Sunday of the Fourth Week of Advent 2007
The Gospel for this Fourth Sunday of Advent is Matthew’s account of the Birth of Jesus. This Gospel puts a great deal of focus on Joseph, the husband-to-be of Mary, and the foster-father of Jesus. Our Gospel for today mentions the first of four dreams of Joseph that reveal to him what his part is to be in salvation history, his role as foster- father and guardian of Jesus, the Christ Child, and Mary, his Mother.
God communicated with many people in the Scriptures through dreams. The idea of dreams recalls another Joseph, the son of Jacob, in the Book of Genesis, chapter 37. Joseph, as you may remember, was another dreamer and was hated by his brothers because of this: “Here comes that master dreamer,” they exclaimed as they prepared to get rid of him (Gen. 37: 19). Also through dreams, Joseph (in the New Testament) is told to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod; that Herod is dead and it is safe to return; that he is to take the Child and his Mother to Galilee rather than to Judea.
The first dream, telling him that he need not be afraid to take Mary for his wife, confronts Joseph with a difficult choice. At first Joseph wants to divorce Mary quietly to avoid the consequences of the law for her being pregnant without a husband. But after the dream sets things straight, he takes her into his home. Some wonder why Joseph believed that dream so readily. The answer comes back that it was because he was a just and compassionate man, a righteous man. He believed the angel and took Mary for his wife.
Righteousness in the Old Testament carries with it the notion of being obedient to the law. Joseph, trying to do what was right, discovered from the angel that Mary’s child was the Son of God. Joseph did what was right, he was obedient to God’s angel, and in doing so he found God. There is a lesson in this for all of us. Jesus, the Christ Child, came to show us the right things to do, and it is in doing his will, following his values, seeing him as the way, the truth and the life, that we do right and discover God. As long as we are trying to do the right thing and making progress doing it, Jesus is with us and we come to know him in his presence to us.
Jesus, we thank you today for showing us the way to go, for being a light for our steps.
MONDAY – Christmas Eve
In previous years in these homilies, I commented on the O Antiphons during the Octave before Christmas (Dec. 17 to 23). The O Antiphons are special to this time of the year and constitute the Antiphon for the Magnificat at Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours. This year I passed them by for other topics, but one of them, O Radiant Dawn, for Dec. 21, comes to mind as I read this Gospel for Dec. 24.
The Gospel chosen to be read today narrates the Canticle of Zechariah who, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied this Canticle. In it he says: “the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in the darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The time has finally arrived! Tonight, all over the world, millions of people will flock to Midnight Mass to welcome our Savior on this day of his birth. He comes, as we read in the first reading for today from the Book of Samuel, “to give us rest from our enemies.” He comes to free us from the darkness, the stumbling and falling, of our sins. He comes to raise us, to lift us, to guide us with his light on the pathways to peace. At long last the human race has a beacon, a light to follow. The way, the truth and the life has come to lead us back to the God we long for so deeply.
Lord Jesus, we bow before you and thank you for this holy night commemorating your birth among us.
O Radiant Dawn, come and shine on those who dwell in the darkness.
TUESDAY – CHRISTMAS DAY
Our Gospel for Christmas Mass During the Day is taken from the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel found in chapter 1, verses 1-18. There we read: “What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race …… He was in the world ….. but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God …. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
Yesterday we mentioned one of the O Antiphons. On this, the Feast of our Savior’s Birth, I am reminded of another of the O Antiphons, the one for Dec. 20: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” We do not know the exact origin of these O Antiphons, but mention is made of them already in the year 500 AD. They are old! Each of them highlights a title for the New Born King. The title O Key of David, just mentioned above, fits him well.
Jesus is indeed a key. Keys are used to unlock, open, something that is locked, closed. Jesus, the Key of David, opened for us the “gates of heaven.” After Adam and Eve’s disobedience of God, the gates of heaven were closed: “When he expelled the man, he settled him east of the garden of Eden; and he stationed the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword, to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen. 3: 24). Humankind was powerless. Restitution was required to reopen them. For humankind this was impossible. The finite (human beings) cannot go to the Infinite (Almighty God). That which is lesser cannot do that which is greater. The infinite, however, can go to the finite. That which is greater can do that which is lesser. And that is exactly what happened at the Incarnation. Jesus, infinite God, comes to us, finite beings. He reconciles us to the Father by his death on the cross.
Jesus, the Key of David, opened the gates of heaven for us. Once again, we can approach the Father, we can be called his children. This is God’s great gift to us on the day of gift-giving. How generous and loving is our God.
Thank you, loving Father, for the gift of your only Divine Son on Christmas Day.
If the Feast of Christmas brought any thoughts of delusion, the Feast of St. Stephen, the First Martyr, celebrated the day after Christmas, will bring us back to reality in a hurry. The coming of Christ in the Incarnation is not all about apple pie and ice-cream. It is all about suffering, sorrow, persecution, and death. We are born with Christ into the paschal mystery: his passion, death on the cross and resurrection.
Stephen’s name means “crown” in Greek, and he was the first disciple to wear a martyr’s crown. One of the Fathers of the Church originated this play on words. Stephen was a Deacon in the early Church and a very successful and fine preacher. The enemies of the Church were envious of him and his success and plotted to get rid of him. They got some men to lie about Stephen having said some things against God. Stephen scolded his enemies for not believing in Jesus. At this they rose up in anger and dragged him out of the city where they stoned him to death. During the stoning, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he begged God not to punish his enemies for killing him. His feast day is December 26.
St. Stephen, pray for us.
The second day of the Christmas Octave is reserved for the feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. He was the son of Zebedee and the brother of St. James the Great. John was called by Jesus to be an apostle in the first year of his ministry. He became known as the “beloved disciple” and was the only one of the Apostles that stayed with Jesus all through his Passion. He stood at the cross with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
After the Ascension of Jesus, John worked mostly in Jerusalem and Ephesus. He wrote the Fourth Gospel, three Epistles, and perhaps the Book of Revelation. An attempt to martyr him failed and John lived to old age. He survived all the other Apostles and died in Ephesus around the year 100. He is called the Apostle of Charity.
St. John, pray for us
“Herod ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the Magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the Prophet: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”
What a sad feast! Reading about it, one can almost feel the lamentation, sobbing and weeping of these mothers for their innocent children.
This feast has been celebrated on this day, Dec. 28, since the 6th century. It seems most fitting that this feast be close to the feast of the Birth of Jesus, for whom these Innocents unknowingly died. Liturgical tradition regards them as martyrs.
Let this feast remind us that yet in our own times children suffer great violence in many ways. This violence threatens their lives, dignity and their right to an education. It also seems appropriate to recall on this day all the children not yet born who died from abortions. And we ask God’s blessings on all those who help pregnant mothers, encourage adoption to those thinking of abortion, and to all those who promote the right of all children to a decent education.
Lord, bless your children on this feast and protect them from those who would harm them.
In today’s Gospel selection, the Child Jesus is taken by Mary and Joseph to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as the law demanded. In the temple they met Simeon, a “righteous and devout” man, awaiting the consolation of Israel. “And the Holy Spirit was upon him.”
Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph and prophesied to Mary about the destiny of her Child and the sorrows she would experience on his behalf. Those who are blessed by the Lord are sometimes destined to suffer. This is kind of strange when you think about it and many wonder why this is the case. I guess the real answer is that we don’t really know the real answer. Job asked God why he had to suffer so much when he was really a good and holy man. God didn’t give an answer to Job, which leads us to believe that here on this earth we do not always have all the answers to the problems that besiege us even though we are trying to be good people. As we said a while back in one of these homilies, God dances to a different drummer than we do.
All of us try in our own way to do the will of God and yet we suffer. So did Jesus himself, if that is any consolation. There is still much mystery that we do not always understand. God is sometimes the God of paradox. And that’s the way it is.