unto our feet and a light to our path” (Psalm 119:105). The ‘waters of life’ refers to the Holy Spirit that Jesus has sent from God, who will quench our thirst (John 7:39). And Christ Himself is the eternal Bread of Life (John 6:35). God has given us the available ‘tools’ to get ourselves to heaven, and to partake in this new earth; what remains is for us to make the choice of how we want to live our lives, how we choose to be guided in our lives. We can let God take over and be our guiding light; or we can walk away, banishing ourselves from the tree of life forever. What choice then are we going to make?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the Holy Spirit to be in our hearts and in our souls always, to guide us and show us the path. We pray that we will never stray from the path.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for giving us the guidance and the support to be the very best that we can be. We pray that we do not disappoint You or ourselves, and do all that is good and right.

25 November, Friday – Signs of the Seasons

Nov 25 – Memorial for St. Catherine of Alexandria, virgin, martyr

Catherine (d. 305) was a noble who was learned in science and oratory. After receiving a vision, she converted to Christianity. At the age of 18, during the persecution of Maximus, she offered to debate the pagan philosophers. Many were converted by her arguments, and immediately martyred. Maximus had her scourged and imprisoned.

The empress and the leader of Maximus’ army were amazed by the stories and went to see Catherine in prison. They converted and were martyred. Maximus ordered her broken on the wheel, but when she touched it, the wheel was destroyed. She was then beheaded, and her body whisked away by angels.

Catherine was immensely popular during the Middle Ages, and there were many chapels and churches devoted to her throughout western Europe. She was reported as one of the divine advisors to St. Joan of Arc. Her reputation for learning and wisdom led to her patronage of libraries, librarians, teachers, archivists, and anyone associated with wisdom or teaching. Her debating skill and persuasive language has led to her patronage of lawyers. And her torture on the wheel has led to those who work with them asking for her intercession. She is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

While there may well have been a noble, educated, virginal lady who swayed pagans with her rhetoric during the persecutions, the accretion of legend, romance and poetry has long since buried the real Catherine.

The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a group of saints invoked with special confidence, because they have proven themselves efficacious helpers in adversity and difficulties. Though each has a separate feast or memorial day, the group was collectively venerated on Aug 8, until the feast was dropped and suppressed in the 1969 reform of the calendar.

They are invoked as a group because of the Black Plague which devastated Europe from 1346-1349. Among its symptoms were the tongue turning black, a parched throat, violent headache, fever, and boils on the abdomen. It attacked without warning, robbed its victims of reason, and killed within a few hours; many died without the last Sacraments. Brigands roamed the roads, people suspect of contagion were attacked, animals died, people starved, whole villages vanished into the grave, social order and family ties broke down, and the disease appeared incurable. The pious turned to Heaven, begging the intervention of the saints, praying to be spared or cured. This group devotion began in Germany, and the tradition has remained strong there.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Apocalypse 20:1-4,11-21:2

I, John, saw an angel come down from heaven with the key of the Abyss in his hand and an enormous chain. He overpowered the dragon, that primeval serpent which is the devil and Satan, and chained him up for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and shut the entrance and sealed it over him, to make sure he would not deceive the nations again until the thousand years had passed. At the end of that time he must be released, but only for a short while.

Then I saw some thrones, and I saw those who are given the power to be judges take their seats on them. I saw the souls of all who had been beheaded for having witnessed for Jesus and for having preached God’s word, and those who refused to worship the beast or his statue and would not have the brand-mark on their foreheads or hands; they came to life, and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. Then I saw a great white throne and the One who was sitting on it. In his presence, earth and sky vanished, leaving no trace. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing in front of his throne, while the book of life was opened, and other books opened which were the record of what they had done in their lives, by which the dead were judged.

The sea gave up all the dead who were in it; Death and Hades were emptied of the dead that were in them; and every one was judged according to the way in which he had lived. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the burning lake. This burning lake is the second death; and anybody whose name could not be found written in the book of life was thrown into the burning lake.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband.

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Luke 21:29-33

Jesus told his disciples a parable: ‘Think of the fig tree and indeed every tree. As soon as you see them bud, you know that summer is now near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that the kingdom of God is near. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’

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Then a powerful angel picked up a boulder like a great millstone, and as he hurled it into the sea, he said, “That is how the great city of Babylon is going to be hurled down, never to be seen again.

When I was working as a commis chef in London, the menus, as with most restaurants, were dictated by what was in season at the time. In spring, we would have asparagus flans and French braised artichokes; in summer, we would have cherries with almost everything, and fresh figs in abundance. Usually, before the vegetables and fruit arrive, the head chef would be busy planning his menu ahead of time and testing his recipes to ensure that he made the most out of the produce at its freshest.

In today’s reading, Jesus tells his disciples about the coming of the Son of Man, saying that His coming would be preceded by several signs. He likened it to the sprouting of the first buds on a fig tree, signifying that summer was nigh. Likewise, Jesus tells us that these signs will be in the sun and moon, the seas and stars, and once we see these signs we should be in a position to meet our deliverance. It is not that when the time is upon us that we should start preparing; no, our preparation needs to begin before that. As with a chef, he does not start thinking up a dish at dinner service; he needs to have planned for it well in advance, so that it can be prepared and tested ahead of time.

What happens then, when the Son of Man comes? Jesus tells us that it will be judgment day for mankind, when the names of those written in the Book of Life will be revealed. If we had prepared ourselves for judgment day, we would be found to be like a healthy fig tree, bearing good fruit. For the ill-prepared however, a curse shall befall them. Jesus caused the barren fig tree to wither and die (Matthew 21:19), and so shall it be for those who have borne no fruit.

We don’t know the hour when Christ will come again. We don’t know when the judgment day will happen. It could be tomorrow or next year, or ten years from now. What we do know is that when it does come, we want to be ready for it. Recall the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), five of whom were wise enough to bring oil for their lamps, and five who were foolish to come unprepared. We want to be part of the joyous party that meets the bridegroom when the hour comes. We want to follow him to the wedding banquet, and partake in the feast that has been prepared. Are we prepared enough for the hour when Jesus comes? Let us strive to be, lest we have the door to the banquet shut in our faces.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help us to have a better sense of urgency and priority and not to be complacent with the conduct of our lives. Let us be prepared for Your second coming, whenever that might happen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for giving us the signs and warnings that will precede Judgment Day. Thank you for the chance to redeem ourselves and to turn over a new leaf before the hour is too late for us.