Homily – Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Harry Entwistle Crest RGB
By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle

Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross

Sunday 18 December, 2016
St Ninians & St Chads Church, Maylands

In today’s first reading, King Ahaz, the king of the Southern Jewish kingdom of Judah, will not ask God for a sign, and he gives a very pious answer to justify his refusal. He says he will not test the Lord. So why will he not ask for a sign?

This was the second time God had spoken to Ahaz during a deep political crisis that surrounded his kingdom. Ahaz was facing extreme pressure from Rezin, king of Syria and Pekah, king of the northern Jewish Kingdom of Israel. These two were trying to persuade Ahaz to join forces with them against the powerful king of Assyria.

God had told Ahaz that he had nothing to fear because Rezin & Pekah were like noisy gongs. The reason Ahaz would not ask for a sign is because he did not trust God. Even so, Isaiah announced what the sign would be. A young woman in Ahaz’s court would give birth to a child and call his name Immanuel, namely God is with us. A sign of God’s presence and protection.

Actually Ahaz had already decided to surrender to the king of Assyria and so was putting more trust in his own political judgment than in being obedient to God, and he didn’t want God messing this up with giving him signs. In refusing what God asked him to do, Ahaz paid the price, he faded into oblivion, and so is a reminder to us of the risk of trusting our own judgments rather than God’s. It is a different story with the Gospel reading. Matthew picks up on the sign promised by God through Isaiah and interprets it very differently. Once again, God speaks through a dream.

This time he speaks to Joseph, who was agonising about what he should do about Mary’s unexplained pregnancy. His judgment was to break off his engagement in a very amicable way even though he had every legal right to make life difficult for Mary and her family. Joseph was a good man, and when God spoke to him he didn’t hesitate to respond positively. King Ahaz refused God’s instructions, so God proceeded with his plan of salvation without him. Joseph trusted God and his trust puts him very close to the centre of the salvation brought through Mary and by Jesus. In Jesus, God is truly with us.

Joseph doesn’t receive the attention among Christians that he deserves. Although God’s story of salvation could have gone on without him, Joseph teaches us of the cost of obedience. In saying, ‘Yes’ to God, Joseph knew he would be subject to social criticism and accused of fornication, but he doesn’t think of himself but of what God asks of him. That is, to be a caring human father to the Son of God and a loving husband to Mary the mother of God. He accepted that ministry before it became obvious to him that in Jesus, God is truly with us.
Although St Paul does not mention Joseph in his writings, their mission is the same, namely to protect and teach the truth of God revealed through Jesus, the descendent of David whose kingdom God had promised would live forever.

We are now just one week from celebrating Christ’s birth, and in this week it is so easy to switch off from the focus of Advent. Yet this is the week when the great antiphons are said during the mass and before the Magnificat at evensong (vespers).  There are 7 of these antiphons and the hymn we sang as the introit, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ is based on them. Each one is a name of Jesus the Saviour – O Wisdom; O Lord; O Root of Jesse; O Key of David; O Dayspring; O King of the Nations and O Emmanuel.

In these last days before Christmas we can stand either with Ahaz or with Joseph. Those who stand with Ahaz don’t want God messing up their lives, while those who stand with Joseph will trust God and let their lives be guided by him whatever the cost might be. Only those obedient to God will be the ones whose lives rejoice in the birth of Emmanuel and shine with the message of “God is with us”.