The 4th Sunday of Advent – The Homily
In looking at today’s reading from the 4th Sunday of Advent, the situation involving the Virgin Mary takes center stage. In reading several commentaries on the Scriptures, one writer considered the ceremonies, customs and expectations concerning Jewish betrothal and marriage during the time of Christ. We read about Mary and Joseph but others were involved. The mothers would have done the “negotiating” concerning dowry, wedding conditions, etc… The fathers would have ratified that, to which the mothers had agreed. Thus a pregnant Mary would not have been able to be easily covered up and dismissed. Too many people would have had knowledge and had a stake in the arrangement. With adultery being punishable by death, the mortal danger to Mary, and the significance of Joseph’s decision to “divorce her quietly” becomes more profound. In addition, Mary’s courage, faith and obedience under such threatening circumstances also provides for serious consideration and reflection.
Thus we can take three lessons from the Holy Couple:
- Faith is not feeling.
- A mess is a process to progress.
- Difficulties refocus us, refine us and re-form us.
- Faith is not a feeling. In “Starting With God, Ney Bailey writes that, “Regardless of circumstances, despite arguments of logic and reason, and regardless of how he or she felt, (Joseph, Mary, Noah, Abraham), each person mentioned in Hebrews 11 believed God and His word and chose to be obedient.”
Are you operating from a place of faith or from a place of feeling? God cares about your mentality: In Luke 22:31-32, we read that, “…the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” Sometimes it takes a mental assent to push the emotions of the situation aside and make a decision to trust that the Lord will come through, and that good will “be done unto you according to His word.”
Living Liturgy connects the Gospel to the Second Reading by looking at Mary and Joseph’s faith, obedience to the Word received by them and their trust in the Lord based on their experience of having met the Lord and felt His presence.
It is the gifts of the ‘grace of apostleship’ and ‘obedience of faith’ that enable us to cooperate with the ‘Spirit of holiness,’ as did Mary and Joseph. Mystery abounds and something new happens in us: (Emmanuel) ‘God is with us.’ Mystery abounds when we are willing to relinquish control and open ourselves to the unexpected.
- A mess – is a process – to progress.
In his book, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers author John Shea made a statement that Joseph was hesitant to take Mary into his home.
“This foreshadows the tension of all who will be drawn to Jesus. Is he a scandal to be rejected, or a manifestation of the Spirit to be welcomed?” (Shea, 45) “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him … ”
Scripture Scholar Anne Osdieck asks an interesting question: “Did Joseph wake up in more than one way?” Did Joseph need to go through a process and “wake up” several times before he finally “got it?”
Are you able to trust God in messy places? Bishop T.D. Jakes says to:
Stop looking at your situation through the wrong lens. Don’t call something a mess that God calls progress. The mess is a part of the process that leads to progress.
Do you have the faith to sustain you in the middle of a mess? When all hell is breaking loose, everything’s failing, glass is shattering, concrete is bursting, dust is flying, bricks knocked out of place, when you’re going thru a crisis are you able to stand in the middle of it all and say, LORD I Trust you! Hold on to your faith, Just Believe! No matter what mess you’re going thru, God is able to bring you out! “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” (Job 13:15)
Mary went through a process. In considering Mary’s faith under these circumstances, the Vatican II, Constitution on the Church (1964:65) states,
Seeking after the glory of Christ, the Church becomes more like [Mary] her exalted model, and continually progresses in faith, hope, and charity, searching out and doing the will of God in all things. Hence the Church in her apostolic work also rightly looks to her who brought forth Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin, so that through the Church Christ may be born and grow in the hearts of the faithful also.
- Difficulties refocus us, refine us and re-form us.
Tyler Perry is a highly successful American actor, comedian, producer, director, screenwriter, playwright, author, and songwriter, specializing in the gospel genre. As a child, he experienced sexual and physical abuse and once explained that “he never felt safe.” Nevertheless, he explains that such difficulties didn’t crush him but helped to focus his skills, talent and attention, purify and “refine” his personality and intentions and “form” him into the man and success story that he is today.
This was certainly the case for Mary. The difficulties surrounding her before the birth of Christ were a training ground for more difficult challenges to come:
Mary was steadfastness and trusted in God – even in the midst of the troubles of being an unmarried pregnant woman. This was a training ground for her and a sign for us. Mary will eventually find the greatness of soul to love God and her son at the foot of the cross, in the shame of having her son die a shaming death. And, from watching Mary standing by the cross, we learn that human greatness has, at its core, fidelity through shame and suffering.
And the greatness of Christ on the cross is foreshadowed by the greatness of this small woman, pregnant, shamed, and faithful.” (Eleonore Stump in, “Glancing Thoughts”)
We close with a prayer / poem:
A virgin would conceive and bear a son
who would be called Emmanuel.
There in the beginning and with us now,
and ever will be with us.
Lord, guide us to the signs that tell us you are with us now.
Audio version of the homily is here:
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