Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year "A") – December 19, 2010 SAINT JOSEPH STRUGGLES WITH GOD'S  COMING IN THE FLESH  [Texts: Isaiah 7.10-14 [Psalm 24]; Romans 1.1-7; Matthew 1.18-24]

Christmas is very near, and Christian anticipation of the feast is great. For the occasion, the liturgy invites Jesus' disciples to meditate quietly on Joseph's righteousness as God's way of answering humanity's ageless longing for a Saviour.

Paul noted that his gospel concerning God's Son had a two-fold focus. In speaking about Jesus' humanity, Paul averred that he "was descended from David according to the flesh". Jesus was a member of the Jewish faith community. The early Church saw him as the fulfilment of what "God promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures". For God promised David that someone from his lineage would always rule Israel. This promise came true in Jesus.

This happened through the second part of Paul's early creedal formula: Jesus Christ "was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead". This lengthy statement affirms that a watershed in human history took place in Jesus' resurrection. Sin, death, suffering, the human predicament would never be the same again.

In the light of the Risen Lord's new status, his life and his ministry were given a new colouring. Jesus' every experience of human weakness and limitation (what Paul means by "the flesh") has become radiant, transformed by his resurrection. And every other human person's frailties likewise have the potential to be transformed through association with the victory Jesus has won over sin and death ("yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ").

This is the encouraging message at the heart of the Christmas celebration: the hope of being changed--of seeing life, the world, the dark side of humanity in a new way!

Father Raymond Brown, author of the magisterial work The Birth of the Messiah, describes the narratives of Jesus' infancy as cameos—miniatures—of the gospel message. Despite a tendency to sentimentalize the story of Jesus' arrival in human history, his birth was not an escape from the human condition but the embracing of it in all its messiness.

Thus, misunderstanding may be found in Joseph's inner turmoil that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Family knew hardship when Joseph, Mary and the Child Jesus had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath. The shadow of suffering and the Cross were present from the moment of Jesus' conception and birth.

Anticipations of the Easter reversal were also found in Jesus' early years. Beginning with the relief Mary and Joseph felt after the angel of the Lord revealed to Joseph the extraordinary story behind Jesus' conception in Mary's womb ("the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit"). And in the joy the Magi experienced when the star pointed to the house in Bethlehem where Jesus was and as they knelt down to worship the "new born King of the Jews," offering him their treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The sorrows and joys of human existence—writ large in Jesus' passion death and resurrection—were part of the Holy Family's experiences from his beginnings as an infant.

Matthew's gospel opens with a genealogy of Jesus that begins with Abraham and ends with Joseph (cf. Matthew 1:1-17). Abraham was a person of faith; he trusted God. All of Abraham's offspring were challenged to live in the same trusting manner as the great patriarch of God's people. Israel's temptation to hold back from trusting God was a constant one. We see King Ahaz yielding to doubt as he protested he did not want to put "the Lord to the test", a smoke-screen for his hesitation to bank on God's promise.

Matthew called Joseph a "righteous man", embodying the high ideals of his people. But the new deed God was doing in having the Holy Spirit beget Jesus in Mary's womb demanded a higher perspective that only God could give. Later, during his ministry, Jesus called his followers to a "higher righteousness"—one that sought only God's glory and proved it by obedience. Joseph became an exemplar of such faith-filled obedience to God's way (as did Mary in the annunciation story that focused on her in Luke 1:26-38).

* * * * * *
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son, was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. Through our Lord. 

* * *

O ANTIPHON - O Radix Jesse...

O Root of Jesse, who stood as a sign for the people, before you kings will remain silent, and to you the Gentiles shall make supplication: come to deliver us, and delay not.
* * * * * *

No comments:

Post a Comment