HOMILY – DECEMBER 18
God talks to us! You might not hear that from folks who don’t think their prayers are being answered, but God DOES talk to us. If we’re locked into just one answer – “I won’t take NO for an answer,” or “You better tell me what I want to hear!” – well, no wonder we’re so often disappointed. St. Paul starts his Letter to the Romans, which we heard in the second reading, by saying that he has been “called to be an apostle and SET APART FOR THE GOSPEL OF GOD” – and he wrote that before any of the four Gospels were completed! What could he be talking about?
He goes on to explain the gospel of God, the “good news” of God, which God promised previously through his prophets. So God has spoken BEFORE! About what? “About his Son!” And Paul goes on to describe the message in a nutshell: descended from King David, the Son of God established in power, the Spirit of holiness, the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord! It’s all there: the Trinity, God’s choice of a people, the Incarnation of the Anointed One, the promise of eternal life – and Paul says he’s received it all so that he can bring this good news to everyone, including the non-Jewish peoples, the Gentiles. And we can say that God doesn’t talk? He lays it all out for us, over and over again.
In the first reading, God sends his prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz (AH-hahz) to try to dissuade him from his wrong-headed ways and corrupt life. “Ask for a sign,” God invites him, “any sign at all, anything you want!” But the young, arrogant king doesn’t WANT a sign, doesn’t WANT to listen, doesn’t want to CHANGE, prefers his OWN ways to anything God has to offer. Sound familiar, fellow sinner? I don’t know about you, but it certainly sounds like ME! And then I’ve had the arrogance at times to entertain the thought that God doesn’t answer my prayers! Oh. sure, blame it on God, when I’M the one who hasn’t been listening!
So Ahaz talks back to God, putting on the pretense of piety: “I won’t ask, I don’t want to TEMPT God!” Aw, isn’t that sweet? But God sees through that disguise, and tells him he’s going to get a sign, anyway. And some 700 years later, that promise is fulfilled, practically to the letter, as God-with-us, EMMANUEL, is born of the Virgin Mary for our salvation.
What a contrast between King Ahaz on the one hand, and St. Joseph in the Gospel on the other! Whereas Ahaz talked back to God, Joseph receives God’s message from an angel in a dream. When he wakes up, there’s no back-talk. There’s no questioning. There’s no suggesting a better plan. There’s no talking at all! Joseph just moves into action, and begins being for Mary the husband that she will need. And Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes that all this is in fulfillment of that 700-year-old prophecy that came through Isaiah for King Ahaz. Whatever happened back then, God’s own Word tells us that the COMPLETE meaning of what might have been a rather puzzling prophecy is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and even in the circumstances of his Incarnation and birth.
“God with us.” That simple phrase should evoke feelings of warmth, security, and belonging. If someone comes up to you at a difficult time, puts a firm hand on your shoulder, and says, “I’m WITH you,” you will likely feel a comfort and reassurance that will go beyond your friend’s physical presence. The words will come back to you even when time and distance separate you. Your life will be different because of that simple promise of accompaniment. And so it is with God’s promise to us. God comes to pitch his tent in our midst, as St. John says, and that means he’s in it for the long haul with us as we are on this pilgrim journey, together.
And there’s more. Because we the baptized are Christ’s Body and Bride, when God-with-us, Emmanuel, dwells in our midst, we are permeated with his divine mission. That means that WE, the people in whom God dwells, present God-with-us to those in the world around us who are not yet believers. We are called and sent to accompany this world with the truth, the light of Christ himself, to show them the way home. This is precisely what St. Paul means when he calls himself “a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle.” When you are deeply in love with someone, you will gladly put them first in your life. Their life’s mission will become yours. The world ought to be reassured by our presence in its midst. But the world will of course also be CHALLENGED by Christ, God-with-us, as WE are challenged, for in spite of our holy calling, we should not be surprised that we always remain sinners. Ah, the constant tug of fallen human nature!
Ahaz refused to accept that challenge. It should be no surprise that the world gets its back up at us rather regularly, because we know how stubborn and uncomfortable WE can be when it comes to accepting and carrying out God’s holy will. Let’s do what we can to touch the world with the caress, the smile, and the Sacred Heartbeat of the divine. We have our marching orders. Carrying them out is how we await the coming of Jesus in glory!