Fourth Sunday in Advent: Micah 5:1-4; Hebrews 10:5-10; Gospel Lk 1:39-44
Preparing for Christmas - Be Different!

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of Our Lady of Lourdes - Singapore
on 20 December 2015

This is a true story of Richard Johnson.  He came from a family where everyone was either divorced or a single parent.  His dad was not a part of his life.  When his daughter, Persephone, was born his wife left him and abandoned their one month old daughter with him for reasons that Richard does not know.  He thinks the cause could be post natal depression.  He did not see it coming.  So, Richard was alone, scared and overwhelmed.  He says, I knew I wanted to be a better father than I had been.  So, I chose to break the cycle of abandonment and do whatever it took to be a good father to my little daughter, Persephone. 

The days have been rough and at times I wasn't sure I could make it another day.  I spent more than a few nights weeping, holding my little girl as she slept because I was not sure I was going to be a good enough father for her.

In my desperation, I had tried to read every “new parent” book I could find and clocked in over 1,000 hours in YouTube videos from braiding hair and painting nails to theories on how to deal with common parental issues.  I combed the Internet for resources and also joined a Facebook community specifically for dads because I needed support, advise and an outlet. 

After ten months, my daughter and I are both very happy and are continuing to grow together every day.  We have both come a long way.  To this, a blogger responded to Richard saying,Richard’s story is so touching because it proves just how much you can accomplish when you refuse to give up . . . for, she quotes, “The greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing because you think you can only do a little.”

Richard has now experienced what an incredible blessing it is to be a parent.  He courageously stepped up to a task that seemed too big, and now he recognise the amazing and mysterious blessings that can comethrough the challenges and trials of life.  Richard would have missed all of these had he chosen to give in to fear and run from the problems I had to face.  The future that lie ahead is still filled with unknown challenges.

However, Richard knowing what it is like to face the challenges of being a single parent decided to share graciously, “For any single parents out there, if you ever feel like the load is too much or you are just not good enough, then look into your amazing child's eyes and just tell them you love them. You would be amazed to see how much strength you have when someone else is counting on you and loving you more and more for what you're doing. You'll find strength where you thought you had none.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, “Were Richard’s challenges about “bravery” when his wife abandoned him and his daughter?  “Bravery” is not just defined on a battlefield or in a life and death situation.  Bravery is stepping up to do the right thing when others do not.  “Bravery” is about standing firm when others crumble. It is stepping up when others flee.  

However, if we reflect more deeply on what Richard experienced, we will realise that there is a big difference between “bravery” and “fidelity”?  Richard’s challenges were more specifically related to his love for his little daughter.  Such a love of a father for his child is a committed love; a love that is unconditional regardless of the challenges we face and the pain and trials we experience.

On an even deeper level, we could say that Richard was willing to face all the trials also because, inseparable from his love for his daughter is his fidelity to his wife in marriage even though she may have abandoned him and his daughter for reasons that are unknown to him . . . and we shall not judge her. Moreover, in Richard’s fidelity in his marriage, he has also pledged his fidelity to God unconditionally regardless of the trials that he may face. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, “fidelity” is loving not solely with our human strength, but relying on God’s strength within us.  In the Christian understanding of “fidelity” we are called to trust in God’s fidelity, and be consoled by the Truth that God will never fail us, regardless of how often and how much we may have disappointed or failed Him.  God’s Love for us is unchanging in His Fidelity and non-judgmental in His Mercy.  God’s Love is infinitely Compassionate and constantly waiting to embrace us with His Tender Love. 

The Gospel account tells us of such single-minded fidelity to God’s Will. When Mary received news from the Angel Gabriel that her cousin Elizabeth is with child in her old age, she “went as quickly as she could . . . to visit her.”  And when Elizabeth met Mary, she “was filled with the Holy Spirit . . . and the child in her womb leapt for joy . . . which led her to exclaim, “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Both Mary and Elizabeth lived a life of great fidelity to God’s Will and did not take God’s Love for granted.  Mary knew through angel Gabriel, and without doubt that it was God’s Will that she was chosen to be the Mother of the Messiah.  Elizabeth too knew God’s Will through being filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit when she met Mary. 

What about us?  Are we living God’s Will in all that we do daily?  For those of us who are facing many challenges and overwhelming trials in our lives like Richard in our story, are we putting up a brave fight like Richard?  Or, at a deeper level, are we persevering in fidelity in our vocation?  Or, better still, are we facing our challenges because we want to be faithful to God and His Will like Mary and Elizabeth?  Today’s Letter to the Hebrews too echoes this truth by reminding us to respond with our hearts, “Here I am Lord, I am coming to obey your Will. . . .

And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that as we are only a few days away from Christmas, you and I are called not only to prepare for Christmas through the buying of gifts for people or in the preparation of the sumptuous Christmas dinner.  All these are important part of the celebration of Christmas, but more importantly, we are each invited to “be different” from the many others who prepare for Christmas externally and superficially. 

We are each invited to prepare for the Coming of the Christ-Child at Christmas more deeply and more spiritually.  Let us have Richard as our inspiration and more importantly have Mary and Elizabeth to be our models to live God’s Will in our daily lives so that Christ can truly be born in the manger of our hearts and the stable of our homes. 

 (re: adapted from: www.dailymail.co.uk – Richard Johnson)

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

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