Fourth Sunday of Advent

During the Christmas holidays, I'm forgetting the many challenges the media says we will face in the next four years.   After all, our ancestors faced similar challenges.   For example, Cicero, a Roman statesman and author, wrote in 55 BC: “The…budget must be balanced.”  Cicero would be shocked at today’s $19 trillion  plus national debt.

Socrates, a 5th century BC Athenian philosopher, attacked earlier generations for destroying the forests and landscape.  Yes, Socrates would probably join today's global warming movement.

And Livy, a Roman historian in the 1st century AD, objected to the moral rot and slipping standards of conduct in society.  So maybe it really is true: there's nothing new under the sun.

This is indeed a festive time of year.  Children are excited about the arrival of Santa Claus; houses flash with lights; stores are jammed with shoppers; and online circuits are overloaded.  In the midst of this holiday season, we can easily forget the true meaning of Christmas. So here's a story wherein Santa steps from behind a Christmas tree and says to the parents and grandparents of three youngsters: “teach your children and grandchildren the true meaning of Christmas.”

Santa then reaches into his bag and pulls out a FIR TREE: “Teach your children that the fir tree’s green color symbolizes hope, hope in a God-centered future, and the needles on the fir tree point heavenward, and so every day think about the presence of God in your own life.

Santa again reaches into his bag and pulls out a CANDLE.  “The candle symbolizes Jesus Christ, the light of the world, who scatters the darkness all around us.” And so as you go about your daily routine, ask yourself: What would Jesus do in this or that circumstance?

Santa then holds a SANTA CLAUS ornament.  “Teach your children that Santa symbolizes generosity and good will.  So be generous with what you have and think positively about people.”

Finally, Santa pulls out an ANGEL, and observes, “Angels sang the glorious news of the Savior’s birth.”  And so be a good-finder.  Always try to look for the good in yourself, in other people and in every situation in life.

Yes, these symbols—a fir tree, a candle, an ornament, and an angel—can invite us to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and bow down, like the shepherds or wise men, to worship the Christ child.

Three biblical personalities dominate the Advent season:  Isaiah who prophesizes a messiah; John the Baptist who prepares the way for the messiah; and the Virgin Mary who gives birth to the messiah, the Christ child. In today's Gospel a fourth personality appears: Joseph.  

In today's Word of God, the author of Isaiah realizes that the Hebrew King Ahaz is in a quandary: mighty Assyria threatens his kingdom.  Should he join an anti-Assyrian alliance?  Or trust in God?  What to do?  

Isaiah begs the king, “ask for a sign from God” so that you will know what to do.  But the king refuses.  

And so Isaiah prophesizes that God himself will give a sign.   A young woman will bear a child Emmanuel or “God-with-us.”   Isaiah's point is simple: God never reneges on His promises even when others do.  David's dynasty will continue forever.

Later, early Christianity saw the prophecy fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, whose name means “he will save.” Jesus is indeed our way, our truth and our life.

Paul in his letter to the Christian community in Rome introduces himself as an apostle, called to deliver a message from God, the Gospel, i. e, the Risen Christ. The community, Paul emphasizes, is beloved by God and called to be holy, consecrated or set apart to continuing the ministry of Jesus.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Mary is pregnant with a child by the power of the Spirit. Joseph, already engaged to Mary, faces a dilemma: if it's not Joseph's child, it’s logical to conclude Mary must have committed adultery, punishable by death according to custom.  But Joseph is not about to let that happen.  What to do?

Then, Joseph has a dream, an overpowering experience of the Divine, that convinces him to take Mary as his wife.

As I thought about Joseph’s dream in this Gospel, I thought of the dreams of married couples when they first learn that they will be parents.  They usually begin to dream about their child.  

Their first dreams are usually for a safe birth, a healthy child.  And then parents may dream that their sons or daughters will excel in various fields.  They may even dare to dream of a star athlete, or a rock star, or an investment “mover and shaker” on Wall Street.

But along the way, of course, the dreams may change very quickly.   Where they once dreamed about a Nobel Prize winner, mom and dad may now settle for their child passing mathematics.  Or their dream of a star athlete may quickly be forgotten as they wait and hope that their child will recover from a terrible accident.   Or their dream of a high-tech CEO success story may all but disappear when mom and dad desperately pray that their child will recover from an addiction of one kind or another.

Joseph in today’s Gospel must have had dreams for his family as well.   But most importantly, the angel assures Joseph that he shouldn’t be afraid to take his beloved Mary as his wife.

And as I think about Joseph’s dreams, I also think of the dreams of so many of us.

But as Joseph learned from his dreams, the most important things we can dream for our family are these: that they always will know that we love them dearly, that we accept them unconditionally for who they are, that we're always ready to forgive them their peccadilloes and that we are always praying that they will experience God’s love and peace in their daily lives.

 Joseph is truly a model of trust in God for us, a man who treated everyone fairly.
Like Joseph, we pray that God will gift us with “the eyes of faith” to see God in all things, especially in the ordinariness of everyday life.  Like Joseph, we pray that God will gift us with his love to accept people as a gift from God even if they’re not quite the gift we would like.
And like Joseph, we pray that God will gift us with the courage to always try to do the right thing, to be a source of affirmation and support to other people, especially our families, our colleagues at work and our neighbors in the community.    

And until Jesus comes again in great power and glory, our purpose in life is to continue doing all the good we can, for all the people we can, as long as can: helping those who doubt to find faith; those who despair to find hope; those who are weak to find courage; those who are sick to find health; those who are sad and depressed to find joy; those who wander to find their way back to God; those who are angry to find a way to let go of their anger; and those who are dying to find mercy and peace in God forever.  

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