Fourth Sunday of Advent
Is 7:10-14; Rom 1:1-7; Mt 1:18-24 (year a)
The Fourth Sunday of Advent brings us to Mary and the imminent birth of her Son Jesus. If we reach beyond the familiar story, it is an invitation to expect the unexpected; to expect a graciousness beyond our imagining. Are we prepared for the unexpected, or do we continue life’s daily routine without any real expectation that anything might change in our lives?
This was certainly the case for Judah’s King Ahaz in 8th-century BC Jerusalem. This wheeler-dealer sought to hang on to power through a questionable foreign alliance, the last desperate resort of a worried man. He had no appetite for what God might bring about in his Kingdom. It is therefore scarcely surprising that he refused to listen to the prophet Ahaz, and, with false humility, rejected his promised sign: “I will not put the Lord to the test.”
It is easy to dismiss the faithlessness of Ahaz, but we should not do so without seriously considering the extent to which we truly give God a chance to change our lives.
The sign, resolutely asserted by the prophet, was truly unexpected. Salvation, when it came, would come not from the great and the powerful, but through a simple maiden who would be with child. She would give birth to a son whose name would be Emmanuel, “God is with us”.
Here was the unexpected: that the Son of God should be born of a woman, as we ourselves were born; that, in the midst of all that we know and feel, the Son of God should be delivered into our midst.
Matthew’s infancy narrative concentrates on the very human factors that surrounded the birth. Joseph and Mary had been brought to their betrothal by the usual interactions of village life. They had come together with the usual expectations for what their life together might become. Here the unexpected challenged their lives. Before they had come together Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
We are told that Joseph did not initially know how to deal with the unexpected, instinctively preferring a quiet settlement to the public humiliation of his betrothed. This humility in the face of doubt prompted reassurance. “Joseph Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you must name him Jesus because he is the one who will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph accepted the unexpected, believed that the Holy Spirit could be at work in their lives and named the child for a place in his home.
Advent invites us to name Christ for a place in our hearts.
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