The Emmanuel: God with Us (4th Sunday of Advent)

. . . Isaiah 7: 10-14; Psalm 24: 1-2, 3-4a, 5-6; Rom 1:1-7; Matt 1:18-24

By Cosmas Ebebe

1. Invitation
In the next few days, it will be Christmas. And Christmas is a season of loving others and being loved. Today we hear the Apostle Paul calling us ‘beloved’ while announcing God’s shower of special blessings on us his letter to the Romans: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1: 7). In the shower of blessings, Paul tells us that we are called to be saints, which means that we are called to be holy. We are a people set apart yet living in the world among people of various beliefs.Since love of God and our neighbour remain the distinctive mark of followership, Christmas celebration is a litmus test of our call to be saints. Saints are lovers of God and of our neighbour. Neighbourhood extends to all humans created in the image and likeness of God. We are invited by the Psalmist to, “Let the Lord enter,” for“he is the king of glory”.

2. God’s Message of Love in the Readings of Today
In the first reading, when the Lord told King Ahaz to ask for a sign, Ahaz declined with these words, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test” (Isaiah 7: 12). The initiative to ask for a sign came from the Lord but Ahaz declined to ask. God went ahead and gave a sign to him: “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name ‘Emmanuel’ (vs 14). God gave a name to the child that was born over four hundred years after the prophesy. The book of Isaiah was written between 740 BC and 686 BC, and Jesus, the Emmanuel was born about 6BC and 4BC as we read in Matthew’s Gospel (1: 18-24). What was written in the book of Isaiah was repeated in the Gospel of Matthew in the reading of today. Noteworthy is the fact that God gave directives to Joseph in a dream. When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel commanded him.

God who gave the sign to Ahaz and spoke through an angel to Joseph; the same God is still directing our affairs today. As saints of Christ, which we are called to be, ours is the duty to cooperate with the grace of God in Christ which is at work in us. By baptism, we became children of God and heirs to the throne of glory as participants in Jesus Christ who is the king of glory. It is not by anything else but by God’s grace that we have got thus far in our preparation for the coming of the infant Jesus. The temptation is for us to count our blessing and think we made it by our calculations and hard work.

A priest once told us how the grace of God works with a remarkable incident in his life. He, Moses was about five-six years when his father died. There was no food in their house except for the yam yet to be harvested in the farm behind their house. His mother would not harvest the yam according to tradition because his father planted them before he died. Due to the torrential rains of the day, no sympthisers visited that day. His mother would have asked any male visitor to help with harvesting at least a tuber of yam for the meal of mother and child. He kept drinking water until he could bear the hunger no longer. As the sun was setting, his mother decided that he would do the harvesting of some yams, after all, he was a male. His mother made some incantations (prayer); then dug the soil around a tuber of yam. She pulled the yam to free it from the soil and then guided him to bring it out. His mother placed the yam on the boy’s head who carried it through the backyard door. The harvest was done by Moses. The priest concluded by saying that his harvesting of yams can be likened to how God works. Human beings through whom the God ‘works’ may turn around to take glory in their ‘powers’. Sometimes, human instruments in God’s hands get carried away by the work of God through them and claim such as their own making.

Grace of God is what makes people understand themselves as servants as the second reading of today. Paul describes himself a servant: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, set apart for the gospel of God….” (Rom 1: 1). Against the background about our temptation to boast about our successes, Paul took no glory but in the Cross of Jesus Christ: “But as for me, it is out of the question that I should boast at all, except of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal 6: 14). At another instance, Paul warns against the enemies of the cross in these words, “ For there are so many people of whom I have often warned you, and now I warn you again with tears in my eyes, who behave like the enemies of Christ’s cross”(Phil 3:18). Christmas season is a tempting time for boasting about vanities in apparent competitive spirit.

Fear is also in the domain of the season. Even fear can be surrendered to God in active prayerful disposition of seeking the face of God. Joseph discovered that his betrothed wife, Mary, was found with child. Joseph was worried about what next to do. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name, Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”(Matt 1: 20-21). Joseph surrendered his fears to God and God surpassed Joseph’s expectation. The angel told Joseph about the action of the Holy Spirit. the gender of the child, name and mission of the child. In like manner, our fears or worries can lead us to deeper understanding of ourselves in the service of God and humanity, if and only when we surrender our inmost being to God. Humility should lead the way in our sessions and seasons of our mortal anxieties, fears or worries.

3. Take Away: Jesus the Emmanuel and his parents
Mother Teresa wrote, “In Jesus, Mary and Joseph-the Holy Family of Nazareth- we have a beautiful example for us to imitate. What did they do? Joseph was a humble carpenter in order to support Jesus and Mary, providing their food and clothes-whatever they needed. Mary, the mother, also had a humble task- that of housewife with a son and a husband to take care of. As the son was growing up, Mary would worry that he would have a normal life, that he would ‘feel at home’ in the house with her and Joseph. It was a home where tenderness, understanding and mutual respect abounded. As I said earlier: a wonderful example for us to imitate.” (Source: Mother Teresa in her Own Words, p. 62.) Let us celebrate this Christmas in an atmosphere of sharing tenderly with understanding and mutual respect, and then say with a smile, “Happy Christmas”.