It is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. Preparations for the coming feast are nearing their completion. Christmas is almost upon us. The scents of candles and trees fill our homes, lights are twinkling, gifts are being prepared for sharing, songs and carols fill the air and we are waiting… Some of us are waiting for Christmas itself to come… perhaps some of us secretly wish it would be here already while others are simply enjoying the movement toward it? Some of us are waiting to see what gifts the holiday brings, and perhaps others of us are waiting for it to be over already? Some of us are looking forward to warm time with family and friends, and perhaps others among us are remembering such warmth from times past and find the departures of loved ones difficult to bear?
Within my family, Christmas has always been a special time. I was incredibly blessed when, before coming to Our Lady of Lourdes, I had the opportunity to spend Christmas with my parents and siblings. Returning to the small village in which I grew up, I was able to enjoy meeting not only my family, but also neighbors and former elementary-school classmates, many of whom have made lives for themselves in different parts of Ireland and indeed throughout the world. But at Christmas, it seems that anyone from our little village who can make it back home, comes home, often bringing their new families with them. The ties and relationships that exist between and among people are remarkable, and they are self-evidently important for us in our little village.
Our scriptures for this fourth Sunday of Advent invite us to consider another relationship that is of some import for us. Our first reading from Isaiah leads us to reflect on what it means for God to be with us. The Kingdom of Israel is about to be undone. The destruction of the monarchy, seen as a visible sign of God’s presence among the people, causes the people to wonder if God has completely abandoned them. But the words of the prophet speak of an incredible promise and hope in a very difficult situation. The wife of the king is with child, and the child is a symbol of God’s enduring faithfulness to the people. God will continue to be faithful to his people even though they be taken into exile and their monarchy destroyed. It prompted a whole new way of understanding their relationship with God on the part of the people. The traditional way of seeing things and of understanding them were undone by circumstances beyond their control, and so they had to re-imagine, they had to dig deeper within themselves, to see how God continues to grace and bless them with His presence.
Matthew’s gospel also invites us to re-imagine and dig deeper in our understanding of how God works in our lives and is present to us. That Joseph is able to move beyond what the law expected and makes the positive choice to take Mary into his home and to raise the child Jesus as his own, is a testament to the choices we make for the building-up and the strengthening of our families and our broader relationships. In this choice for values beyond the immediate and personal, in his opting for a good that could cost him in terms of his name, his prestige and his standing within the community, Joseph instead comes to be seen and understood as a decent man, a man of integrity and reliability. His choice to invest himself in his relationship with Mary and Jesus reveals him to be an icon of the goodness of God’s presence in our lives.
All of this prompts me to a reflection on the nature of my relationships and how they reveal something of the face of God-with-us. There are some relationships that are implicit in my life, that of family and close friends, but there are also other relationships that are revealing. They all hold the potential to reveal something of the attributes and the characteristics of how God comes to be present with and for us, even in ways we least expect.
What of God’s blessing can I recognize in all those who are waiting to be reunited with family? What does the reality of families separated because of immigration issues suggest to me about my relationship with God? Do I pray God’s care and blessing on those who are separated from family and loved ones because they are deployed in our armed services? Can I recognize the compassion of God in those who are waiting for someone to be released from the hospital? Can I witness to the abiding faithfulness of God as I accompany those who are living with illness and are waiting for the end of their life to come? Can I put flesh and blood on the mercy of God as I think of those who are waiting for a friend, a spouse, a partner to forgive them? Can I become an icon of the presence of God for children waiting for a mom or dad to spend some time with them? Can I recognize the enduring forbearance of God in parents waiting to be invited into the life of their child? As God’s people were drawn into exile and God supported and blessed them, how might I support and bless families separated from one another by borders, by work responsibilities, by fractured relationships. There are so many who are longing for and waiting for the fulfilment of their hope.
Christmas is a time when just as God became flesh for us, so we can enflesh something of God for others. Christmas is almost upon us. It is the great feast of the fulfilment of God’s promise and our deliverance to hope. I pray you and yours every grace of this holy season, and may the fulfilment of God’s hopes and dreams for you find their realization in your lives.