Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year A 2013-14

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, ethics, inspirational, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on December 14, 2013

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year A  2013-14

My mother was one of the most prepared people there ever was. Each Christmas Eve she would host the whole family and put on a big dinner for them. Even at 92, she didn’t want anyone else to have to bring food, just themselves,  so she did it all.  Months before, she would start with desserts and freeze them, can a lot of produce, cut up vegetables and have them ready frozen. A few weeks before, she would cook the beans and casseroles and get out all the trimmings. She was always ready, and I am not sure if this was from a sense of methodical orderliness or simply fear of not being ready on time.

Our Advent preparation time is nearing its end. Are you ready? Have the readings inspired you to orderliness and continual readying or have they just frightened you into some action?  Well, if you haven’t looked at your spiritual side these last four weeks, you only have a few days left. The readings today have more than a sense of “something coming”, but that the train has left the station and we are almost at our destination.

The readings today are predominately about Mary’s part in the preparation for the Incarnation. We begin with a prophecy which has been interpreted by the early church as a prediction of the story of Jesus’ birth, though it probably wasn’t. This concerns a prophecy coming out of the story of Ahaz, a Hebrew King and a King mentioned in the line of Jesus, but he was not one of the “good guys”! Ahaz had three prophets try to warn him that he was off track, but he didn’t pay attention. He continued to kill unmercifully and introduce pagan gods into the Hebrew nation.

In our reading today, however, Isaiah is trying to make the point to Ahaz that he really does speak for God. He says that God will conquer the enemy they were fighting and that this would happen before  a young woman gives birth to a child named “Emmanuel”. The name “Emmanuel”, of course, means “God is with us”.

So it is easy to see how this verse could be enlarged to open it up to the large story of salvation. This is especially so because the word that was used in the Greek version for “young woman” signified a virgin. And indeed in the Gospel reading that is the word we hear used, rather than “young woman”. In any case, Matthew quotes this line and this story in his pre-birth chapter that we read this morning.

The Gospel really prepares us for what is to come in just a few days. It is a description by Matthew of how the birth of Jesus took place. It is told mostly from the point of view of Joseph, unlike Luke’s story which takes Mary’s point of view.  We don’t get in Matthew the angel speaking to Mary and Mary’s acceptance.  Instead we see this through the male eyes of Joseph.

We are told that the Holy Spirit caused the pregnancy miracle to occur, and that it happened when Mary was engaged, but not yet married – in other words, still a virgin. Mary would, like most Hebrew wives, have been very young, much younger than we think of allowing our children to marry today.

We learn then about the quality of character of St. Joseph. Matthew says he was a righteous man, and he must have been, given the patriarchal society he was living in. A righteous man would be a Hebrew who followed the rules, who followed the purity laws, who sacrificed in the Temple, who went about his business of carpentry. And he must have had strong feelings for Mary as well, that he would not want to publicly disgrace her. According to Jewish law he had every right to walk away from the marriage, and even more to expose her to public criticism so that no-one would ever want her.

Because he was righteous, he was going to walk away from the marriage – that was the law, remember, but that was when the Angel came to him in a dream and made an amazing statement. It wasn’t just Joseph’s guilty conscience, but the Angel was very specific in the facts: the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary. She would have a son. He was specifically to call him Jesus. The name Jesus, which was Yeshua or Joshua in the Hebrew Testament has many meanings and translations but the closest seems to be that “God saves.” This is highly appropriate in this story because it is a story of salvation, and as Matthew explains…”he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:27).

On account of this dream, Joseph changes his plans and takes Mary for his wife. Joseph’s story does not, of course, end there, but this is the end of the reading we are given today. In the center of this story, Matthew, who is always careful to show the relationship between the Hebrew Testament and the Gospel, quotes Isaiah from our first reading today.

St. Paul, in ‘Romans’ today, gives us the theological meaning of all of this storytelling. Paul wrote even before the Gospels were written, so we need to see that in the earliest Christian times, the theology of the Incarnation was there. God “through the Prophets in holy Scriptures” set Jesus apart, and that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh and “was declared to be Son of God, with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead.” The early theology of Incarnation was then explained through Mathew and Luke’s story of his birth.

All of this is summarized today in our Psalm response “May the Lord come in; he is the king of glory.”  We are still in Advent. The birth is yet to be remembered in the Church year, but it is close. We are still waiting for the Lord to come in. We have a few more days to turn things around, to repent, to get our hearts and minds and souls housecleaned, so that the king of glory may come in on Christmas Day. For those of us who may not have taken the time this Advent, we must try to find a little time in the hustle and bustle of our busy last days – find ten minutes to put away distractions and listen to the pulse of the Advent season – to relax into it, to open your heart to it, then see it clearly in the faces of the people around you – especially the child who waits in anticipation – and try to capture some of that child-like expectancy. Try not to let the commercialization of Christmas spoil the beautiful music, the sense of family belonging, the joy of children’s laughter. Then with a clean heart and mind and soul, we can let Christ truly enter in, and be the gift that never ends, our help in need, our rock of strength.

That is what the Gospel tells us to do today, so let us take this Good News and run with it to get ready to meet that great feast coming so soon.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese

Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

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