Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent in Year A 2016 at St Madeleine Sophie Barat Parish, Kenthurst, 18 December 2016
One of the Good News stories this week is that of a young student who came first in his HSC course in New South Wales. What is unusual about him, Hicham Jansis, is that he came to Australia only two years ago as a refugee. He survived the bombings and the airstrikes in Syria; he suffered the anguish and deprivation in the refugee camp; he struggled in a new country; a new language; and a new way of life.
Somehow, he managed to defy the odds and stand shoulder to shoulder with other high achievers. We marvel at the courage, determination and drive that often characterise people with extraordinary circumstances like Hicham. As believers, we also learn the lesson of recognising the God of surprises who manifests himself in unlikely and unexpected individuals.
The Word of God on this 4th Sunday of Advent reinforces this lesson. It teaches us that God comes to us in ways that surprise and challenge us. We must be prepared to let go of our desire to control the future, and accept the way of God with humility and courage.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah spoke to King Ahaz concerning God’s plan for his people during the turbulent time prior to the collapse of Judah and the exile. Ahaz had allied himself with the powerful King of Assyria in order to save his own skin. He had sought to strengthen his power base through astute alliances! It was classic political expediency and opportunism. It was like the kind of politics we often observe, especially at the rise and the fall of a certain powerbroker in recent days.
Isaiah, though, went against the grain of survival politics. He was more concerned about fidelity to God’s covenant and integrity with Israel’s heritage, which would have been compromised by alliance with a foreign king. He told Ahaz that God would save his people not through powerful alliances but through a vulnerable and helpless child. “A virgin will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel, a name which means God is with us”. God works through weakness and vulnerability is a poignant lesson for the people of the covenant as well as for all of us, believers.
The Gospel tells us the story of how God’s plan unfolds and impacts on the lives of Mary and Joseph. There seems to be a pattern of God intruding, upsetting and challenging human thinking and behaviour. In the story of the annunciation, He intruded into the peaceful life of a girl from Nazareth. Mary was told of an extraordinarily unusual plan: that she would bear a child in the most unusual way and God would accomplish great things through this child. In spite of the mystery and uncertainty, Mary gave that generous faith-filled response “I am the handmaid of the Lord and let it be done unto me according to your word”.
In today’s episode, it was Joseph’s turn to be disturbed and to have his life turned upside down as a result of divine intervention. Upon discovering that Mary was already pregnant when they had not moved in together, he planned to divorce her. It was then that God intervened through a dream and told Joseph to swallow his pride and accept what he perceived as the damaged good in the form of his pregnant fiancée. “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.” It must have taken a lot of courage and trust for a man to accept a pregnancy that he was not responsible for. Yet, that was what Joseph did. He put away his plan and submitted humbly to God’s plan instead.
Like King Ahaz, Mary and Joseph, we are also challenged by the God of surprises, the God who asks of us nothing less than our total surrender and humble submission to his will, the Emmanuel who reveals himself through unexpected people and circumstances.
Who are those unlikely people and what are those unexpected circumstances through which God intrudes, upsets and challenges us today? We may be inspired by the “come from behind” success stories of people like Hicham. But does that lead us to recognise and love the God of the outcasts and strangers? Yesterday Pope Francis celebrated his 80th birthday and guess who were invited to the party: the homeless in Rome. Pope Francis really challenges us to find God in the unlikely and the unloved.
Ultimately, that is what the story of Christmas is all about: find God who dwells in the lowly, the rejected people; find God in the chaos, the disordered places and the margins of life.
In a few days, we would celebrate God’s greatest plan for humanity through the Incarnation. The Messiah would come as a child. Born of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit and fostered by Joseph of the House of David, Jesus would save his people from sin. He is the radical revelation of faithful love and the fullest expression of saving life. May Mary and Joseph be our models and examples of faith and trust in God as we prepare to meet Christ, the Light of world and the Prince of peace at Christmas.
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