HOMILY OF FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR A
GOD INTERVENING IN HUMAN HISTORY
Readings: Is. 7:10-14, Rom. 1:1-7 & Matt. 1: 18-24
My dear friends in Christ may the name of the Lord be praised both now and forever, amen. Today we have come to the first climax of our preparations for Christmas. And from 17th to 23rd of December all our readings for Mass and Liturgy of the Hours are centred on the dual origins of Jesus Christ (from below – Humanity and from above – Divinity), His conception and His birth.
The first reading offers us a prophetic background of the human origin and the nature of the birth of Jesus Christ. Isaiah tells us about a virgin who is with a child and will soon give birth to a son whose name will be called Emmanuel (Is. 7:10-14). In the same light, the Gospel Reading, presents us with the circumstances surrounding his birth and how he was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the action of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18-24). Thus, the virgin who was prophesied in the book of Isaiah, is fulfilled in the life of Mary. In the Second Reading, St. Paul in his address to the Romans teaches us about the human origin of Jesus where He is linked to his ancestor David (Rom. 1:1-7). In summary, Jesus a descendant of David (Rom. 1:1-7) and is born of a virgin (Is. 7:10-14 & Matt. 1:18-24). From the Readings in today’s liturgy, we have the following practical messages:
- Our God is powerful and mysterious: His Son got conceived in the womb of Mary without any human intervention. This begins the process of INCARNATION. That God’s only begotten Son took flesh in the womb of Mary and that did not affect His Divine nature. Rather the two natures were joined in His person without mixture nor confusion. Here we are not talking about the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary but the Virginal conception of Jesus Christ. So, we need to reverence our God as we are doing already through the Holy sacrifice of the Mass
- We need to learn to listen to and accept DIVINE DIRECTIONS: God speaks to us in every circumstance of our lives. If we are interiorly recollected and have a sound doctrinal foundation, we shall always hear God speak to us as He did to Joseph through the medium of a dream. In our age, God can still speak to us through dreams and visions, through our consciences, the Bible, the Church, our parents and Spiritual Directors. If we pay attention we shall be like Joseph. How? When Joseph was instructed by an angel of God to take Mary home as his wife, he didn’t just take Mary alone but with Jesus into his home. So, if we accept Divine Directions we can get God into our affairs in live.
- God intervenes in human history (David – Ahaz – Joseph – Paul – US!)
Going through our readings reflectively and in the spirit of the season of Advent, several questions came to my mind. How does one understand the ways and workings of God, especially in our world that is seemingly tired of Godly matters? For the modern man claims to have answers for “all things” and trivialises divine discourses particularly when it comes to God intervening in human history.
In ancient times, mythologists and philosophers held that time and history were cyclical and things turned run and run and they were all turning to the same place and nothing was new. Hence to say that God caused some changes in history never made any sense. History and time were said to be empty and meaningless.
In our age, there are many contenders on the purposiveness of history and the role that God plays in human history. For instance, we have many who ask: if God intervenes in human history where was He during the Holocaust? That is the genocide experience in which Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed about six million Jews? Why was He absent from the Rwandan genocide that led to the killing of over 1Million Tutsi people in 1994? Where is God when Boko haram, the al shabaab and other terrorists groups kill and maim people with the claim that they do all they do in His Holy name? With all these and many examples, it is a trash to say that God intervenes in human history. Now, if you say so, you are ridiculed because according to this group of contenders, God does not exist. Many have fallen into this trap and they give the devil the opportunity to laugh.
However, we have others who argue differently. They say God exist, but He is not interested in human affairs. They refuse to walk by faith and they dismiss any role that God could play in human history.
Again, we have those who sees the hand of God in human history but they believe He loves them most and He is always on their side. That they are specially favoured by God. You can easily know this category of persons by their names and by a kind of competitive spirit that is driven by pride because God loves them uniquely and more than every other persons, nations, races or religions.
Anyway, having listened to all those opposing views on God’s involvement in human history, the meaninglessness of time and emptiness of history; our Bible, the Word of God speaks differently and authoritatively. It says unequivocally from our readings that God’s involvement in human history is real and purposive. That history is heading somewhere under the direction of a guiding Spirit. History is not just one thing after another but a story, a narrative that is told by an author. Giving us hints of what is to happen. You may be wondering why I am very analytical and a bit argumentative. This is because of the nature of our celebration today. By this celebration we have come to the first climax of the Advent season. The core of Advent is the conviction that all histories, times and events have their meaning and summit in Jesus.
This is particularly true as we have listened to all our readings. From our first reading, Is. 7: 10-14, the Lord speaks to Ahaz, a king in the line of King David who has come to a challenging period of his reign. What is the issue? After the death of King Solomon, the undivided Kingdom of Israel was divided into the northern kingdom – Israel and the southern kingdom – Judah. Assyria the dominant power then, controlled Israel (the northern kingdom) and Syria as vassal states. These two vassal states planned to rebel against Assyria but they wanted the support of Ahaz and Judah. When Ahaz “refused, they began to plot to overthrow him by attacking Judah. Instead of trusting in God, Ahaz planned to ask for help in holding his throne from his overlord, the pagan Assyrian king, a request which later led to the overthrow of the kingdom of Judah. Confident that his God, Yahweh, would protect Judah and its king, the prophet Isaiah told Ahaz to have Faith in Yahweh and not to ally himself with Assyria. But Ahaz wouldn’t listen; he was determined to go ahead with his alliance. (In order to appease the Assyrians, Ahaz had replaced the altar in the Temple with an Assyrian altar and had sacrificed his firstborn son to the Assyrian god Moloch). Isaiah told Ahaz that the Lord wanted him to ask for a sign. Ahaz had already made up his mind to rely on Assyria instead, so he refused to ask for a sign, using the excuse that it would be “tempting God” to do so. This however was a faulty pious way! There was no sincerity in Ahaz. This demonstrates the mindset of a lot of people today who just refuse to believe that God is in – charge and they also refuse to dream big. They are in difficulties or situations around them are getting complicated but they wouldn’t ask God any question nor ask for the meaning of what is happening. They also repeat the faulty piety of Ahaz.
Well, in the face of Ahaz’s frustration, God through Isaiah announced a sign, a point of intervention if you like. Isaiah says, “Therefore, the LORD Himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name “Immanuel” (“God is with us”). This would assure everyone that God was really with His people.
My dear people of God, what is the message? The message is this: we may give up on God but God will never give up on us. We may think and conclude that all that is happening within and around us has no meaning and purpose, but for God there is. Nothing happens that God does not ordain or permit. We are constantly surrounded by divine intervention, even when we are ignorant of it or blind to it. We will never know all of the times and all of the ways God intervenes in our lives. Divine intervention can come in the form of a miracle, such as a healing or supernatural sign. Divine intervention can also come in the form of a seemingly random event which directs us in the way God wants us to go. Recall the experience of Joseph in the Gospel of today. In your darkest moments God is there for you, don’t give up.
To prove to you that God is the author of time, history and its fulfilment let us see the background of the sign given to Ahaz. This is contained in 2 Sam. 7:12. It says, “When your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom forever.” This is the core of all the promises of God to the people of Israel in the Bible. So, the people of Israel kept watching out for the fulfilment of this promise even when things were very dark. Every new king, a descendant of David was thought to be the fulfilment of the promise until it came to the reign of Ahaz that we have just heard from our first reading.
The Gospel reading according to Matthew 1: 18 – 24 gives us an insight that God is involve in human history and history has meaning and purpose. Thus, after 700 years between Ahaz and the New Testament, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us (Matt. 1: 21ff).” Here we see again the truth that God intervenes in human history. From our discussion so far, we can clearly see a link between Jesus’ conception with the fulfilment of 2 Sam. 7: 12 and the first reading Is. 7: 10 – 14.
Paul also in the second reading, identifies himself as a slave of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ who is the promised messiah. The one promised to David, to Ahaz, and the one who is the Son that is a descendant from David according to the flesh and the Son of God. Can you see how history links and is purposive? According to the second reading, Paul is very happy to be associated with the unfolding of history especially in been given the privilege to Know Jesus – the Son of David and the Son of God. The one that David and Ahaz could not behold but now he knows Him and has been given the mission to make known to the whole world. So we have moved from David – Ahaz – Joseph – Paul – Us! Now it is our responsibility too to take Jesus to every nook and cranny.