“Please don’t take away the Child Jesus so soon”

First Sunday after Christmas Day

 “Please don’t take away the Child Jesus so soon”

 John 1: 1-14

 The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes

 December 30, 2012

 Every parent would agree that the birth of a child gives light to a home. There is plenty of joy to see a beautiful little child smile or grip your finger with his/her little hand. Each parent would remember the time when you cuddled your child and sing the lullaby, so gentle to put the child to sleep. A sibling may be so excited to have a brother or a sister to care and play with. A parent could also wish that moment of birth and child bearing last longer.

 A parent told me one day, “Enjoy the company of your child while she is young.” There is truth to that especially when your child begins to observe privacy and lock herself in her room or when she wants to move away to a far place to exercise her independence. So please don’t take away the feeling of having a child as the light of a home, at least not so fast, for I want to keep the wonderful feeling a little longer.

I saw a neighbor removing his Christmas decors just a day after Christmas. I asked why? He said, “Christmas is over” Please don’t take away the child Jesus so soon. I need to feel the story a little deeper, a little closer, a little while. Let his light consume my heart. You see, soon he is going to be grown up and suffer pain and be crucified. Please don’t rush, let me enjoy the moment a little longer.

We all know the difficulties of every parent whose child was a victim of human failures and even with that of natural calamities. In the fullness of time, the light of God will heal their hearts. Let us continue to pray for that light to penetrate the deepest darkness in our society.

Last night, I watched the news about Russian president Vladimir Putin signing a law banning Americans from adopting Russian kids. There were these childless parents who only had two months to go before the adoption papers are finalized only to find they are being deprived from loving and having a child. This reminds me of our friend Lyle Richardson who has an orphanage in Russia. I just hope and pray that he is not deprived of sending support to that institution.

Christmas reminds us of the many families who have to be separated and be deprived of love and joy and the opportunity to a better life in their pursuit of happiness. I am talking about the parents or their children being separated from each other because of immigration issues.

This reminds me of the recent gathering I attended at the San Francisco State building in our attempt to ask Governor Jerry Browne to support and sign the TRUST Act. 75 people from religious and community organizations came out to watch Mary and Joseph knock on the door of Gov. Brown – asking that he works on the TRUST ACT immediately, to prevent more families like theirs, from being separated this holiday season. I acted as one of the Magi carrying the symbolism of light. The three magi’s went through the building security process while the rest of the people are chanting and singing outside the building. Then we went up to the 14th floor where the office of Governor Browne is. I knocked at the door three times, getting our gifts ready to present to him. One is carrying 400 signed cards asking the Governor to sign the TRUST Act, the other is carrying big pen for him to sign and I was carrying a candle light as a symbol that when he signs it, it will give light to the darkness these families are going through. Unfortunately, the door was locked and it has been locked for a year now due to budget constraints. The Governor can only be reached in Sacramento California. We came down and reported to the people, not of without hope, but with a stronger conviction that we will go to Sacramento on January 7th, just a day after the Three Kings day, to deliver those undelivered gifts. I ask your prayers and support to all families who are vulnerable to being deprived of love, joy and happiness. Let the light of the child Jesus, the word of God, illuminate the darkness of the nation. Let not your hearts be troubled, trust in God and trust in the love of the light that came to save us.

Brothers and sisters, this is that time of the year when families are re-united again and celebrate the coming of the light in the Holy family in Nazareth with Mary and Joseph.  We take this time to reflect on what it is to be a family. The family is the basic unit of society and the Church. It is in the family that we first learn to communicate, and that we learn what is good and bad. It is in the family that we learn what love is because it is in the family that we first receive love. It is in the family that we first learn to forgive and to pray. It is in the family that we first learn about God and Jesus, Joseph and Mary. It is in the family that we learn to value ourselves and to value everything else, picking up our values from what is said and unsaid by our parents. Our family forms us for many years to come.

It is important for us to continue to re-tell the story of the Holy Family in our homes. Let the light of God’s word shine in our homes, ever remembering the love of God every time we are about to fall from the pit of dissolution. Ever remembering that God sent Jesus to us to reveal his love and to show us the way to him. God chose a family to show us how all families are to find their way to him. We pray that our families fulfill God’s plan because that is the only way to be happy families.God’s Holy Family was a family with special graces but yet a family with trials. Every family has particular graces and blessings and every family also has difficulties and crosses. But God did not abandon the Holy Family, certainly God did not abandon us for He has given us grace full of Love and joy.

Let the words in the Gospel be our hope when St. John wrote:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

May the blessing of the light be with you now and in the coming years. Amen.

May Patience and Compassion be our experience of rebirth in Christ

Last Sunday of Advent 2012

                                                  The Rev. Leonard Oakes                      

 For the past Sundays in Advent, we have been anxiously waiting and preparing for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today is the last Sunday of our preparations. We are now with much patience waiting for that very moment where we celebrate the rebirth of God’s Love for His creation in the form of His Child Jesus, Santo Nino.

Two more days and it is Christmas! In my personal experience as one who is anxiously waiting for this event, I have one important message to share:

It was said that patience is a virtue. Well, patience indeed will reap joy when it is coupled with perseverance. When I was a child, I would patiently wait and constantly check my Christmas stocking if I have a gift from Santa. I remember that socks with hole on it. Even now, I still wait and at times check if there is something inside my decorated stocking.

Last Sunday, I sang an old song from a barrowed tune “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.”  So I sang, “I’m dreaming of Ipad Computer, it’s been a year since I last ask.” Patience and perseverance had their prayers answered. And so now, I’d like to sing it again for you, but this time it will be this way: “Thank you, thank you, thank you very much thank you.”

God hears your prayers in many ways. I remember a story about these young brothers who were spending their night at their grandmother’s house and she told them that before they go to bed to make sure they said their prayers. They went to their room, got down to their knees. They youngest boy started to pray at the top of his lungs. “God I pray for a new Xbox, I pray for a new computer, I pray for a new ipod so I could listen to Christmas songs” His brother punched him and said, “Why are you screaming? God isn’t there?” He said, “I know that, but Grandmother is.”

I have now the latest Ipad with retina because your love for me is overflowing. My patience and perseverance have gathered their prize. (That doesn’t mean the collection for your contribution is over since I have to pay back the Church of what I used to obtain that item. Mrs. Milanes will be with patience wait for you at the door.)

But let me tell you my experiences in my numerous attempts to buy that computer and how I passed the test of Patience. I was on my way to best buy whistling with lots of smile to everyone I meet as I entered the store. I went straight to the computer department and saw this Mac Pro computer with retina and fell in love not with the prize but with the features it offers. A lot of visions came to my mind as I look at it. I thought about being able to surf the internet faster in my research for books or issues to read. I thought about not having any headaches and frustrations with this new device. I was resolved to buy that computer so I called the treasurer and said, “I found what I needed.” I gave the quote to the treasurer and she issued me a check. I tell you, I was with high spirit and very positive about having that computer. I went back to best buy and gave them the check. The cashier runs the check with her check reader. Believe it or not, the machine came with this message. “Denied, you have to call the tele- check for verification.” I said to the cashier, “I’m pretty sure there’s money in the checking account.” She told me to call the 800 number and the customer service representative told me that this happens especially when the account has no transaction history with the store. I told her, “I have been buying items for the church here with another account that we recently closed.” She advised me to get the old account number so she could run in her computer. I called our treasurer and inquired about the old account number with Chase Bank. Soon as I got the number, I called back the 800 numbers and Alas! She found the transaction history and said It is alright to use the check. After two hours, I am ready to play that new computer. The cashier run it again but denied. The cashier thinks we should try another check since the old check has imprints at the back. It was already 9 in the evening so I said, “Let’s do it tomorrow.”

I would ask you, what would you have said if that happened to you? Would you have screamed at the customer representative? Would you have cursed Best Buy and promise not to come back anymore?

I went back that morning with a new check and it was again denied. I decided to go to the bank and requested a cashier check. I went back to best buy and gave them the cashier’s check but the machine denied it again due to subject to verification of clearance. I smiled and suggested to the cashier to call the manager and try to talk to the bank manager. After several minutes, it got approved and processed. I now have the Ipad in my hands; I hugged it as if it was a reunion. I thanked the cashier for her patience and assistance. On my way to the car, I whispered to the ipad, “I’m not going to let them stop me from having you.” I knew God was checking on my patience and now I enjoy the fruit of your love this Christmas.

I challenge you to have patience and perseverance in your daily life. You may not get the answer to your prayer now, tomorrow, next week, next month or the whole year, but if you will not give up, God will not give up on you. Keep praying and believe you will one day find the answers to your prayer. Patience makes a difference when you persevere. Do not be discouraged.

Today’s gospel tells us how Mary, who is carrying Jesus in her womb, made a difference in the lives of her cousin Elizabeth and of the child in her womb. Mary, being anointed by the Holy Spirit, hurried to the mountain country where Elizabeth lived, thereby conveying the Holy Spirit to her cousin and her child. The trip from Nazareth in Galilee where Mary lived to a village in Judea where Elizabeth lived would take four days by foot. The two cousins greeted one another, one running to assist the other, both pregnant with life and faith. Elizabeth’s unborn child leaped with joy in recognition that salvation was near.

Mary, with her patience and compassion, helped Elizabeth in her time of need and served her baby John was born. That was her perfect, loving, and sacrificial gift to Elizabeth. This story teaches us the importance of mutual ministry. Each of us has a unique call, leaving us no reason for envy. Mary brought the Savior; John recognized and identified Him; and Elizabeth gave prophecy, mediating God’s word by interpreting this event.

We can make a real difference in the lives of others by bringing Jesus to them. Every day is Christmas and Christmas is the ideal time for us to be filled with the spirit of Christ, allowing his rebirth within us. Thus he enables us to share his love with all whom we encounter by offering them humble and committed service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate caring.

I invite you to spend time with your family during this season. Visit your elderly parents and grandparents. Share your patience and compassion for them. Hug your children and be slow to anger for they carry the love of Christ in their hearts. May Patience and Compassion be our experience of the rebirth of Christ in our lives. Share a chat or smile with your neighbor. Sharing Jesus with others is the best Christmas gift we can give. God wants each of us, like Mary, to carry to those around us the Lord of Life. Let us take the time to visit others this Christmas, to bring some inspiration into their lives, and hopefully to bring them closer to God. Amen.

Take it to the Lord in Prayer

Third Sunday in Advent C 2013

(Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7)

The Rev. Leonard Oakes

Our Advent waiting and preparation for the birth of Christ have been visited by the spirit of sorrow at the early end of this week. It’s hard for us to be happy and joyful today as the whole nation is in deep shock because of the Massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty children and six adults were killed when the shooter opened fire Friday morning. We are all deeply saddened and we remain speechless as the news continues to unfold. I ask for a moment of silence and sound 26 bells in memory of the victims. May the souls of the faithful through the mercy of God rest in peace!

In the midst of our sorrow, the prophet Zephaniah announced to God’s people, in the midst of difficult time in their history, to “sing, shout, rejoice and exult for joy”. They should sing for joy not because things were wonderful, but because God was in their midst. We sing for joy today because God is with the people of Newtown in Connecticut. God is in their midst of suffering and pain. We heard Paul in the second reading affirming this act, while in prison, tell the Philippians to rejoice always. The scriptures give different ideas about joy than our culture does. Our society seems to tell us joy stems from what we have. The scriptures tell us our joy comes from what we have now but it also comes from what we will have in the future, something we can trust in because God is faithful to his promises.

We may find it hard to do what Zephaniah and Paul ask us to do because of self pity, constantly putting other people down to make ourselves look smatter or better; holding on to anger and resentment. It only eats us up inside and does not produce joy. We have to forgive.

And then there’s fear and worry. Paul advises us to have no anxiety at all. That might sound impossible but there are so many things that cause us anxiety, which only God understands. If self-pity, guilt, anger, unwilling to forgive, resentment, fear, and worry work against our having joy, then what will lead to joy? We must decide to be joyful. Paul tells the Philippians “rejoice’ as if it is something for them to choose to do rather than it being something that just happens to them. “Rejoice in the Lord always” and “Do not worry about anything”

With that, I want to play you this singing bass fish Rev. Lynn gave me as a gift which helps me cope up with stress. The song was from Youtube sensation Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, be happy.”  I like it when its tail wiggles. In times when I think that even though we live in a world that is full of toys, comforts and luxuries yet fewer and fewer people seem to experience true peace and satisfaction in their lives, and in times when life is full of problems and we continue to experience more and more worry and anxiety, I still have time to sit down and take a deep breath and sing this song:

In every life we have some trouble/ When you worry you make it double/ Don’t worry, be happy.
Ain’t got no place to lay your head/ Somebody came and took your bed/ Don’t worry, be happy.
The landlord say your rent is late/ He may have to litigate/ Don’t worry, be happy.
Ain’t got no cash, ain’t got no style/ Ain’t got no gal to make you smile/ But don’t worry, be happy.

I like it when Bobby just whistles his problems out. Yet, when we look deeper to compare the song with our readings today, there is a big difference between St Paul and Bobby McFerrin on this issue. Bobby McFerrin tells us “Don’t worry, be happy” without telling us why we should be happy or more importantly how to not worry. Paul, on the other hand tells us both why we should be happy and how we can dissolve our worries and attain happiness. Here we have Paul’s key to happiness.

Paul tells us why we should not worry when he said: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near”. We should be happy not because everything is going well with us right now, not because our health and finances are in great shape, not even because the Church Women bought you your favorite computer this Christmas, but simply because the Lord is near. We should be happy not because of what the past and the present have shown but because of what we shall see tomorrow. It is a happiness that springs from the faith and the hope that our Lord is coming to save from our sinfulness and become inheritors of God’s kingdom.

Paul today reassures us that the coming of the Lord will be a happy surprise for those who believe and hope in Him. We have to remember that Paul was writing these words from prison where he was not sure if he will come out alive. So here he is teaching us not only by word but by example as well. “Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” The Lord is coming.

Why and how not to worry could be difficult to explain to the family of the victims in Connecticut at this time of grief. How could one keep from worrying when one is surrounded by apparently gargantuan problems and difficulties? Yet, Paul gives us an answer in the second part of the reading. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In every situation, in every difficulty or problem, in all circumstances, Paul knows one thing we should do rather than worry, and that is: take it to the Lord in prayer. Paul does not ask us to deny that we’ve got problems or to pretend as if they are not there. He urges us rather to face our problems squarely, not with worry but with prayer.

 Turn your worries into prayers and have peace in your heart “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. It is the peace that God gives, the peace that nothing in the world can give, and all because we have learned to trust God in everything and in every situation. We have learned to bring everything to God in prayer no matter the magnitude of the problems facing us at this time. Take it to the Lord in prayer.

I have another song for you today. Nine more days before Christmas, I still have time to sing: Maestro, take it to the key of D. “I’m still dreaming of Imac computer, it’s been a year since I last asked. My old computer is 13 years old now, and it’s giving me headache every time.” I know, I don’t have to worry for there are people like you who are blessed to give. Lord, hear my prayer. Amen.

What are you preparing for?

Second Sunday in Advent C 2012

Fr. Leonard Oakes

 What are you preparing for?

The popular Filipino Boxer Manny Pacman Pacquiao may have surely learned this time that in everything, preparation and not over confidence is needed to win a fight. For those who still cannot believe Manny lost, get over it and learn that we are now entering into the season of preparing ourselves for the coming of the birth of Christ, the Santo Nino in our lives.

One of the important lessons I learned when travelling to another country especially if it is more than one week, is to make sure you have everything packed. It is used to be that my wife Haidee would prepare all my travel needs. She in fact offered to do it for me but I wanted to show her that I can do it. The next thing I found was I was missing a lot of stuff such as socks, underwear, hygiene kits. I had more sweaters than shirts which I didn’t get to use because it was warm and humid in most places we’ve been in the Philippines. So I bought things in the Philippines out of necessity.

Preparation cannot be done quickly and sloppy, it has to be planned ahead with sound decisions and constant checking with a list. One cannot be over confident that he has it all otherwise he will find things to be costly.

When I arrived home from a two week vacation in the Philippines, I noticed the cleanliness and well organized settings inside our house. The tables are cleared from clutters, the sofas are rearranged, the bed is well presented so that when I started to unpack my travelling bags and placed some of my things in the table, my wife was quick to say, “no, no, no, don’t put your things on the table, we have to start our new year with a clean and organized home.” I thought about that to be neat and true, don’t you agree? We should prepare for our new year with a life free from so much clutters and mess.

Last Sunday, we learned from Mrs. Marietta Flores that Advent is a time for waiting, waiting for the birth of Christ in our lives. Waiting and Preparation are two things that go together in this season of Advent. You see, things are changing and seasons are rotating, but as they rotate, change comes with it, change that renews the face of our being. We started our new year with winter where everything slows down. It is about time to unpack our troubles and worries in life and just go slow but prepared for the coming of a new day in our lives. It is time to rest and be reenergized and prepare for another wonderful year to travel. When spring comes, we shall begin to grow a new life, so fresh and renewed and ready to have a full bloom in summer until the cycle begins anew.

Advent is a time for waiting with much anticipation for the celebration of the birth of Christ in our lives, our family, our community and the world. It is also a time to prepare for a new miracle that is being brought by the birth of Christ. We shall not be caught unaware but prepared and ready to embrace those changes that will make us worthy in the eyes of God.

We must always be ready to reveal the miracles of the love of God in this community. We have been keeping our voices low for sometimes. Just like Zechariah in our Old Testament reading, who was serving in the Temple when an angel appeared to him and said his wife would have a baby who would prepare the way for the messiah and that he would be called John. But because Zechariah didn’t believe the angel (for his wife is already old and many years post menopause) (At least not men oppose), the angel then said to Zechariah that he would not be able to speak until all that had taken place. So for nine months, he was unable to talk until his wife Elizabeth had the baby. Imagine yourself not being able to say a word for nine months? I know some people who would explode if it happened to them.

When Manny Pacqiao was knocked out, his fans were silenced for a long minute. Then with disbelief, they started to make comments, both negative and positive. “Kunak tu met nga saan nga bira nga bira.” “I told him not to keep punching without planning.” Others would say, “He will come back next time with a perfect plan.”

If you were told to shut for nine month, what would you say once you could speak? Would you have a list of smart remarks and comments to make? Would you have a list of opinions to express? Would you complain that you’re tired of being told on what to do? Of all the things that Zechariah could have said, he praised God for sending a Savior. He opened his lips and told everyone that God was sending light into the darkness. He broke the silence by proclaiming the grace and salvation of God.

Like Zechariah, it’s about time to open our lips and praise God for the gift of our salvation.

It is time for us to break the silence. The world needs to see the light of God in Christ. But too many people lose the real light of Christ in the artificial Christmas lights. They miss the gift of love and life from God in the rush to get the perfect gift for that someone. They lose the manger and the baby in all the other decorations of the season. The real meaning of Christmas is being camouflaged with commercial sales. We who see the real meaning of the season need to say something!

We have some help in breaking the silence. Zechariah had an angel to help him see it and tell others. But we have the genuine article! Jesus the light of the world dwells in us. He will enable us to tell the world.

Our seniors and the ECW are planning to have a Friday evening soup for the community. Inviting the poor and less fortunate in the community to simply come and enjoy a hot soup and some bread and entertainment. Many from the community are not able to eat good meals a day because they are tightening their belts from unemployment and other reasons.

Last Wednesday night, a group of health professionals gathered at the Church hall to give birth to the realization of our health and wellness volunteer program. These wonderful Doctors, Registered Nurses, LVN, Senior Living Administrators, CNA and others do know the meaning of the birth of Christ in this community by offering their time and talents to reach out to the least of God’s people, the uninsured, the less fortunate; by offering free blood pressure check up, health education, referral program and other health needs these poor people cannot afford or able to benefit due to financial and other reasons.

We are all part of the blessing. You and I, young and old are part of this calling. Beginning this week, our trained professionals will put flyers and brochures together and be ready for distribution in preparation for a health fair on January 29, 2013.  I call upon us all to put on our cloak, wear the sandal of Christ and be ready to go house to house, community to community, bus to bus, in every grocery store and food court, from car to cars and tell the people that we are here with loving arms to embrace the season and the new year with care and service through our health and wellness program.

This Friday, a concert is set to benefit our Santo Nino Stained Glass window project. Invite others and share them the miracle our Santo Nino brought to this Church and the Community. In this coming Sunday also, we will dedicate and unveil the santo nino stained glass project. Our loving and wonderful Lyle Richardson came all the way from Florida to be with us on this occasion. Let us give him a big round of applause. I invite you all to come and be part of that miracle. It is free for all.

What does the Lord require of you? To wait patiently, prepare to welcome the Love of God through Jesus Christ and be of service to those of the least of your brothers and sisters, whoever and wherever they may be. That is the message I would like us all to keep in heart this season. Even when we think we don’t have enough to share, even when we are a mission station struggling for our own needs, we are still blessed by God, for God is for us, God is with us and He will not abandon us even to the end of the world. So let us give praise and thanks to God our creator and provider. Amen.