Fr. Bill Carroll – Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2022
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are coming to the end of a long, long journey. Advent is important, because it helps us get ready for Jesus. As Christmas approaches, many of us feel loss and grief more deeply. Some of us feel anger and inadequacy as well.
We need to be reminded that our hope is in God. We long for Jesus, because all is not right with our world. We come to Jesus for hope—and for transformation. And the triumphant God of popular religion can’t do the trick. Only the birth of a child will do.
Advent is a time to let God rekindle our love for Jesus. In the twelfth century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux said the following:
When I reflect, as I often do, on the ardor with which our ancestors longed for the incarnation of Christ, I am pierced with sorrow and shame. And now I can scarcely contain my tears, so ashamed am I of the lukewarmness and lethargy of the present times. For which of us is filled with joy at the realization of this grace as the holy ones of old were moved to desire by the promise of it?
Advent summons us to slow down and get ready for Jesus. The season creates space for us to listen and keep watch—to long with burning desire for God. And, at the end, we find God in a poor and helpless child.
Beloved, how easily our celebrations obscure this simple truth. This season, many of us will go deeper into debt. Many will fight with a spouse, snap at a child, or break a friendship. Some will feel mounting anxiety, chasing perfection that’s neither human nor possible. The commercialism and excess of Christmas as we have come to know it can easily distract us from what really matters.
At the same time, though, giving gifts can delight those we love. This year, one child will get his first bike. Another will receive a puppy that will become her close friend and companion throughout her childhood. When gifts are chosen with care and given with love, they remind us of the greatest gift of all.
Soon, we will come forth from this cold, dark season into God’s marvelous light. We will celebrate the birth of Jesus with a joy too deep for words.
Throughout this holy season, God has promised us his reign of peace. And so, we are told that “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” And again, God promises us that, when the Messiah comes: “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.”
Soon, we will enter God’s new world of grace And so today, we ask God to purify our conscience by his daily visitation—to make us ready for Christ to reign (to make room in us for Christ to reign). In today’s lessons, we hear about the Emmanuel sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”
Jesus is God-with-us. He is with us in all things. He is here when we are lonely or frustrated or sad. He is here when we rejoice. In Jesus, we behold the face of God. In him, God turns to us in mercy.
In Matthew’s Gospel, the Christmas story begins with an act of mercy. Mary is pregnant, and Joseph knows the baby isn’t his. But he decides not to shame Mary and expose her to violence in the village. Joseph is a righteous and compassionate man. And so, he resolves to “dismiss her quietly.”
Joseph shows us what following Jesus is all about. At the living center of the Gospel, lies God’s mercy and forgiveness. God forgives our sins. And God commands us to forgive each other.
But human mercy isn’t enough. “Fear not,” says the angel, and everything changes. Joseph goes forward with his marriage to Mary. He raises Jesus as his own son. And, with Mary, he instructs Jesus in God’s ways. He teaches him the sacred story of his People—the Good News of our liberator God.
This is the meaning of the Emmanuel sign: God-with-us in mercy, God-with-us to set us free and to show us how to love each other. Jesus is our hope and the world’s true light. And so, we sing:
Savior of the nations, come!
Virgin’s Son, make here your home.
Marvel now, both heaven and earth,
that the Lord chose such a birth.
Savior of the nations, come!
O come, O come, Emmanuel!