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My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

I believe you would agree with me, that this year has probably been one of the most challenging years for all of us. Looking back to a year ago, no one would have anticipated this year to be what it was. From experiencing the loss of a loved one, contracting an illness, losing jobs, financial difficulties, losing our sense of purpose in life, and to constantly having fears and anxieties, it has truly been a difficult and tough year.

Our lives are challenged, our faith is pushed to the edge of the brink. One might ask; when is this going to end? What else is going to happen next year? Where is God? Does He not care for us? Stepping into the season of Advent, let us ask God for the wisdom, since Scripture promises that wisdom is readily found and seen for the one who seeks! (Wisdom 6:12) We need wisdom to see things as they are, to see things as God sees them, and to live with faith. When we take time to be still in our hearts, we see God’s hand at work amidst the chaos and challenges. As we witness the number of COVID-19 cases adding on every day, the number of patients who recover every single day is equally as significant if not more. God heals, through the hands of our medical frontliners. Let us not fail to see that and give thanks. While our plans have been wrecked by the pandemic and we have been asked to stay at home for most of the year, my hope and prayer is that many of us have taken this time to truly mend our relationship with the Lord, with our families, with our loved ones. What a grace we have been given. There is indeed, so much to be thankful for, amidst the turmoil.

But perhaps for us as Catholics, the most painful thing is that so many of us have been deprived of the Holy Sacraments in the Church for most of this year. A year ago, we were all privileged to be able to receive Holy Communion at the Eucharist in the Church. Now, we are robbed of that privilege and many of us can only virtually attend Mass through a screen and receive Communion spiritually. The leniency of not having to go to Church has unfortunately caused many to be complacent when it comes to our faith. We are now getting used to the idea of attending Mass virtually. But even this can be a grace for us to increase our hunger and longing for Christ, and to never take the Sacraments for granted anymore.

Many have asked regarding this pandemic, “Is this a punishment from God?” He loves us, and yet He allows suffering. We will never be able to comprehend God’s ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways His ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Our minds will never be able to fully understand why God allowed this. When we look around us, we feel like our “boats” are sinking, some may even feel their boats have capsized. But Christ continues to call us to keep our gaze on Him and to have faith. (Mark 4:37 – 41) He is in control, and He knows what is going on around and within us.

As we enter this advent season to prepare and anticipate Christmas, let us take time to also ponder on two of the ‘Greatest Saints’ in our Church, Joseph and Mary. At the Annunciation, our Blessed Mother responded to the Angel Gabriel with these words that would change her life and the world forever, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38), knowing consequences and risks that would transpire. Still, one of the first things she did after Christ was conceived in her womb, was to share His joy when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. No uncertainty or fear can take away the joy of Christ for one who trusts in God.

Joseph, after knowing Mary had been chosen by God to conceive the Most Holy One, felt unworthy to have Mary, such a Perfect and Holy vessel of God. But after the angel appeared to him in a dream, affirming him that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because Mary had conceived what was in her by the Holy Spirits (Mt 1:20). Joseph humbly accepted the will of God and gave himself wholly to the plan of God to be the earthly father of His Son.

Preparing for the birth of the Saviour of the world was nothing ordinary. Both Joseph and Mary, in their humility and simplicity, were very much like us. They faced many challenges and did not have everything figured out by themselves. But they trusted, gave everything they had, and surrendered to the will of God every step of the way. Though they encountered many obstacles and closed doors in their journey, it all finally led them to a place they probably least expected, the humblest place – a manger. There, Christ was born. God’s plan was revealed to Joseph and Mary as they surrendered and placed their total trust in God.

When we look at the challenges, adversities, and hardships we face in the world today, there is no way we can face it all with our own strength. Thankfully, we are not alone! Christ has urged us in His Word to take heart, for He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

The Lord often raises up saints during the hardest and most challenging times. Let us learn to see with the eyes of faith and strive for holiness more than ever. Let us be assured of Christ’s closeness to us in this difficult and challenging time. Let us continue to cultivate a life of prayer which will help us to fix our gaze on Christ through these times and in the hope that He may raise us up to be the saints of today.

This Advent, may we like Mary and Joseph, give everything we have, to prepare for the birth of Christ in our hearts by trusting and surrendering all to the will of God. May our longing for Christ increase more and more as we set to prepare for His birth. Let us open our hearts to allow God to take us on a journey towards Christmas. Through the challenges, the difficulties, and uncertainties, the certainty of Who God is, remains the same. He is love. He is Emmanuel, close to us, through it all.

Have a blessed Advent!

Archbishop John Wong Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu

Read Advent Message in Bahasa Malaysia Chinese Kadazan

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