Friday, 25 December (Christmas at Dawn) – What a Wonderful Gift

25 December – Nativity of the Lord (Mass at Dawn)

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Readings for the Dawn Mass, celebrated at dawn on Christmas Day:

Isaiah 62:11-12

This the Lord proclaims
to the ends of the earth:
Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Look,
your saviour comes,
the prize of his victory with him,
his trophies before him.’
They shall be called ‘The Holy People’,
‘the Lord’s Redeemed.’
And you shall be called ‘The-sought-after’,
‘City-not-forsaken.’

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Titus 3:4-7

When the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.

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Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

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It was for no reason except His own compassion that He saved us

“Study hard… otherwise you will never get anywhere in life.”

I got accustomed to hearing this from my grandaunt, who had brought me up since I was a baby.  The only child in a broken marriage, she was my sole care-giver and the closest person I knew.

Grandaunt was one of the Pioneer generation; someone who had worked extremely hard as a nanny, looking after no fewer than 5 children at any one time.  To her, success meant earning lots of money and being financially comfortable in life.

Because we were poor, grandaunt’s experience was that one had to work hard for everything that one got. I was cajoled to study and work hard all the time… there was always the fear that I would lose out if I did not excel academically and did not become the best in whatever I did. The meritocratic world teaches us that we only get as much as we put in.

While I struggled in school, I did move up the corporate ladder and was considered by many to have become “successful”.  There was an expectation to always perform; to always be noticed, to be in the limelight in order to continue to grow in my career.

Yet in the midst of this success, I felt that there was a certain emptiness.  I began questioning and feeling that what the world sees as being important and significant was anything but that.

Today’s readings remind us what was truly important; to be God’s children and to enter His kingdom.  However, we are also told that we can never hope to merit God’s grace through our own efforts; God simply gives us everything because He loves us.

Brothers and Sisters, let us remember that and like Mother Mary, treasure all these things and ponder them in our hearts. Learning from the shepherds, we too should go about our lives “glorifying and praising God”.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father God, we pray that we may always treasure the gift of Your Son and kingdom. Help us to always to be blessings for all around us 

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the gift of Your love. Thank you for being present in our lives and for guiding us in all that we do. 

Friday, 25 December (Christmas Midnight Mass) – Prayer

25 December – Nativity of Our Lord (Midnight Mass)

Christ has been born for us: come, let us adore him. 

– The Sunday Missal

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Readings for the Midnight Mass, celebrated during the night before Christmas Day:

Isaiah 9:1-7

The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,
as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.
For the yoke that was weighing on him,
the barb across his shoulders,
the rod of his oppressor,
these you break as on the day of Midian.
For all the footgear of battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
is burnt,
and consumed by fire.
For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
and this is the name they give him:
Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God,
Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.
Wide is his dominion
in a peace that has no end,
for the throne of David
and for his royal power,
which he establishes and makes secure
in justice and integrity.
From this time onwards and for ever,
the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.

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Titus 2:11-14

God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good.

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Luke 2:1-14

Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken. This census – the first – took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and everyone went to his own town to be registered. So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and travelled up to Judaea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.

In the countryside close by there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing:

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace to men who enjoy his favour.’

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God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions…

Prayer is the best way to communicate with God. It is not the only way to ask God for instructions and guidance. There is also the Bible, our manual to life; but let’s face it, without prayer, we won’t know what we’re doing on this planet. Prayer helped me find my path to God. I had a lucrative job in project management immediately after I left university. A dream for many amongst us, to have so much money (at least to me it seemed like a lot) the moment you join the job market. Things could only get better from there right?

Wrong.

The amount of stress and unhappiness that followed was unbearable. There would be phone calls in the wee hours of the morning and clients calling, demanding details before I could even enter the office. Needless to say, being a fresh graduate and thrown into the deep end with next to no guidance led to me not being able to do my job efficiently; and well, let’s just say that there were a lot of unhappy people.

I was at an absolute loss as to what to do. I knew I couldn’t continue. This career path (no matter how much money I could potentially make) was not for me. So, I turned to prayer. I wouldn’t call myself deeply religious. Sure, I said my prayers at bedtime but never had I prayed as hard as during those months in my first ‘real’ job. It didn’t feel like God was the one who told me to quit but I felt that He told me to leave the money.

My decision did not go down well with my father. He’s a bit of a traditionalist. Part of the generation that believes money is the main goal in life and that you should never leave a job without already securing another one (preferably one that pays even more). There was a lot of shouting and slammin of doors at home after I left that job. Trust me when I say that he was NOT happy. The stuff he would say to me was sharper than daggers – able to pierce and shred the heart to pieces if there was no armour to protect you.

Thank God for the armour He provided me in the form of prayer. God kept me strong and, after a couple of months of intense prayer, He showed me where He wanted me to go in life. I got a job as an Education Journalist and I truly believe that this is where God wants me to be. It meant a hefty pay cut but I actually feel like I’m serving my spiritual purpose now.

I’ve had chances to help people with their causes and problems both in print and off. Being in this position has allowed me to indirectly spread God’s message to the masses. How? I can hear God speaking through some of the people I’ve interviewed and I do my best to make sure His words and works are known to others. It is almost as if I’m one of His voices in the world. Not the hand that has done the deed, but the vocal chords and tongue that sing His praise.

Brothers and sisters, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, I invite you to return to God and away from what the world wants. Money means nothing when we have found Him. God will provide for us. All we have to do is pray and stay on that road towards Him and he will bless us with what ultimately matters. Peace and joy.

(Today’s Oxygen by Rebecca Grace)

Prayer: Lord, we pray that we will always remember to turn to You whenever we face difficulties in this world. Let us not forget that You alone can give us what we really need and not the world and all its wealth, money and power. 

Thanksgiving: We give thanks dear God for the gift of prayer and the blessings you shower on us when we turn to You with all of our struggles and needs

 

Thursday, 24 December – Responding to Love

24 December – Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Vigil Mass)

The name “Christmas” was derived from Old English: “Cristes Maesse”, Christ’s Mass. It is a celebration of the anniversary of the birth of our Lord. In the earliest days of the Church there was no such feast; the Saviour’s birth was commemorated with the Epiphany by the Greek and other Eastern Churches.

The first mention of the feast, then kept on May 20, was made by Clement of Alexandria in the year 200. The Latin Church began in the year 300 to observe it on Dec 25, though there is no certainty that our Lord was born on that day.

Priests have, on this day, the privilege of saying three Masses, at midnight; daybreak, and morning. This was originally reserved for the pope alone; beginning about the fourth century, he celebrated a midnight Mass in the Lateran Basilica (in which according to tradition, the manger of Bethlehem is preserved), a second in the church of St. Anastasia, whose feast comes on Dec 25, and a third at the Vatican Basilica.

Many peculiar customs of the day are the outcome of the pagan celebrations of the January calends. The Christmas tree, of which the first known mention was made in 1605 at Strasbourg, was introduced into France and England in 1840. The feast is a holy day of obligation, preceded by the preparatory season of Advent and by a special vigil; should it fall on a Friday it abrogates the law of abstinence.

– Patron Saint Index

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Readings for the Vigil Mass, celebrated during the afternoon or evening before Christmas Day:

Isaiah 62:1-5

About Zion I will not be silent,
about Jerusalem I will not grow weary,
until her integrity shines out like the dawn
and her salvation flames like a torch.
The nations then will see your integrity,
all the kings your glory,
and you will be called by a new name,
one which the mouth of the Lord will confer.
You are to be a crown of splendour in the hand of the Lord,
a princely diadem in the hand of your God;
no longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken’,
nor your land ‘Abandoned’,
but you shall be called ‘My Delight’
and your land ‘The Wedded’;
for the Lord takes delight in you
and your land will have its wedding.
Like a young man marrying a virgin,
so will the one who built you wed you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride,
so will your God rejoice in you.

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Acts 13:16-17,22-25

When Paul reached Antioch in Pisidia, he stood up in the synagogue, held up a hand for silence and began to speak:

‘Men of Israel, and fearers of God, listen! The God of our nation Israel chose our ancestors, and made our people great when they were living as foreigners in Egypt; then by divine power he led them out.

‘Then he made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”’

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Matthew 1:1-25

A genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, Tamar being their mother,
Perez was the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram was the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon was the father of Boaz, Rahab being his mother,
Boaz was the father of Obed, Ruth being his mother,
Obed was the father of Jesse;
and Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon was the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Azariah,
Azariah was the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah;
and Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
Then the deportation to Babylon took place.
After the deportation to Babylon:
Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor was the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud was the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob;
and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary;
of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.

The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ.

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel,
a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’

When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.

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Because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins

There is a certain plot line that is often used in romantic dramas. A male suitor comes across his one true love, and tries ways and means to win her heart. He does a lot for her, fulfilling her every wish and need. She tells him not to treat her so well, as she is not able to reciprocate his feelings. He tells her that it is alright, as he will continue to love her and treat her well in spite of her rejection of him.

Today’s first reading starts with “About Zion I will not be silent, about Jerusalem I will not grow weary…” God never gives up on us, although we may reject His love and turn away from Him. It may seem illogical to not want something so good, but a lot of people choose sin over God. I will look at two possible reasons for this. One is that loving others calls for effort and sacrifice of self. It often involves moving out of comfort zones and probably a great deal of inconvenience. Two is that many of us develop an unhealthy attachment to sin. Take for example, the resident office gossip who uses the juicy news as a way to get others to pay attention to him/her. Or the two married colleagues who persist in having an affair as it gives them the love that is missing in their own marriages.

What will it take for one to be like the tax collector in Luke 18:13, who beat his breast and cried out to God – “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” No one except God can lead a person to true conversion of heart. One would first need to be aware of God’s infinite, unending yet incomprehensible love. On the eve of Christmas, as we celebrate God made man, let us bravely face the struggles of responding to God’s love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that more people will focus on the true meaning of Christmas, and may God’s love continue to transform hearts and minds.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our parents, whose love reflects that of God.

 

Thursday, 24 December – The Silk Rug

24 December

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2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-12,14,16

Once David had settled into his house and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.’

But that very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:

‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

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Luke 1:67-79

John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel
for he has visited his people, he has come to their rescue
and he has raised up for us a power for salvation
in the House of his servant David,
even as he proclaimed,
by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times,
that he would save us from our enemies
and from the hands of all who hate us.
Thus he shows mercy to our ancestors,
thus he remembers his holy covenant
the oath he swore
to our father Abraham
that he would grant us, free from fear,
to be delivered from the hands of our enemies,
to serve him in holiness and virtue
in his presence, all our days.
And you, little child,
you shall be called Prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord
to prepare the way for him,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins;
this by the tender mercy of our God
who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us,
to give light to those who live
in darkness and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet
into the way of peace.’

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I will preserve the offspring of your body after you, and make his sovereignty secure

Years ago, while traveling through India, I fell in love with an antique rug, made of the palest blue and yellow silk. A lot of love had clearly gone into making it, the way the silk was woven and knotted together, how the flowers were so clearly defined, the way each motif had been specially chosen for its meaning. Each line of silk knots was beautiful on its own; together though they were greater than the sum of their individual parts. When you stood back and held the rug up to the light, the weave would take on a lustrous, almost luminous glow and reflected the light back at you. It was very old and absolutely not for sale, I was informed. It was an heirloom, something to be passed down through the generations of a family of weavers. I loved that rug. I still do. I loved it because it was beautiful. I also loved it because of the whole idea of a piece of tapestry being passed down from mother to daughter, father to son, carrying on that family’s story.

Our faith is like that silk rug, passed down through generations and generations of believers. We are part of a family, the lineage of which stretches all the way back to David, and farther back still to Abraham, the father of all believers. “There were then fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, and fourteen generations from David to the deportation to Babylon, and fourteen generations from the deportation to Babylon to the birth of Christ” (Matt 1:17). And there has been since Christ and the apostles, generations and generations more of believers after.

Our lives are like lines of silk yarn, knotted together and woven to form the rich tapestry that is our Church. While David envisioned a house of cedar for God, God saw farther and had bigger plans. “I will provide a place for my people Israel and plant them that they may live there in peace. They shall no longer be harassed nor shall wicked men oppress them as before… I will raise up your son after you, the one born of you and I will make his reign secure. He shall build a house for my name and I will establish his kingship forever” (2 Samuel 7:10-12). God envisioned a nation of believers, our lives connected to each other through our faith, like a tapestry that stretches through generations. We are each beautiful in our own right, but woven together, we are greater than the sum of our individual lives. God calls each of us to play our different parts in His rich tapestry. Each of us has a specific role. We were all chosen with a purpose in mind.

As we prepare ourselves to celebrate this season of Christmas, let us take some time to reflect on how our lives are connected to one another. Let us reflect on the promise that binds us all together and makes us all believers – the promise of salvation by the forgiveness of our sins. “From age to age, his mercy extends to those who live in his presence… He held out his hand to Israel, his servant, for he remembered his mercy, even as he promised our fathers, Abraham and his descendants forever” (Luke 1:50, 54-55)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray this Christmas, for all those who are still persecuted for their faith and their beliefs. We pray for the day when they can worship without fear, we pray for them to find peace.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His mercy, His love and His faithfulness. We give thanks for the promise of salvation by the forgiveness of our sins.

 

Wednesday, 23 December – Herald of Christ

23 December

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Malachi 3:1-4,23-24

The Lord God says this: Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali. He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made. The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will then be welcomed by the Lord as in former days, as in the years of old.

Know that I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before my day comes, that great and terrible day. He shall turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of children towards their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.

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Luke 1:57-66

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.

Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

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And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him

I like to listen to conversion stories of new Christians. There is a factor that is common in all of the stories – a family, friend or random stranger who in some way served as the point of contact between the non-believer and Christ. The action can be as simple as passing a book about Christ to a friend, or offering to accompany him/her for RCIA or mass. God can work in marvellous ways, when we allow ourselves to be His instruments.

John the Baptist was clearly someone special, a gift from God to herald the coming of Christ. He is described as having a huge following, and for most people this kind of attention will cause them to become very full of themselves. But John was so aware of His own mission and purpose that He never stopped telling his own followers to look to Jesus instead. He is honoured as the last of the prophets of the Old Testament, and the first of the saints of the New Testament.

As Christians, our actions and behaviour are what non-believers look at in order to understand what the religion is about. Sadly though, our sins often turn others away from Christianity. I believe that if we are more conscious of our Christian mission as king, priest and prophet, we would be in a better position to evangelise others.

This Christmas, what are you doing to point others to Jesus?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the grace of the Spirit to guide us to embrace our calling and mission as Christians.

Thanksgiving: Let us think of one person who showed the love of Christ to us, and thank the Lord for him/her.

 

Tuesday, 22 December – Going Inside Out

22 December 

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1 Samuel 1:24-28

When Hannah had weaned the infant Samuel, she took him up with her together with a three-year old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the temple of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was with them. They slaughtered the bull and the child’s mother came to Eli. She said, ‘If you please, my lord. As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him. Now I make him over to the Lord for the whole of his life. He is made over to the Lord.’

There she left him, for the Lord.

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Luke 1:46-56

Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.

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My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord

In the Pixar animated film Inside Out, a young girl named Riley faces great emotional upheaval when her family is uprooted from her hometown and moves to a new place. Usually a happy girl, she was at a loss at dealing with these new, unfamiliar circumstances. She buried her sadness within herself, not allowing herself to show her vulnerability and pain to her parents. Fear and anger took over her emotions, and she ended up almost running away from home. It was only when she accepted the concern of her parents and acknowledged her fear and sadness, that interestingly, joy managed to fill her heart.

Both the first reading and the gospel portray women of great faith – Hannah and Mary. They both praise the Lord with heartfelt words, reflecting their profound humility. They were completely open to God, acknowledging that they are nothing, yet are loved and blessed by God. As such, they are willing to submit themselves completely to Him.

“My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…” Try reading the Magnificat aloud to yourself. Do you sincerely mean what you are saying? I used the story of Inside Out in my opening paragraph, as I can relate to it in the sense that many times, I resist being vulnerable to God. I see in the Magnificat Mary’s openness with God. One cannot be the handmaid of God if there is a wall in between. There are emotions that I do not wish to encounter by openly conversing with God, but yet I know I must, to avoid the deep-seated unhappiness caused by sin. This Christmas, I pray for a breaking down of this wall, and a more trusting relationship with God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that the words of Mary’s Magnificat will inspire us to face God with humility and trust.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the strength that God gives us to withstand difficult times.

 

Monday, 21 December – Joy of the Visitation

21 December – St Peter Canisius

He was born in Nijmegen (now in Holland) in 1521. He studied at Cologne and joined the Society of Jesus: he was ordained priest in 1546. He was sent to Germany, where for many years he worked hard to defend and strengthen the Catholic faith both by writing and by preaching. He wrote many books, of which The Catechism is particularly noteworthy. He died at Fribourg in Switzerland on 21 November 1597.

– Universalis

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Song of Songs 2:8-14

I hear my Beloved.
See how he comes
leaping on the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My Beloved is like a gazelle,
like a young stag.

See where he stands
behind our wall.
He looks in at the window,
he peers through the lattice.

My Beloved lifts up his voice,
he says to me,
‘Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
For see, winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth.
The season of glad songs has come,
the cooing of the turtledove is heard
in our land.
The fig tree is forming its first figs
and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance.
Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock,
in the coverts of the cliff,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet
and your face is beautiful.’

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Luke 1:39-45

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

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The child in my womb leapt for joy

There is an image of the visitation of Elizabeth by Mary, portrayed in many statues. It shows two women bending forward towards each other, foreheads almost touching, hands joined. Both are with child, and their expression is one of gratitude and joyful anticipation.

It is interesting how this joy came about. The young woman got pregnant before she married, and her much older cousin was also about to have a child, unheard of for a woman her age. Both would have had to deal with a fair amount of external gossip, but in each other, they found the affirmation that comes from another who is in a similar situation. Not only that, they received tangible signs of God’s blessings and graces, and marvelled at the wonder of how the fates of their children will be closely intertwined.

How joyful are you as we approach Christmas? I have to say that presently, I feel besieged by anxiety about my work next year and the uncertainty of my future career. In the midst of such thoughts and feelings, it feels much more comfortable to slip into a state of self-absorbed melancholy. It is hard to feel joy presently, but I shall continue to reflect on Elizabeth’s words in Luke 1:45 – “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that the joy of the Good News will touch our hearts this Christmas.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the spiritual graces that the Lord has blessed us with.

 

Sunday, 20 December – Waiting for the Son

20 December

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Micah 5:1-4

The Lord says this:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
the least of the clans of Judah,
out of you will be born for me
the one who is to rule over Israel;
his origin goes back to the distant past,
to the days of old.
The Lord is therefore going to abandon them
till the time when she who is to give birth gives birth.
Then the remnant of his brothers will come back
to the sons of Israel.
He will stand and feed his flock
with the power of the Lord,
with the majesty of the name of his God.
They will live secure, for from then on he will extend his power
to the ends of the land.
He himself will be peace.

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Hebrews 10:5-10

This is what Christ said, on coming into the world:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,
prepared a body for me.
You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin;
then I said,
just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book,
‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’

Notice that he says first: You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.

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Luke 1:39-44

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

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He will stand and feed his flock with the power of the Lord

Christmas is coming in five days. How is your preparation for it? I do not mean the entire inventory of gifts that you would likely have gotten for friends and family. Or the pretty Christmas decorations in your home. Or the mouth-watering log cakes, turkeys and pies that await your taste buds. How do we greet the day when we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Let us try to imagine a world without Jesus. Alright, that could be extremely challenging, as Christ has been changing the world ever since He entered it some two thousand odd years ago. As He himself had said, He came to fulfil the prophecies of old, and to show us the way to God’s kingdom.

Who are you waiting for this Christmas? To answer this question, it would be good to ask a related question, one that is often asked but yet always relevant – Who is Jesus to you? For me, I would always return to the gospel passage where Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman. In the depths of her shame and sins, Jesus reached out to her and found her desire for God. He guided her to look beyond herself and towards eternal life. In times of my own despair, doubts and fears, Jesus is my only help and guide. How about you? Who are you waiting for this Christmas?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for an open heart of love, gratitude and charity this Christmas.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for friends, families and loved ones who have always supported and encouraged us.

 

Saturday, 19 December – Messengers of Joy

19 December

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Judges 13:2-7,24-25

There was a man of Zorah of the tribe of Dan, called Manoah. His wife was barren, she had borne no children. The angel of the Lord appeared to this woman and said to her, ‘You are barren and have had no child. But from now on take great care. Take no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For you will conceive and bear a son. No razor is to touch his head, for the boy shall be God’s nazirite from his mother’s womb. It is he who will begin to rescue Israel from the power of the Philistines.’ Then the woman went and told her husband, ‘A man of God has just come to me; his presence was like the presence of the angel of God, he was so majestic. I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not reveal his name to me. But he said to me, “You will conceive and bear a son. From now on, take no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For the boy shall be God’s nazirite from his mother’s womb to his dying day.”’

The woman gave birth to a son and called him Samson. The child grew, and the Lord blessed him; and the spirit of the Lord began to move him.

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Luke 1:5-25

In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood, and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name, who was a descendant of Aaron. Both were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord. But they were childless: Elizabeth was barren and they were both getting on in years.

Now it was the turn of Zechariah’s section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God when it fell to him by lot, as the ritual custom was, to enter the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense there. And at the hour of incense the whole congregation was outside, praying.

Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense. The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear. But the angel said to him, ‘Zechariah, do not be afraid, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink. Even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.’

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. Listen! Since you have not believed my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.’ Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were surprised that he stayed in the sanctuary so long. When he came out he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had received a vision in the sanctuary. But he could only make signs to them, and remained dumb.

When his time of service came to an end he returned home. Some time later his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept to herself. ‘The Lord has done this for me’ she said ‘now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’

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The Lord has done this for me.

In my role at work, I am normally seen as the bearer of news. I liaise with all the government agencies, partner universities and polytechnics, potential and current industry partners, editors and reporters.  In addition, I coordinate responses from the university which go out to the public in the event of any queries from the media. And while sometimes, I get to adopt the officious tone which the angels in today’s readings took, more often than not, I have to be diplomatic and even conciliatory, so as to ensure that day-to-day matters are dealt with smoothly and without too much fuss.

I can only imagine the reactions of Zorah and Zechariah when they learnt about their wives’ conditions. And while this kind of news typically brings joy, both men probably reacted more with incredulity. Zechariah certainly questioned the angel Gabriel and look what he got for that. Indeed, I cannot help but wonder what my reaction would be if someone were to tell me how my life was going to pan out over the next few years. However, as I look back over the last few years, I realise that God did give me a message in 2011 and it was a simple one – “follow me”. And because I chose to do so, He has given me much joy over the years, while previously I would have questioned, fretted, ended up frustrated and never feeling satisfied.

I spent a few days in Penang this week and it was so wonderful being with my soulmate and just doing things together 24/7. And even though she fell ill one day and had to rest in the hotel, I was happy to have been able to tend to her and to make sure she was comfortable. After a short errand and a quick bite on my own, I went back to the room and a few minutes later, it started to rain cats and dogs. And there we were, snug as bugs in our hotel room. We were certainly relieved that we had chosen to stay in that afternoon and evening. And I thanked the Lord for keeping us safe and warm in His arms.

Brothers and sisters, seldom do we get the chance to discern God’s hand in our daily life. We scurry about concerned with life, with family matters, with work, our bosses, colleagues and subordinates. Then we get frustrated, stressed out, angry at people, situations and events which we have never had any control over in the first place. Perhaps during this season of Advent, and as we look back on this week of Joy, let us reflect on the small things that have brought smiles to our faces this week. Then look beyond the events or circumstances and reflect on the people who were responsible for those smiles. You may end up surprised at who you walk up to and say “Thank you for bringing joy to me this week.”

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as we prepare to welcome Jesus, your Son, fill our hearts with joy so that we can truly open them up to receive Him fully. For only in our hearts can our Saviour be truly resurrected so that we can go out and proclaim your glory. 

Thanksgiving: Lord Jesus, we thank you for each and every person you send our way this Advent. We thank you for your messengers of peace, love and joy.

 

Friday, 18 December – What’s in a Name?

18 December

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Jeremiah 23:5-8

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks –
when I will raise a virtuous Branch for David,
who will reign as true king and be wise,
practising honesty and integrity in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel dwell in confidence.
And this is the name he will be called:
The-Lord-our-integrity.

So, then, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when people will no longer say, “As the Lord lives who brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt!” but, “As the Lord lives who led back and brought home the descendants of the House of Israel out of the land of the North and from all the countries to which he had dispersed them, to live on their own soil.”

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Matthew 1:18-24 

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel,
a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’

When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.

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…they will call him Emmanuel.

Today is a special day. Not only is it my birthday, it is also exactly a month since my father was baptized with the name David. He had always been known by another name all his life and during his wake, as we said prayers, I am sure some friends felt odd that we were acknowledging him by his new name. For me, it signified dad’s new birth (and therefore his resurrection) as a newly-minted son of God.

I remember the day Fr Jude came to the hospital to baptize him. Mum had just touched down and from Australia rushed to the hospital with my brother. When Fr Jude asked what the baptism name would be, I remember saying ‘David’ without any hesitation. At the exact same time, mum said that she wanted a name that began with ‘D’, I guess because all three of us (myself and two other siblings) had names beginning with ‘D’. For me, the choice came naturally – as the head of our family, dad had always been our king.

Looking back, I think that God put that name in my heart simply because in spite of dad’s sinful nature, there were many others apart from his family who loved and respected him. My mother, siblings and I heard many stories from ex-colleagues, ex-staff and business associates during dad’s wake that truly gave us much comfort. Dad was a man of principle, never afraid to mince his words; yet, he was a humble, caring boss and colleague who always showed concern for the less privileged or to staff who were unhappy at work. He knew everyone by name and always had a greeting or kind word for them.

In the last two years, after he had finally retired, he was a familiar face in Thomson Plaza, where his daily jaunts brought him into contact with most of the shopkeepers and service staff there. Friends who bumped into him there recalled how he would enjoy bantering with the people behind the counters in NTUC, Ya Kun, Old Chang Kee and the Singapore Pools kiosk. He would always ask how they were doing and crack a joke to make them laugh. Dad was larger than life and there was always laughter around him. I can imagine King David also being the same, holding court and making sure all around him enjoyed themselves.

So, brothers and sisters, what’s in a name? Yesterday, we read about our Lord’s genealogy, about how Abraham, Jesse, David, Solomon, Jacob and Joseph came before Jesus. Have you ever looked up your family tree to find out who the first Christian was? Or if you are your family’s first baptized Catholic, how did you pick your name? Was it the result of a prompting from God? Even if it was plucked from thin air, rest assured that your name is a sign from God that marks you as His son or daughter.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: O Lord, you are our creator and father. Each day, you call us by the name you gave us, to do your will and to live our life as you so ordain it. Give us the strength and conviction that comes with your blessing, to live as your true sons and daughters. 

Thanksgiving: Lord Jesus, we thank you for walking hand in hand with us each and every day.