by Sister Karen M. Cavanagh, C.S.J.
TODAY THE CHURCH gives us one Word .. one Name… in Hebrew, it is a sentence. “They shall name Him, Emmanuel…” which means, “God is with us.” We are also presented with two men at very decisive moments in their lives. For each of them, the moments seem to have both a sense of urgency and of importance. Their choices will set the stage not only for themselves but also for the future of a people.
Remember those “How flexible are you?” surveys that we find in magazines? Think for a minute how flexible you are. On a scale of one to 10 (one being very organized, set in ways, not easily swayed and efficient, and 10 being very free, easygoing, move with the flow, etc.), what number would you give yourself? We often take these little self-inventory quizzes when no one is around because we don’t want them to tell us how we really are. We already know who and how we are, but today’s readings might suggest that the lower our number, the more we might need to open our hearts and our lives to God’s message.
We meet Ahaz, the king of Judea 700 years before Christ’s birth, and Joseph of Nazareth, a simple, hardworking, faithful Jewish carpenter, just a few months before Christ’s birth. You and I, with some hindsight vision, are invited to reflect on their stories today, just three days before we celebrate Christmas and our God becoming one of us … Emmanuel – Jesus, Who comes to save us.
Called to Be Open
Ahaz, king of a nation under attack, chooses a practical and efficient solution to the threats before him. Despite the reminders and suggestions of Isaiah, Ahaz, fueled with fear and a warped sense of his own power, doesn’t even want to speak to God. He does not want any part of God talk or faith talk. He has, as Pope Francis has described, a “blunted conscience” and a plan. At this defining crossroad, he’ll make a pact with his pagan neighbors, one which will compromise his religious beliefs. He’ll do it his way. Without even an openness to God’s encounter, he renders God boxed out of his plan and his politics. Tragedy for himself and his nation has drowned out Isaiah’s prophesies of a savior.
Called to Trust
In today’s Gospel, Matthew presents us with Joseph, who also receives an incomprehensible prophesy. This comes in the midst of a religious and emotional upheaval in his personal life and any plans for the future. His betrothed is pregnant, he is not the baby’s father and society and religious law place harsh demands on his choices. God seems to have gone from this man’s hopes and dreams for a future with Mary. Mary appears to have been unfaithful and strict Jewish law seems to give him no choice at this crossroad in time.
Again, with our hindsight awareness, we know well the story. In a dream, God reminds Joseph that he is not alone in this unplanned and most heartbreaking place in his life. God is not only present but is more than a part of the plan – God is the plan! Joseph is invited to look beyond the practical, the predictable and the obvious. He is asked to trust his heart, his love for Mary and his fidelity to God.
Called to Be a Dwelling Place
Isaiah and Matthew assure us of a God-with-us, Emmanuel. Paul recalls our being chosen to belong to Jesus Christ and to be holy. Are there places in our plans where this call does not fit? Has God been boxed out or placed at the periphery of our lives? Does present-day culture or the Gospel guide our ethics, choices and behaviors? Maybe God is asking, as we stand on the threshold of Christmas to be welcomed back into our lives, to find a dwelling place in us.
What, like Joseph, do we do with those events that are unplanned in our lives? Often even those good plans we’ve made are not all that we would want them to be. How do we respond? Can we find God in disappointments, in the weakness of friends, family, mentors or religious leaders? Sickness and diminishment, our own or that of a loved one, never come at a “right” time. Can God be found there? Can we be “flexible” enough, trusting enough, faith-filled enough to find God’s plan in our own lives?
The promise of Christmas is that God, our Emmanuel, will always be there whether we are a 10 or a one, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, in poverty and wealth. Matthew’s Gospel, which we hear today, begins with that promise to Joseph and to us. If we fast forward to this same Gospel’s very last words, we see and hear God – Emmanuel – say “I will be with you until the end of time.”
This Tuesday at midnight Mass, we hear Isaiah elaborate on that Word, that Name, that sentence “God is with us.” As we live every moment in the New Year and at every crossroad, may we be strengthened by the promise.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those in gloom a light has shone … for a child is born, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name Him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
Let us bring each other to prayer and to this Christmas as we proclaim. “Come, O Come, Emmanuel!”
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 7: 10-14
Psalm 24: 1-6
Romans 1: 1-17
Matthew 1: 18-24[hr]
Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J., a trained spiritual director and retreat facilitator, is a pastoral associate/family minister at St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish, Jamaica.