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Friday, 20 December 2019

4th Sunday of Advent Year A 2019

4th. Sunday of Advent (A)
(Isaiah 7:10-14; St. Paul to the Romans 1:1-7; St. Matthew 1:18-24)

The People of Israel had only come into existence by God's own call: from a motley gathering of enslaved ethnic groups they became a People by God’s choice; and as the People of God they could only prosper in existence by growing in their trust of the God Who had called them into being.  As the prophet Isaiah (30:15) would tell them:

In quietness and confidence (before the God Who called you) shall be your strength.

Ahaz, king of Judah the homeland of God’s Chosen People, was, however, a totally selfish and unreliable person, and a disastrously faithless king.  He sacrificed to the gods of the Canaanites and, when pressed by enemies, would not put his trust in the Lord God of Israel as God’s prophet urged him to do, but rather turned to the current super-power, the Assyrians, for more immediate and appreciable, military, help.

In the Old Testament, and in the Mediterranean world of that time, the King of a country was regarded as son of the country’s God.  Whoever the god of a nation might have been, the king was regarded as his son and his chosen instrument to bless, guide, and protect the nation.  This was also the common understanding of the "father/son" relationship between Yahweh, the only true God, and the reigning king of Judah and God’s Chosen People.

Thus the words of Yahweh in Psalm 2:7:
            You are My son, today I have begotten you,

were understood as a formula of adoption for the day of the king's coronation.  The king was called God's son because, after having ascended to the throne, he was understood to have entered into a special relationship with Yahweh which set him apart from other mortals, in so far as he -- the crowned king -- was regarded as the visible guarantee that Yahweh -- the Lord of Hosts -- was with His Chosen People for their blessing and protection; the king was, it can be said, son of God because of, for, the People of God.

You can imagine then the disgust Isaiah felt for this present king Ahaz who -- supposedly a son of God for Judah, an instrument of God for the blessing of His Chosen People -- was, in reality, faithless before the God of Judah and indifferent to the well-being of the nation, being entirely devoted to his own self-interest.  Therefore, Isaiah prophesied in the name of the Lord as you heard:

Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also?  Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, a name which means "God-is-with-us". 

The Great King who was to come, the Messiah, Emmanuel, would be, quite literally, GOD-WITH-US.  Ahaz had neither the faith nor the trust to live in difficult times as God's instrument of blessing for His People; the King to come however – Emmanuel -- would be God's very presence, not simply on the basis of human faith and fidelity, but on the fact of His divine origin and dignity: truly, the only Son of the only God; no mere instrument of blessing, but God’s most Personal Blessing Himself.

He would in no way be a descendent of Ahaz the unworthy, because His mother would be a virgin.  She would, indeed, be totally unlike Ahaz who was most miserably and cynically failing his people through distrust of God, for she would have such full and perfect trust in the Lord, that Elizabeth -- under the impulse of the Spirit of God -- would declare such faith and trust to be Mary the Virgin’s supreme characteristic:

Blessed is she who has believed for there will be a fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord. (Luke. 1:45)

Let us now, therefore, look at both Ahaz and Our Lady and learn what they, in their very different ways, teach us about the meaning of Emmanuel, God-with-us; for God is with us not only as Saviour for all mankind, not only with us as Head of the Body which is His Church, but also with each and every one of us who believe, for the right living and fulfilment of our earthly lives and the attainment of our ultimate reward in heaven.

Despite the Lord's promise of divine blessing and help made through Isaiah the prophet, Ahaz perversely put his trust in the military might of Assyria, opting for a quick-fix that would provide personal advantage and security though at the cost of crushing taxes for the people as a whole.  Mary, for her part, would totally ignore her own personal reputation and, trusting the Lord, would seek only and totally to know and to do His will, putting her total confidence and trust in His word given her through the angel Gabriel.

Ahaz feared for his throne and his life; Mary dedicated, consecrated, her humble virginity totally to the Lord, despite thereby -- according to the Law – possibly putting her life at risk.  Ahaz’ faithless gamble turned out predictably -- or should we say prophetically -- to be disastrous both for himself and his people.  Mary’s total trust that God would protect her was vindicated, and since then she has been proclaimed blessed above all women on earth and will be so praised throughout all time.

Therefore God-is-with-us means that He is always with us to guide us into and protect us along the right way, if – setting aside both our human fears and our personal pride -- we will, with confidence and trust, accept that guidance.   God-is-with-us to enlighten us, watch over and help us, in all our needs, but -- that grace and power can only flow into us through our faith and trust in Him.

Finally, we can say the God-is-with-us means precisely what it says: He is with us as our constant companion: always with us, sharing, and being involved with and for us, in every aspect of our life experience; in all situations He wills to be at our side -- whatever we may have done, whatever we may have made of ourselves -- if only we will turn to Him, humbly open ourselves up to Him, and trust Him.  As the negro spiritual puts it so eloquently: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus”.

He is there, moreover, not only for our guidance, comfort, and strength throughout our earthly pilgrimage, but also to lead us to the Father, our eternal destiny … that we might learn to love Him as Jesus would have us love Him Who is, indeed, the supreme love of Jesus’ Being.

Soon we will be able to celebrate with true joy and gratitude the birth of Emmanuel -- Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God become Son of Man, and for us adults in Christ there is a most important question to ask ourselves: have we, over the years, become more like Ahaz than Mary?  The gifts that Ahaz wanted could not be asked of God, Ahaz did not appreciate, could not even understand, what gifts God might offer him.  Do we now not have that abiding confidence in God, that steadfast love for Him, and that ever-hopeful awareness of the wonderful gifts He bears with Him for our supreme well-being; that confidence, love, and hope, I say, that pushes us to make requests of Him?  In other words, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, do you really have a deep longing and desire for any of the gifts that Jesus will come offering us this Christmas, or have you grown old, and not venerably old, as a Christian, if not yet as a person?

It is eminently fitting, therefore, that today -- before the wondrous Son of God, the most beautiful Child of Mary is with us anew -- we should celebrate her from whom the Son of God took flesh in order to become the Lord and Saviour of mankind.   It is most truly fitting that today, we celebrate Mary precisely as the one who most perfectly surrendered herself in trust and faith to the promise made her by the Lord, since it is in this regard, supremely, that she is our model as well as our Mother; for St. Paul tells us that faith and trust in God's word is the very essence of the Christian life for all in Mother Church when -- as you heard in our second reading – he declares:

Through (Jesus Christ our Lord) I received the privilege of an apostolic commission to bring people of all nations to faith and obedience in His name

Holy Mary, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, that we may have the grace both to live life fully and to die peacefully, trusting in the promises of Him Who, in His great goodness, has already blessed us with faith to believe in His only-begotten Son, and endowed us with His Spirit, to lead us to the home that He has promised is already prepared and waiting for all who prove themselves to be true children of  her who is the God-given Mother of all believers.