4th Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 35:1-6.10; Ps. 145:6-10; James 5:7-10; Gospel of Matthew 11:2-11
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 22 December 2019
If either Mary or Joseph did not say “yes” when the angel presented God’s Will to them, God’s Plan of Salvation for the human race would have to take on another route. God would have to look for other persons to fulfil His Will. As such, we have first to be very grateful to Mary for her courageous “yes” that made it possible for Jesus, the Son of God to be conceived in her womb through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It was Mary’s deep faith and love for God that her total obedience to God’s Will is nothing less than her the ultimate meaning and purpose of her life. Mary’s love for God was so deep and ultimate that even if she was to be stoned to death, for God’s Will, she would not have flinched from her fidelity.
In saying “yes” to God’s Will, Mary knew very well that she had to face the consequences of not only bringing great shame and pain to her parents, Joachim and Anne, and also Joseph whom she is engaged to be married to. This is because in all probability no one would be able to comprehend her conception by the Holy Spirit. More grievously, this also means that Mary was even prepared to face being stoned to death in public as a penalty of being accused of committing adultery.
Yet, in all of these, Mary trusted that in doing God’s Will, she would somehow be protected by God. But, how is God’s Will going to unveil itself, Mary did not know. Mary only knew and believed in her heart of heart that she has to obey God’s Will, and leave everything that would happen in God’s Protective Providence and Care.
Joseph, on the other hand too, in believing that God had revealed His Will to him in a dream, through an angel, acted promptly and decisively, and took Mary into his home, and became the legal father to Mary’s child that was conceived in her womb, by the Holy Spirit. Through Joseph’s response of “yes” to God’s Will, Jesus becomes his legal son, and he also thereby contributes to the fulfilment of the prophecy of God’s Plan of Salvation that the Messiah, the Son of God, is to be born as a legitimate descendant of King David.
Let us also remember that Joseph being a man of great virtue, even before the angel spoke to him in his dream, he refused to bring charges against Mary for adultery. He simply knew that he has to protect Mary from harm. And so, even as he was in much confusion and pain, he responded with great prudence and wisdom.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as both Mary and Joseph responded to God’s Will with such great courage and trust, you and I too are invited by Jesus in today’s Gospel, to face the fundamental truth of our faith, of our need to trust God more fully and more courageously, in our daily living and especially so for those of us who may at present be facing certain deep pain, darkness and crises in our lives. Like Mary and Joseph, would we say “yes” to God’s Will and His protective care, mercy and love or would we on the contrary turn away from God’s Will because of our pain, confusion and crises?
In the human realities of our lives, regardless of how virtuous and holy we may be, as with Mary and Joseph, no person is spared from the trials and tribulations and crosses of life and our faith. They come in different ways, at different times and through different peoples. And as such, the bottom line is whether we will face our challenges with deeper faith, trust and courage with God on our side, or we would turn away from God in the face of these challenges, trials and tribulations of our lives.
Some ten years ago or so, I came across an Indonesian family Ardi, (not their real name), who sold their possessions, including their homes, in their desperate need to pay for the medical expenses of their 12 year old son, who had suddenly become ill of a rare and serious illness. In selling one property at a time and in borrowing money from different people, the Ardi family in fact already knew from the medical specialists reports that in all probability their son only had several years to live. True enough, in spite of all the treatment that their son received, he eventually died. At the wake, even as the parents were deeply saddened, they had no regrets that they had spent all their financial wealth on their son. To them, even though the coming years of their lives would have to be lived in much simplicity, they shared that what truly matters for them is that they tired their very best to save their son, whom they loved very deeply, and their consolation was that they were “at least able to be with our son for a few additional years.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see in Ardi’s family that human love can be so deep that they were willing to make all the needed sacrifices for the son, they loved.
However, as for Mary and Joseph, their love for God, that we just heard proclaimed in the Gospel, brings us to an even deeper level of love. This is the love where we encounter and experience God’s Love for us, and our love for God. And so, like Mary and Joseph, God too is calling you and I to enter into this divine love and relationship with Him. And like Mary and Joseph, in such divine love, we can be sure that, when we are faithful to God in our love for Him, we will experience the deepest joy, love and fulfillment of our lives, that nothing in this world and no one can give.
But, the question you and I need to answer is, “Are we willing to be more like Mary and Joseph in our response to God’s invitation to live His Will or are we going to turn away from His Will even though we know from our experiences that to do so is to live a life that is going to be fraught and filled with even greater burdens. This is because you and I know that without God’s strength, we will surely become totally helpless when we face the pains, trials and tribulations in our lives. As such, let us then ponder on this poem, written by an anonymous person for a moment, what our lives are about and how does God want us to live our lives.
There is an old Jewish-Christian tradition which says:
God sends each person into this world
with a special message to deliver,
with a special song to sing for others,
with an act of love to bestow.
No one else can speak my message,
or sing my song, or offer my act of love.
These are entrusted only to me.
According to this tradition,
the message may be spoken,
the song sung, the act of love delivered only to a few,
or to all the folk in a small town,
or to all the people in a large city,
or even to all those in the whole world.
It all depends on God’s unique plan for each person.
To which we might add:
The greatest gift of God, one would think,
is the gift of life.
The greatest sin of humans, it would seem,
would be to return that gift,
ungrateful and unopened. (Anonymous author)
My sisters and brothers in Christ, in other words, when God ‘created us, He has a special gift and personal dream for each of us to unwrap; discover during our life-time on earth. In this sense, we can see that God had a special gift and dream for Mary to be the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God, and for Joseph to be His legal father and guardian. God’s special gift and dream for me is to live my life for Him as a priest and Jesuit religious; and for many if not most of you, God’s gift and dream for you is to live your life as a lay person, in the married vocation.
But, whatever vocation God has for us, within the vocation that He has given us are many other special gifts that are waiting to be unwrapped during our lifetime. And these are the many daily challenges that invites us to trust God more fully and more courageously as Mary and Joseph have shown us, and as the Ardi family have also shown us. That if our love for God is deep enough, then, we will be able to overcome all our resistances that prevent us from living God’s Will more fully and more wholeheartedly.
For some of us the hindrances and resistances of our lives in living God’s Will are: perhaps, the sins we have committed, that have caused much pain to our loved ones, like abortion; and because we are not able to forgive ourselves, and not allow God’s Mercy to forgive us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; these guilt have become hindrances that we harbour within our hearts, that are preventing us from living God’s Will. For others, we may be deeply wounded by the pain of divorce or a loss of our priesthood and religious vocation, and thus a feeling of failure in our relationships, or rejection by our family and religious superiors and community. Others amongst us may be grieving from the sudden and unexpected death of our loved ones, and still others and this is perhaps the most common hindrance and resistances of our life, is our inability to live beyond the routine of our daily lives, and superficial faith that we have with God, where God is of secondary importance to us in all that we live for daily.
However, as in the Jewish-Christian tradition, the question you and I need to ask ourselves is, “Are we willing to accept and open these many special gifts that God has given us during our life-time or are we going to leave them unwrapped? Not to unwrap the gift that we have received from any person is an expression of our ingratitude to the Giver of the gift, and this is all the more significant when the giver of these special gifts is God who loves us so totally, mercifully, and unconditionally.
And for us to live in God’s Will and Ways, we have to face the reality that the causes of our hindrances and resistances differ between different persons. And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that in today’s Gospel, as we are inspired by the lives and responses of Mary and Joseph, God is inviting you and I to reflect on our lives more deeply, and become more fully aware that the divine Mystery of God’s Coming into our lives and world is because He Loves us personally, and He wishes that, like Mary and Joseph, we too love Him personally.
Mary and Joseph are perfect models of how we can live in God’s Will and Ways, and the Ardi family’s love for their son too are good examples of how human love alone can make us a totally selfless person . . . Let us then pray for the grace and wisdom to prepare our hearts more fully for the coming of Christ at Christmas, where the True Peace, Light, and Love of Jesus, the Messiah, will truly transform our lives, with the courage, total trust and obedience that Mary and Joseph had and has shown us.
Adapted from: Sower’s Seeds Aplenty; fourth planting; Brian Cavanaugh,T.O.R.; Pub.: Paulist Press: 1947; p.32; nos. 43.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.