God Is With Us | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | A Homily for the Fourth Sunday
of Advent, 2007 | IgnatiusInsight.com
God Is With Us | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 23, 2007 |
From the November 2007 issue of
Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Fourth Sunday of Advent—December 23 | "A" Readings: Isa. 7:10-14 | Rom. 1:1-7 | Matt. 1:18-24
Title: Mary and Joseph prepare for Christmas
Purpose: (1) to show Mary and Joseph as faithful to God's will; (2) to encourage similar faithfulness—to God's
commandments, to the Church, to one's commitments
Today's liturgy is directed entirely to the birth of Jesus,
our Savior—what it means in itself and for the whole world. To appreciate
that birth, we must realize that we need a savior. We need a savior because of
the sin of Adam and our own personal sins, which result in our condemnation to
death. So the link between Adam and Christ is direct: from Adam we inherit sin
and from Christ we receive the gift of grace to remove that sin.
Before Christ, man was alone, isolated, immersed in sin with
no exit. But the God of love took pity on man and revealed himself to a small
band of Hebrews; through them he promised salvation for all.
The point of Christmas—the birth of Christ—is
that God has fulfilled his promises. He has come personally into human history
to save us. Thus he is with us—Emmanuel. We are no longer alone—we
have a Savior who is with us in the Mass, in the tabernacle, in the Church and
in the sacraments.
The Gospel today emphasizes the effect of the Incarnation on
Joseph, that just man. He is perplexed at the pregnancy of Mary. He does not
understand, so he decides "to divorce her quietly." According to Jewish law,
she was already his wife even though they did not yet live together. Perhaps he
felt himself unworthy to be married to her who was about to become the mother
of the Messiah.
While Joseph is pondering what to do, the angel of the Lord
in a dream explains to him how Mary conceived and who the child is—Jesus
the Savior. There were no sonograms in those days, but the angel told him that
Mary would give birth to a boy. Matthew sees the fulfillment of the prophecy of
Isaiah, given in the first reading, in the conception and birth of the child
from a virgin.
Joseph the Just obeyed God and took Mary as his wife. He
asks no questions; he is not quoted as having said anything; he believed God.
He believed God and because he believed he was obedient and humble—these
are the virtues we should strive to acquire for ourselves.
Joseph provided a home for Jesus and Mary—he supported
and protected them. It is difficult to fathom the sanctity of Joseph. Every day
he looked into the face of Jesus who is both God and man. He held Jesus in his
arms; he taught him how to be a carpenter and how to speak; he listened to him
and spoke with him every day.
In the second reading St. Paul gives his credentials as an
apostle to the Romans. He says that Jesus Christ descended from David according
to the flesh, but is also the Son of God in power. This passage is placed here
in order to affirm the true humanity of Jesus and his divinity. He is true man
and true God at the same time. He is the fulfillment of all the prophecies of
the Old Testament. When we look at Jesus in the crib, we should ask ourselves:
"Who is this child of Mary and Joseph?"
Some early heretics, called Docetists, denied that Jesus was
truly human; they said he only appeared to be a man. But he was born like us, a helpless infant. He grew up to manhood:
"He advanced in wisdom, age and grace...." He suffered hunger and thirst; he
became tired, he slept, he was tempted by the devil, he cried over Jerusalem,
he died a painful death on Calvary. He was fully human—kind,
compassionate, patient and loving.
The Creed says that he is God from God. Other heretics,
called Arians, denied this, just as many today do not accept the divinity of
Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from
God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being
with the Father. Through him, the eternal Word of God, all things were made. So
the Church rejects Docetism and Arianism.
Today's readings affirm the birth of Jesus as a true human
being—true man, just like us. But he is the most important man who ever
set foot on this earth because he is God. All history is related to
him—everything before and after his time on earth.
At Christmas we celebrate his entrance into the
world—and so into my life, since I am a part of this world. He is the
only one who can give true meaning to my life and my existence. A successful
life means living for him and with him. He is my personal Savior, because he
takes away my sins and leads me into eternal life.
We rejoice at Christmas time because we are not alone, because
he is with us, because he is Emmanuel. This great truth fills us with joy and
Let us rejoice, therefore, with Mary and Joseph and the
shepherds, and even the sheep and animals around the crib in Bethlehem, because
God is with us. That is the meaning of Christmas. Jesus himself said it best at
the end of St. Matthew's Gospel: "Behold, I am with you all days, even to the
end of time."
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic
Church, 437, 525-526.
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Kenneth Baker, S.J., is author of the best selling Fundamentals
of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to
the Scripture, Inside
He has been editor of Homiletic
& Pastoral Review for over thirty years.
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