Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I have just returned from an advent mission trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia where some 250 “Apostles” brought some cheer to the children of 3 Don Bosco schools and the residents of a Missionaries of Charity home. My wife, Priscilla and I always look forward to the annual mission trip which started in 2006 when I first led a motley group of about 20 parishioners to bring cheer to the students of Don Bosco Chreh School. The mission group which was called ACTS (Advent Cambodia TripS) has since been renamed ACTS (A Call To Share) as we are now active all year round running mainly educational and medical projects in Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines and Vietnam. Today the advent trips where some 650 ACTS participants travel to several destinations to bring advent cheer to our less fortunate remain the most meaningful aspect of the mission for me.

In the past, Advent which is a time for us to prepare for Christmas was known as “Little Lent” because it was a time of abstinence, prayer and almsgiving. Over time, this time of repentance has given way to shopping and feasting. The preparation for the celebration has lost its spiritual dimension. The “Spirit of Christmas” cannot be found in clothing, presents and food and can only come about when attention is given to the Spirit through our serious preparations.

A Christian doctor friend of ours tearfully thanked us at the conclusion of the mission because she discovered the true meaning of Advent. In Australia where she resides (like in most part of the world), Christmas nowadays has come to be symbolised by the Jesse Tree as well as plenty of distractions introduced by the secular world. During the mission week, which begins early morning with daily mass followed by rendering service to those of our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate and reflections in the evening helped her understand that the celebrations was about how Jesus Christ became man and how our Father kept his promise of salvation. After participating fully in the communal preparations which included the sacrament of reconciliation, Regina felt the presence of God enveloping her. Together with her children, who also participated in the advent mission, she is determined to return next year with more of her friends.

Peter, a non-Christian had not wanted to come on the mission and ignored all attempts to get him involved in the kindergarten class he was assigned to teach. After a couple of days, one of the sweet Cambodian kid presented him with a little box, which he promptly discarded into a pile of rubbish after glancing at the contents of the box, not noticing the hurt on the face of the child. Mysteriously the next day, the box reappeared on the table of the volunteer in charge of the class. Lynette who then inquired who it belonged to. Reluctantly Peter claimed the box and told Lynette that he had thrown it away because he did not know what was the content of the little box. Lynette peered into the box and found a rosary and explained its’ significance to Peter. The child having observed the unhappiness of Peter, had sacrificed her most precious treasure and presented it to him. From that moment, Lynette noticed a drastic transformation in Peter who began interacting with the children.

This incidence reminds me of how God our Father gave us the most precious gift of his son, Jesus. Born in a box, a manger in a stable and not in a palace, he was rejected by many. Not everybody understood the significance of the gift which was presented in a box. Picturing the tearful sad face of the little girl whose gift Peter threw away, I can feel the sorrow of our Father when we reject His most precious gift. Only when we understand the coming of Jesus will we experience the Peace and perfect Joy that only God can give.

In the past when my advent preparations meant shopping for presents, feasting and parties Christmas day was inevitably followed by a sense of disappointment. The carols and festivities seem to be leading up to a climax and then nothing happens, only a profound emptiness. Now after Christmas, I look forward to the New Year which is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Like Mary we should attune our hearts to listen for the voice of God which challenge us to bear Christ to the world. Our “Yes” to God following the example of Mary, is a dynamic response to the invitation of God to bring Christ to all by first being peacemakers. Only by the power of the Prince of Peace, will we be able to bring peace to a world where there is moral turpitude and unrest. It is no coincidence that the Church celebrates the World Day of Peace on the same day as the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

I pray that believers and non-believers alike will recognise how precious was God’s gift to us and not reject him because they do not understand what was contained in “the little box”. I hope that you and your family had a meaningful Advent and am ready for the coming of the baby Jesus.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and holy New Year.

Yours in Christ,
John Lee