By 27th November 2021Bishop Carmel, Christmas

Bishop Zammit has issued the traditional

Advent Pastoral Letter

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We have entered the Holy Season of Advent.
What is Advent? The simple answer to this question is that Advent is a period of four weeks in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and also of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ.  It is our spiritual journey to celebrate Christmas.  But if we do not know what Christmas is we will fail to know what Advent is for.
In the readings of the Mass on this First Sunday of Advent, we find Jesus referring to the end of the world and the Last Judgement, when Christ will come in glory.  Jesus exhorts us to be ready and to hold our heads high, because our redemption is at hand.
It may seem strange that at the beginning of our preparation for Christmas, the message is centred on the end of the world and the coming of Christ in glory.  This is the second coming of Jesus, and the church tells us that as we prepare for the birth of Jesus, we are really preparing for the meeting we will eventually have with the Lord when our time comes to give an account of our life.  Christmas is not just a memory of the day when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but it is also a reminder that there will be, so to say, another coming of Jesus, another final encounter with him, for which we are constantly preparing, but around Christmas this preparation is put more into focus.
Advent is the beginning of a new Liturgical Year in the Church.   In a way we continue our journey but at the same time we renew and give more impetus to our preparation to welcome Christ in our lives as he is always knocking on our door.  As we read in the Book of Revelation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3, 20).
How do we prepare for Christmas?  For many the reaction to this question will be buying presents, preparing shopping lists for when family gathers to celebrate.  There is nothing wrong in the material preparations for Christmas, but if the spiritual preparation is missing then it is a half-baked preparation and the whole point of Christmas is lost.
This four-week preparation invites us to reflect on how much God has loved us, in sending His own Son to be born to show us the face of God and to save us through his death and resurrection from sin and assuring us of eternal life.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn 2, 16).
While reflecting on God’s love for us, we are invited to respond to God’s love, and Christ tells us how this response should be. “A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34).  Loving our neighbour is the measure of our love of God.  As James tells us in his letter, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”. (James 2, 17).  Jesus himself tells us what it means to love one another, when he describes the last judgement.  “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and … “ (cf. Mt 25, 35-40).  Pope Francis is all the time reminding us of our duties as Christians and as members of the family of humankind, to remember the poor, the homeless, the underprivileged, the refugees, those suffering from disasters whether natural or created by wars and persecutions.  God did not close his eyes to our needs, and we are called to open our eyes to the needs of others and be ready to help according to our means and circumstances.
In the last two years, due to the pandemic which unfortunately is still with us, so much has changed, and we have changed.  Nobody and no institution can boast of not having been affected by the pandemic.  We all suffered and are suffering in some way or other, whether financially, emotionally, psychologically, and physically.
We are living in uncertain times.  In these times the best in us has come out, trying to help those who needed our help and support.  We are not out of the woods yet, and we pray that we may see the end of the tunnel in the near future.
What has not changed despite the difficult times we have and are experiencing is the message of Advent.  That message tells us of God’s love for us and of our need for that saving love.  Our whole life is our Advent, during which time we prepare ourselves for the moment when we enter fully into the life of God.  This Advent may something more of Christ enter us.
With the assurance of my prayers and a blessing on you all.
Given on the 24th November 2021, feast of Saints Andrew-Luc and his Companions, Martyrs.
+Carmel Zammit
Bishop of Gibraltar