Sermon 286: 4th. Sunday of Advent (A)
(Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; St. Matthew 1:18-24)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you know very well the Gospel account of Mary’s conception, the birth of Jesus, and Joseph’s loving and protective care of them both; so perhaps we may today profitably give deeper attention to ‘why’ Jesus came among us rather than ‘how’
The simple, yet absolutely astounding, fact is that the Son of God became man in Jesus to save us from SIN, sin in us and in the world around us; and sin in always means sin active in us and in the world around us.
Let us first of all try to appreciate that fact: Jesus did not come as some pagan-type of deity to work miracles, make stupendous changes of whatever sort in human political and social life; He came most humbly as a little child, simply and solely, totally and exclusively, to save us, free us, from the shackles and consequences of sin that He might then make us one with and in Himself for the Father as adopted children in His heavenly Kingdom. Our being no-longer-helpless under the earthly burden of sin is the supreme Gift Jesus wants to offer and to give to each and every one of us this Christmas; and the greater fulfilment of that prospect of freedom is the HOPE we treasure and seek to share during our Advent preparation and throughout our Christmas worship and celebrations, by sincere good-will to our neighbour and gifts to our children.
Throughout the whole of the Old Testament period God was working to enable His Chosen People to recognize, acknowledge, and seek freedom from, sin. And we can appreciate what enormous and deep-rooted opposition to God’s teaching and grace there must have been even among His Chosen People, because we ourselves in the twenty-first century find that although the effects of sin are now so palpably manifest to the extent that it is impossible to understand how humanity can inflict such blatant horrors on its fellows, and although such effects are so deeply lamented and sincerely deplored all over the world, nevertheless, the fact, the spiritual reality, of sin -- especially personal sin and sinfulness which Jesus came to attack and destroy directly -- is almost totally ignored and largely denied by society as a whole today.
It is increasingly recognized that a human being can suffer much from unsatisfactory relationships with other human beings in the social set-ups at work, at home, and at play; and for such sufferers, helpers called ‘counsellors’ are increasingly provided with ‘promotional’ qualifications, so to speak. But there is no public recognition of human relations with God! All sicknesses are exclusively referred to those ‘qualified’ counsellors who, as such, profess no spiritual awareness, no aspirations to holiness of life, nor are they given any authentic training in Christian spirituality. Anyone feeling guilt for committed sin is just to be told that it is all a matter of psychological crossed-wires or of the ‘genes and juices’ of human physicality.
You however, Jesus’ Chosen People of God, can recognise not only the sin of the world, but also the sins (at least some of them) you commit personally, and you are well aware of sin’s power over, and ever so subtle influence on, your daily experience of living life. When Our Blessed Lord humbled Himself to the utmost before His crucifixion by accepting the full weight of human sinfulness upon Himself, He sweated so profusely that it was as though drops of blood were ‘watering’ the Garden around His kneeling or prostrate figure.
The fact that Jesus comes expressly to take away such a load from us by offering us, in Himself, peace of heart and soul through our restored relationship with God, is the reason why we, as Christians, are so filled with JOY at Christmas!
And in all this monumental campaign against sin, Jesus did not come seeking to accuse anyone, but simply to save one and all!
He came to begin His Father-given task as a child, so beautiful, so helpless and needy, and – for Mary, so cuddly!! And He ended that task by dying on the Cross for love of us, with absolutely no recriminations. So, throughout the whole of His life on earth, Jesus sought not to personally accuse but to embrace and save all who were and are willing to hear and respond to the first words and very essence of His Gospel:
This is the time of fulfilment; the Kingdom of God is at hand; Repent and Believe the Good News.
‘Repent’ means turn away from sin, and in order to do that it is necessary to ‘believe’, that is turn towards, aspire to, Jesus’ Gospel or Good News of salvation offering freedom from sin. We can appreciate how unique Jesus’ message and offer was if we think that men’s thirst for revenge -- so prevalent in radical groups throughout the world but more especially in the current, truly vicious, middle-East-originated troubles -- is a deliberate rejection of and refusal to accept an absolutely essential part of Jesus’ Good News, namely that we must forgive ‘those who trespass against us’ if we want to have part with Him and gain freedom from the dominating power of sin in our lives.
Sin is incontestably manifest not only in the world around us but also in individual lives: young people’s pride manifests itself so often in a distaste for what is ordinary, and their subsequent desire for excitement to lift them out of the ‘ordinary’ so easily leads them on to criminality and violence, excessive drink, sexual abuse, and ultimately drug addiction. Jesus’ offer of freedom from sin means His lifting from our shoulders all such burdens of pride, selfishness, anxiety, anger, lust, envy, sloth and covetousness by His gifts of peace, hope, mutual love and respect, all of which are fruits of Jesus’ self-sacrifice and God’s grace in our lives. Such fruits are redolent with the blood of Jesus and the incense of His Most Holy Spirit and they cannot in any way be compared with, or imitated by, the political pseudo-blessings of the inglorious and bloody French Revolution, though expressed by rational ideals of equality, fraternity, and liberty which convey no God-given grace whatsoever to raise us up above our native earthly frailty and subjection, and are always themselves subject to changing human interpretations and aspirations.
For us, however, we have Jesus’ own chosen words to make clear for us the purpose of His coming among us:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me: He has anointed Me to bring glad tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. (Luke 4:18)
He is the Anointed One, sent, come, to bring the Good News of the Gospel proclaiming His offer of liberty, freedom, for all presently held captive by their own sinfulness; together with the option to see the way to true life for all at present benighted by the darkness and evil in the world around them; and ultimately -- through His own sacrificial death and victorious Resurrection -- the destruction of sin and death by His bestowal of spiritual freedom for all those hitherto so grievously oppressed.
And we have that situation of powerless subjection and glorious redemption put into most memorable words for Mother Church on earth and in heaven by Saint Paul and by the Book of Revelation:
I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 7:23–25)
I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. (Those who fear Your Name) have conquered (the Devil) by the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, rejoice you heavens, and you who dwell in them.” (Revelation 12:10–12)
Dear faithful People of God, your rejoicing at this Holy Mass would indicate that you already ‘dwell in the heavens’: only initially, it is true, but in a way that is open: awaiting, praying, and ever more ready for God’s goodness to bring it to full and final perfection. You rejoice because Jesus is coming to be our Christmas joy and delight, our deep peace and sublime hope; let us therefore prepare to celebrate His coming with Mary who knows supremely well how to cherish her beloved Son, and how -- as Mother of all of us -- to help us best co-operate with His Most Holy Spirit in learning to give sincere and heart-felt thanks to God the Father, Who gives us all that is good.