HOMILY ADVENT DECEMBER 18th
Prophecy Fulfilled: God is With Us
(Jer 23:5-8; Ps 72; Mt 1:18-24)
Do you have a friend whose word you can trust totally?
Today’s readings can be a reminder of the rock-solid foundation of our faith, based on the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ.
In today’s first reading, Jeremiah speaks of a righteous branch for David, who shall execute justice and righteousness, who will save Israel, who will allow God’s people to live in safety and security “in their own land.” Today I would interpret that to mean God’s people will live a life of wellness, being at home in their own skin, living according to their true selves and not out of their false selves.
In the gospel, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, assures the distraught man whose fiancé, Mary, was pregnant, not to be afraid to take her as his wife because the child conceived in her, that he is to name Jesus, is from the Holy Spirit and will save his people from their sins. The angel then refers to the prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 about a virgin conceiving and bearing a son who would be named Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” That proclamation of the angel is the fulfillment of all the prophets and patriarchs of old such as Abraham, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Isaiah.
Well, that’s the good news of Christmas. The criterion of a true prophet is the fulfillment of that prophecy. All the prophets of the Old Testament have been proven true, for they are being fulfilled in this little child conceived and born so mysteriously. The rightful King has returned to reclaim what is his and to let the prisoners go free. What is significant is the God announced by all the prophets and patriarchs is a God of justice, and this means that God burns to set things right. God hates the sin, violence and injustice that have rendered gloomy God’s beautiful world, and therefore God comes into that world as a warrior, ready to fight. But God arrives (and here is the delicious irony of Christmas) stealthily, clandestinely—sneaking, as it were, unnoticed behind enemy lines.
The King comes as a helpless infant, born of insignificant parents in a small town of a distant outpost of the Roman Empire. He will conquer through the finally irresistible power of love, the same power with which he made the universe.
The gospel today begins with the “birth of Jesus the Messiah.” That title conveys how justice, peace, joy and freedom will be realized in our lives. As the Messiah, Jesus had a two-fold role – to redeem and to sanctify, to forgive and to heal. This is the core of the good news of our salvation. We can come to Jesus, Emmanuel, for forgiveness of all our sins, that which we have done out of our woundedness to hurt others, and also for healing of our sinfulness, that which caused us to sin, our painful emotions and our negative attitudes. Then we are truly liberated, and can live in our own land.
We have a rich Mariology in the church. There is need for a more profound Josephology. Today’s gospel provides us that focus. The Joseph of the Christmas story is clearly reminiscent of the Joseph of the Exodus story. He too has a dream, he too goes to Egypt, and he too saves the family. Likewise, King Herod is clearly the counterpart of the Egyptian Pharaoh; both feel threatened and both kill the Hebrew male children only to have God protect the life of the one who is to save the people.
His role in the mystery of the Incarnation is that of a righteous man, living faithfully one’s religion even when not understanding the mystery. As Raymond Brown puts it: The hero of Matthew’s infancy story is Joseph, a very sensitive Jewish observer of the Law. … In Joseph, the evangelist was portraying what he thought a Jew [a true pious believer] should be and probably what he himself was. In essence what Joseph teaches us is how to live in loving fidelity to all that we cling to humanly and religiously, even as we are open to a mystery of God that takes us beyond all the categories of our religious practice and imagination.
A unique quality of Joseph is his protection of Mary. Adultery at that time and in that religious mindset led to stoning. He could have exposed her to that verdict. Instead, he names the child as instructed by the angel and as was the custom, which is a way of claiming that this is his baby. This really was his “fiat” – his leap of faith into the unknown. He was also a humble person, always depicted in brown in art – color of humility, soil.
The Eucharist is food for our journey into the fullness of the realization of all of salvation history, when Jesus will come again in glory. In the meantime, Jesus continues to come to us through Word and Sacrament even daily, to forgive and heal, to transform us into his own likeness, as active participants in the fulfillment of all the prophecies of old. This we can trust. This is the rock-solid foundation of our faith on which we can build our lives.