There are two homily notes for our reflection today
Rev. Fr. Philip Mario Ekweli
Dearly beloved in Christ, today is the fourth Sunday of advent year A. The liturgical readings enjoin us to reflect on the Virgin who brought forth the Son of God, lmmanuel – God with us. The three readings cut across this theme of a virgin who conceived.
In our first reading, the Lord spoke through prophet Isaiah to Ahaz to ask for a sign in whatever depth. At this epoch, Ahaz was in a state of confusion because of the war surrounding him at that time. In God’s name Isaiah tells the king not to be worried by the attack from Syria and Israel/Ephraim, for what they plot to do will not come to pass(Isaiah 7:7).
More so dearly beloved in Christ, prophet Isaiah urged the king to put his trust in God firmly and never to doubt(Isaiah 7:9). May be an act of being pious, the king claimed not to ask for a sign from the Lord, perhaps that could be putting the Lord into test(Isaiah 7:12).
But Isaiah reassured him that whether he likes it or not, the Lord will give him a sign compulsory. Isaiah was infuriated because the king could consult other powers and kings even to the extent of becoming their subject, worship their gods and sacrifice his own son. This prophecy was primarily directed to his wife and the son to be born- Hezekiah. Although in a secondary sense and more profound way, its fulfilment was the Son that was to be born in the Davidic line- the Messiah.
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel ‘God is with us'( Gen3:15, 2sam7:12-16, Isaiah 7:10-14, Isaiah9:1-6, Gal4:4, Micah5:1, Rev12:). This name Immanuel takes its full actualization in the person of Jesus Christ during the divine encounter between Archangel Gabriel and Mary (mtt1:23).
In our second reading, St. Paul tells us how he was called and mandated to preach the Gospel of Christ who is from the Davidic line. He assures us of the grace of God through the obedience of faith.
The Gospel text tells us about the humble and acceptable attitude of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Joseph was “an upright man” (MTT1:19) and therefore, when he came to know his espoused wife’s pregnancy, he wanted to divorce her privately, in order to save her from public shame. His justifiable attitude towards Mary’s situation is far removed from the legal prescriptions of the time which called for stoning. Instead of listening to the demands of the world with its own social order, Joseph listened to the demands of his conscience where the Spirit of a just and merciful God speak to us. Joseph had the fear of God and respected the order of God without questioning God’s authority. It is the obedience of both Joseph and Mary that brought about the perfection of God’s promise.
Beloved, as we move on in life, there are bounds to be challenges that might take us away from the way of God, but absolute faith and firmness of decision to be on the part of God is very important. Joseph never waver nor reacted wrongly but waited and acted the decision of God. Now, how do we react to dreams especially dreams that are revelatory? Joseph had a good understanding of the meaning of dream and responded to it accordingly. God speaks to us everyday for proper directions but how are we paying rapt attention to Him? Our responsible and responsive attitudes towards God make the difference.
In conclusion Immanuel, ‘God is with us’, is a fact that God lives with us in all we do and say. He is ever present with us to rescue us from the hands of our foes. Beloved we need to exercise absolute trust in His unfailing presence. Unlike Ahaz, we should not fail to ask for God’s help in time of trouble and in time of peace.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Today’s readings present many themes for reflection. The first reading tells us about the birth of the son of a virgin. This prophecy was accomplished as we have it in the gospel reading. So, while the first reading says in Is.7:14 ”Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” the gospel says in Matt. 1:22-23 “Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”. For a virgin to conceive and bear a son is called virginal conception.
Virginal Conception: This is different from Immaculate Conception. Virginal conception or the virgin birth of Jesus is the doctrine that Jesus was conceived and born by his mother Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit without a human father. The doctrine of the Virginal Conception is scriptural and was affirmed by early Christians such as Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. The latter, Immaculate conception teaches that Mary was conceived in the normal human manner but free of the taint of original sin.
The affirmation of the virginal conception, due to the action of the Holy Spirit, excludes every hypothesis of natural parthenogenesis and rejects the attempts scholars and modern preachers as heretic. While Joseph was contesting this truth and wanted to put Mary away the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said “Joseph do not be afraid…that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt.1:20). For the rest of us what becomes our reassurance of this truth especially now that many churches today continue to subject this age-longed definition to serious arguments. Our assurance lies in the Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church. Thus every Christian should know that this is a possibility. In Matt.19:26 the Bible says ” With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible. In Luke1:37 we are told “For nothing will be impossible with God.” In Luke 18:27 Jesus said “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” Therefore, the virgin birth of Jesus is a divine work that surpasses all human understanding and possibility.
The name of Jesus: Another theme in today’s readings is the name of Jesus. Today’s first reading calls Him Emmanuel while the gospel calls Him Jesus. These are not contradictions. There are many names given to Jesus in the Bible. Each one gives us a fuller and a clearer picture of who He is and what He means to us. We shall look at these two names briefly:
Immanuel or Emmanuel with the (I and U) differences only shows the Old and New testaments usage that is Hebrew and Greek. They both mean God is with us. This is His desire. He wants to be with us, not separated from us. When God created Adam and Eve, He was with them in the Garden of Eden. He walks with them and commune with them, until one day Adam and Eve hide from Him. God was the One calling out to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9). The Incarnation is the finalization and fulfillment of that question. In Advent, Christ is not just coming to us but coming to be with us.
Beloved in Christ, God desires to be with man. We need to deepen our realization that God is with us, He is with us even when things are tough, He was with them in the boat even though the wind increased, He is with us even though there is no money in our pockets, He is with us in that sickness. God says, “I am with you.” This is God’s most frequent promise in the Bible. He never abandons His people. Ps. 94:14 says “For the Lord will not abandon His people, Nor will He forsake His inheritance.” In Gen.5:22 we are told “Enoch walked with God” . The Lord says to Moses “I will be with you.” God was there with him when they entered the desert, the Bible says in Exod. 13:21-22 that by day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud and at night in a pillar of fire. That means day and night the Lord is with us. God made the same promise to Noah, to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and Joseph and Moses and David and Mary and His disciples, to Paul, and many others. Ps. 124 says If Lord was not on our side when men rose against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive. Beloved in Christ, no matter the situation the Lord is on our side and we shall not fall aside.
On the other hand, Jesus is the name God intentionally chose for this infant son.(Luke2:21). Jesus’ name reveals the essence of his character, his destiny, and his work and witness. The name Jesus means “Yahweh sets free”, “God saves”, “God helps”. To saves means to free from evil. Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world, he saves us from sins. John 3:17 God did not send the Son into the world, to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.. Luke 19:10 says the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Matt.1:21 says you shall call his name Jesus because he shall save his people from their sins. He has come to save us and so we should make ourselves available for salvation.
St. Joseph: Lastly, today’s gospel also offers an opportunity to reflect on the personality of St. Joseph and so there are some lessons for us:
Patience: Imagine if you are in the shoes of Joseph. You were engaged and after a few weeks, you found out that your fiancé is already pregnant. How would you feel? How would you handle such betrayal? How would you be able to contain your anger, dismay, frustration? He was waiting for a moment he could send her away secretly and to avoid public shame. This is significantly contrary to Judah in (Genesis 38:24), who was in the same situation, immediately passed on the sentence to Tamar, who played the harlotry. He exclaimed, “Bring her forth and let her be burned! The bible says the Lord is slow to anger and rich in mercies it will be dangerous therefore for us to be quick to anger. Some of us make life decision in a hurry, we decide issues that determine our lives and destiny over a bottle of beer, and we make decision as serious as marriage on the basis of emotions without seeking the face of God.
Total Obedience and Trust: In the situation of Joseph, it would have been very easy to follow what his heart dictated and took heed to human reasoning. He just obeyed God and put his trust on him. At times our reasons can serve us so right but whenever we read the scripture we are served with an option that does not make sense as far as human wisdom is concern at such moment let us obey God. Though things might not seem to make sense, we can have the confidence that God is with us and he can save us!
Divorce is not an option: In a society where adultery and harlotry come with a high price, it would have been easier for Joseph just to put Mary away. However, we Christians are not called to do the easy things. We are called to do the right things. The right choice in Joseph’s case is to follow the instruction of God. Your spouse may not be the best person you had expected, he or she may have betrayed you in many instances. Joseph was not allowed to divorce a sign that God stands against divorce therefore we should continue to intensify our effort to stand against divorce. This is not easy as the cause may hurt us, but we carry out the right option to follow the instruction of Christ. God bless his word in our hearts!