4th Sunday of Advent: God is With Us (Fr. Vinner)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ Jesus,
It was a few days before Christmas. A woman woke up one morning and told her husband, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?” “Oh,” her husband replied, “you’ll know the day after tomorrow.” The next morning, she turned to her husband again and said she had the same dream, and received the same reply. On the third morning, the woman woke up and smiled at her husband, “I just dreamed again that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?” And he smiled back, “You’ll know tonight.” That evening, the man came home with a small package and presented it to his wife. She was delighted. She opened it gently. And when she did, she found—a book! And the book’s title was The Meaning of Dreams. Today’s Gospel tells us how Joseph had a dream and how he reacted to it.
Loving, responsive obedience to God as modeled for us by St. Joseph is the central theme of today’s readings, with special emphasis on the Virgin Birth of Jesus.
The Prophet Isaiah tells us: “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” Lots of scholars disagree about the translation of the Hebrew into the Greek of the word which we translate “virgin.” Really that is a misleading argument because it distracts us from the promise of salvation in the son who is proclaimed. Yes, of course, we can also devalue that virgin birth if we do not accept the translation of the early Greek translators, but the first focus is on the son, who will be born and who will be named “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
In every age there are challenges to faith. In many parts of the world today, there is an acceptance of Jesus, but often not as God or as God with us. Instead our Lord and Master is seen as a good man, a strong spiritual teacher, but not as God. Our readings today proclaim to us over and over: the son who is to be born is “God with us.” These are proclamations of salvation, God taking on our humanity so that we can be drawn into His divinity.
The first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah, gives us this prophecy, which is first proclaimed to Ahaz, but which was accepted by many in the Jewish tradition as a foretelling of the Messiah to come, who will save His people. We Christians need to understand that many Jews, even today, believe that a Savior will come, a Messiah, but they also believe that Jesus was not the Savior or Messiah. What is important for us is that the Jewish tradition, in great part, accepts the prophecy of a Messiah, a Savior. We Christians believe that the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus.
The second reading is from the letter to the Romans. This passage today is surely chosen because of this: “the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” This reading states clearly the humanity of Jesus, because He is descended from David according to the flesh. Yet is also proclaims Jesus as Son of God, as true God, because of His resurrection from the dead. The resurrection is always the point where the followers of Jesus finally believe completely that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is God, Jesus is Messiah and Savior.
Matthew’s Gospel today brings us back to the birth of the Savior. Matthew states without any conditions that Jesus is born of Mary and that Mary became with child by of the Holy Spirit. Joseph becomes convinced by a dream that what is happening is what is supposed to happen and so he does not divorce Mary quietly and put her away. Instead, Joseph takes on the role of foster father of the Savior. We can only imagine the feelings and thoughts of Mary and Joseph as they begin this journey with the child born of the Holy Spirit! We can only imagine the challenges to the early followers of Jesus to accept something so out of the ordinary and almost unbelievable.
Like Joseph, we need to trust in God, listen to Him and be faithful. We are here in this Church, a week before Christmas, because, like Joseph, we are faithful, and we trust in God, His power and His mercy. Although we may face financial problems, job insecurity, family problems and health concerns let us try to be trusting and faithful like St. Joseph. Instead of relying on our own schemes to get us through life, let us trust in God and be strengthened by talking to Him in fervent prayer and by listening to Him speaking through the Bible. Let us remain faithful and prayerful, imitating Joseph and Mary, the humblest of the humble, the kindliest of the kindly, and the greatest-ever believers in God’s goodness and mercy, as we welcome Jesus into our hearts and lives this Christmas. Let us be a Christmas gift to others: The greatest gift we can give to those we love, is to have faith in them, believe in their dreams, and try to help them realize them. We need to believe in the dreams of our husband, wife, children, parents, heroes, leaders and friends, then try our best to help them realize those dreams.
As we come to the final week of Advent, we are invited to meditate again on the mysteries and to deepen our faith that Jesus is Lord, God, Savior, Redeemer, Messiah and calls us all deep into the mysteries of God’s plans. Let us follow the Lord in our lives and live as He invites us.
God Bless us.
Fr. Vinner HGN.