Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A 2022 at Christ the King Parish, North Rocks
Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 23(24):1-6; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24
Sometimes, it takes a tragedy to change a society for the better. This was illustrated by the breakthrough in gun control in our country after the Port Arthur massacre. The initial horror and revulsion quickly turned to anger and determination. The national response was a cultural turning point and a landmark step towards a more mature society. This is not to say that Australia has won the war on gun violence. The recent shocking shootings of police officers in Queensland remind us that we still have a lot of work to do in getting rid of the curse of extremism and violence.
As Christians, we are called to act as catalysts for the transformation of the world in accordance with God’s plan. Our reading of the signs of the times, on the one hand, and fidelity to the Gospel, on the other, impel us not to be comfortable with the status quo but to model a new way that is in sync with the active presence and power of God in history. We must not forget our task of being a headlight leading the human community to higher levels of justice, inclusion and flourishing for all.
Scripture today teaches us that God is with us in the heart of our predicament. He stands with us in our moments of extreme vulnerability and guides us on the path to a new future. We must be prepared to let go of our desire to be in control and accept the way of God with humility and courage.
In the first reading, we hear the story of Ahaz during the time God’s people were divided between the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms. Ahaz seeks alliance with the powerful King of Assyria at the expense of its sibling rival, the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In so doing, Ahaz has little regard for the welfare of his people. He saves his own skin first; he prioritises personal wellbeing, security and wealth over against the care of those he has been entrusted with.
Isaiah, however, sees things differently. 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”. This ‘God being with’ is part of the fundamental covenantal relationship that is articulated in other breakthrough moments in Israel’s history. For instance, when Jacob was pursued by his brother Esau, he had a dream in which God said to him “I am with you”. At the burning bush, Moses experienced a divine disclosure of great significance. He was told, “Say this to the people of Israel. I AM has sent me to you”. In the light of these revelations, we learn that God calls us to a faithful and courageous discipleship as opposed to a safe personal security system. Just as Ahaz, we must have the courage to walk not the usual path of self-interest but rather, the road less travelled.
The Gospel reinforces this lesson through the story of the Annunciation. Mary’s life was thrown into chaos when she was told of God’s plan. 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 interruption. Upon discovering that Mary was already pregnant, he planned to divorce her. However, like Jacob, he was assured in a dream that God was with him in the extreme predicament. He was invited to enter into the mystery of the Emmanuel, the God of faithful relationship. Just as Mary had done, Joseph too learned to submit to God’s plan and live it out with a vulnerable trust.
Like King Ahaz, Mary and Joseph, we must be open to God’s way, which often shakes us out of our familiar and secure environment. It is not easy to move away from our old habits. Yet the message is clear to us as was to them: We must align our attitude and behaviour in favour of God’s revelation. We must adopt a new consciousness and live life differently, especially at critical times. Today, we are challenged to move beyond old patterns of living and behaviour. In the light of the ecological crisis that demands a conversion of heart and a change of lifestyle, we must have the courage to align ourselves with God’s plan for the world. Only by acting in the best interests of the environment, of the poor and of future generations can we save this planet from devastation.
Advent is a time of extricating oneself from the unnecessary trappings of life and focussing on that which matters the most. It is time for us to imitate Joseph in waking up and doing what the Spirit is telling us. Then we can be the leavening force and a headlight for humanity. Let us pray that, as St Paul reminds us, we may be faithful in carrying our mission of sharing the Good News and witnessing to God’s vision of human flourishing. May the Emmanuel accompany and form us into his people and his instruments for the transformation of the world.
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