Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an Australian community, in a worldwide religious congregation.
Jesus loved with a human heart: with him we proclaim his love to the world.
We work to discover through advocacy, healing and reconciliation, God's presence in our world.
We are to be on earth the heart of God. God has no other heart but ours.
- Published: Monday, 12 December 2016 11:39
LITURGICAL NOTES FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Claude Mostowik MSC
Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A
December 18th 2016
Suggested formula for recognition of indigenous people and their land.
We acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we stand.
We pay our respects to them and for their care of the land.
May we walk gently on this land.
For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
George Orwell, English essayist, novelist, & satirist (1903 - 1950)
Telling the truth is not treason!
Not only is another world possible, she is one her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
Mother of the Streets by Robert Lentz
Each year, larger numbers of homeless people live on the streets of modern cities. These people may be jobless workers, battered women, the untreated mentally ill, or simply those too poor to get by. They tend to be ‘invisible’ to the rest of society, but they are a real presence of Christ in our midst, demanding charity and justice for the hungry and naked. They extend the incarnation of Christ, the Suffering Servant, in history.
This icon depicts the Mother of God as the mother of those on the streets. Her garments, and those of Jesus, are covered with jewels and gold decoration, to reveal the hidden worth and dignity of street people, who are living icons of God.
In 1984 the U.S. Catholic bishops declared, ‘To turn aside from those on the margins of society, the needy and the powerless, is to turn aside from Jesus. Such people show His face to the world.’ Such people are also a presence of Church, for where Christ is, there is His Church.
Reading I Is 7:10-14
Responsorial Psalm Ps 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Reading II Rom 1:1-7
Gospel Mt 1:18-24
Coming and ever-present God,
your promise is spoken
in the psalms of David,
the words of the prophets,
the dream of Joseph.
In the womb of Mary,
your Word takes flesh.
Teach us to welcome Jesus, God with us,
and to proclaim through our lives
the good news of Jesus’ his coming,
so that people of all times and places
may know the One who wishes to be reborn in them.
Prayer over the Gifts
Coming and ever-present God,
in this bread and wine we offer
you give us Jesus, your Son
as our God-with-us.
May we welcome him in people in need
and hear his constant call to us each day.
Prayer after Communion
Coming and ever-present God,
in this Eucharistic celebration
you have given us Jesus, our God-with-us,
and we receive the fullness of your life and love.
May we see that Spirit of Jesus
is the source of our power
and that our world can become fresh
and renewed by our engagement with it.
Prayers of the Faithful
Introduction: God hears the cries of all people. Let us entrust to God all our longings and those of poor and vulnerable people. The response is: We seek your face in our world, O God. [adapted from the responsorial psalm]
· As Christmas and Chanukah become orgies of consumption and undermine the deep message of these feasts, may we not forget our obligations to relieve the suffering of the poor and the powerless, we pray: We seek your face in our world, O God.
· As we have taken the symbol of hope reborn embodied in Jesus’ birth to challenge the rule of imperialism, may we strive to bring an end global poverty and to the suffering of the world’s children, we pray: We seek your face in our world, O God.
· As our earth struggles to breathe, may we encourage our leaders to take the difficult and responsible steps to bring down climate warming so that we respect God’s creation and leave a legacy of peace and well being for future generations, we pray: We seek your face in our world, O God.
· As this religious time is in danger of becoming an adjunct to capitalism, may those who are rooted in a spiritual sensibility lift their voices to challenge the profligate spending at this time, we pray: We seek your face in our world, O God.
· As we purchase goods and gifts for our loves ones and friends, may we be mindful of the costs of these products to the poor of the world in terms of slavery and human trafficking, we pray: We seek your face in our world, O God.
· As more than half the world’s children suffer the effects of poverty, war and HIV/AIDS, which denies them a healthy and safe childhood, may we raise our voices for peace through justice, we pray: We seek your face in our world, O God.
· As people seek hope in dark times, may our Christian communities encourage women and men, inspired by Christ, to reveal God's generous love through their humanity. We pray: We seek your face in our world, O God.
· As more and more children and families live on the streets in our towns and cities, or live alone or away from home, may they experience each day the love and communion from the ‘angels’ that reach out to them, we pray: We seek your face in our world, O God.
· As our world continues to seek a unity of humanity aside from professions of faith, may the spirit of Christmas create love, tenderness and generosity in our relationships towards people of other faiths and cultures throughout the year we pray: We seek your face in our world, O God.
· As most countries abandon the death penalty, may those countries still using it – especially China, Iran and the USA – recognise the dignity of all human life and move towards abandoning this practice, we pray: We seek your face in our world, O God.
Concluding Prayer: Eternal and loving God, of mystery, may our living in this Advent and Christmas be for us be a living event which challenges to become like and have the heart of Jesus.
Cosmic Creed - Questions - Advent
Do you believe in God, Source and incarnating power of the immense cosmic space and time,
who personally knows and cares about each person
in the small and most intimate moments of our lives?
Do you believe in God who is intensely personal,
Taking flesh in fathers, but is much more than fathers,
Taking flesh in mothers, but is much more than mothers,
who is ultimately MYSTERY
and before whom we must stand wordless and in awe?
Do you believe in the divinely human Jesus, born of Mary,
Who emerged from among us to open our eyes to the presence of God working in all creation?
Do you believe in Jesus as the special revelation of our knowledge of God,
Who sometimes used images of women and mothers,
Who sometimes used images of men and fathers,
Who sometimes used images of birds, and trees, seeds and weeds
To help us sense the incredible power and earthy intimacy of God’s love?
Do you believe in Jesus as the one who called people beyond our personal wounds and illnesses
to be witnesses of God’s healing love, forgiveness and comfort?
Do you believe in Jesus who from the cross in agony found the strength to love and forgive those who betrayed, tortured, reviled and executed him,
And who rose to offer comfort, love, forgiveness and hope and to entrust his mission to us?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit of God
Working in and through creation to forgive and comfort, heal and rebuild
Communities of hope and love in universal solidarity?
Do you believe in the global community of faiths living in that Spirit,
Invited to help bring the New Creation to birth in our time and on this Earth?
Do you believe that you are a part of this community in Christ’s Spirit,
called every day to spread this hope and comfort
in rebuilding our communities, our Church, our nation, our world?
Are you willing and grateful to live in this Spirit all the days of your life and through your death and re-birth into everlasting life?
We, in and of your immense universe of cosmic time and space,
give you our deepest thanks, our Loving God,
through Christ our Lord and in the Living Spirit. Amen.
Walking the Path of Peace
Let us have faith in the possibility
Of walking the path of peace.
Let us have hope that we may move beyond
The present spiral of sorrow and death.
Let us have the active love that recognizes
The possibility of forgiveness, dialogue and reconciliation.
As we look to the Cross,
We can see God’s wisdom:
Violence is not answered with violence,
Death is not answered with the language of death.
In the silence of the Cross,
May the noise of weapons cease;
In the teaching of the Prince of Peace,
May we find the way to a world of reconciliation.
Let us pray for reconciliation and peace,
let us work for reconciliation and peace,
and let us all become, in every place,
Men and women of reconciliation and peace!
So may it be.
Warning: Advent Virus
Be on the alert for symptoms of inner HOPE, PEACE, JOY AND LOVE. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.
Some signs and symptoms of the Advent Virus:
* A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.
* An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
* A loss of interest in judging other people.
* A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
* A loss of interest in conflict.
* A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
* Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
* Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
* Frequent attacks of smiling.
* An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
* An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the
uncontrollable urge to extend it.
A Hymn to God Beyond All Names
O all-transcendent God what other name describes Thee?
What words can sing Thy praises?
No word at all denotes Thee. What mind can probe Thy secret?
No mind at all can grasp Thee.
Alone beyond the power of speech, all that men can speak of springs from Thee.
Alone beyond the power of thought, all that men can think of stems from Thee.
All beings proclaim Thee - beings that can speak, beings that cannot.
All beings revere Thee - beings that have reason, beings that have none. The whole world's longing and pain mingle about Thee.
All beings breathe Thee a prayer, a silent hymn of Thy own composing.
All that exists Thee uphold, all beings in concert move to Thy orders.
Thou art the end of all that is, Thou art one, Thou art all;
Thou art none of the beings that are, Thou art not a part and not the whole.
All names are at Thy disposal; how shall I name Thee, the only unnamable?
What mind's affinities with heaven can pierce the veils above the clouds?
Mercy, all-transcendent God, what other name describes Thee?
St. Gregory Nazianzus
When we walk out of the place of worship we walk with fresh, recognizing eyes and a re-created, obedient heart into the world in which we are God’s image participating in God’s creation work.
Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p. 113).
…..the reign of God is making headway - and for this I am grateful. Do continue to be Spirit-filled and challenging.
Sr Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U, martyred in El Salvador in 1980
The future belongs to those who give the next generation reasons to hope.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest, paleontologist
God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house.
God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives.
God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war.
God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives,
and God is with us if we are with them.
Bono, the lead singer of U2, in a sermon 2005, before the US President
Every journalist should be supporting Assange 100%.
The present situation of the world, from the point of view of development, offers a rather negative impression. . . .Without going into an analysis of figures and statistics, it is sufficient to face squarely the reality of an innumerable multitude of people--children, adults and the elderly in other words, real and unique human persons, who are suffering under the intolerable burden of poverty. There are many millions who are deprived of hope due to the fact that, in many parts of the world, their situation has noticeably worsened. Before these tragedies of total indigence and need, in which so many of our brothers and sisters are living, it is the Lord Jesus himself who comes to question us.
John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 13
While everything around me is ever changing, ever dying, there is underlying that change a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves and recreates . . . For I can see in the midst of death, life persists, in the midst of untruth, truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists.
Mohandas K. Gandhi
The future starts today, not tomorrow.
The question confronting the Church today is not any longer whether the (man) in the street can grasp a religious message, but how to employ the communications media so as to let him have the full impact of the Gospel message.
Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of (men)…… War is a defeat for humanity.
In our own time, there are so many needs which demand a compassionate response from Christians. Our world is entering the new millennium burdened by the contradictions of an economic, cultural and technological progress which offers immense possibilities to a fortunate few, while leaving millions of others not only on the margins of progress but in living conditions far below the minimum demanded by human dignity. How can it be that even today there are still people dying of hunger? Condemned to illiteracy? Lacking the most basic medical care? Without a roof over their heads?
Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, #50
Any human society, if it is to be well-ordered and productive, must lay down as a foundation this principle, namely, that every human being is a person, that is, human nature is endowed with intelligence and free will. Indeed, precisely because he is a person he has rights and obligations flowing directly and simultaneously from his very nature. And as these rights and obligations are universal and inviolable so they cannot in any way be surrendered. If we look upon the dignity of the human person in the light of divinely revealed truth, we cannot help but esteem it far more highly; for people are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, they are by grace the children and friends of God and heirs of eternal glory.
Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, #9-#10
We must make haste. Too many people are suffering. While some make progress, others stand still or move backwards; and the gap between them is widening.
Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio
We must repeat that the superfluous goods of wealthier nations ought to be placed at the disposal of poorer nations . . . If prosperous nations continue to be jealous of their own advantage alone, they will jeopardize their highest values, sacrificing the pursuit of excellence to the acquisition of possessions.
Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio
No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.
The gift of loneliness is sometimes a radical vision of society or one's people that has not previously been taken into account.
To be innocent in America is to permit the continued theft of hundreds of billions of dollars from the state by Wall Street swindlers and speculators. To be innocent in America is to stand by as insurance and pharmaceutical companies, in the name of profit, condemn ill people, including children, to die. To be innocent in America is refusing to resist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are not only illegal under international law but responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people. This is the odd age we live in. Innocence is complicity.
To be innocent in America means we passively permit offshore penal colonies where we torture human beings, some of whom are children. To be innocent in America is to acquiesce to the relentless corporate destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species. To be innocent in America is to permit the continued theft of hundreds of billions of dollars from the state by Wall Street swindlers and speculators. To be innocent in America is to stand by as insurance and pharmaceutical companies, in the name of profit, condemn ill people, including children, to die. To be innocent in America is refusing to resist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are not only illegal under international law but responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people. This is the odd age we live in. Innocence is complicity.
Each time society, through unemployment, frustrates the small man in his normal functioning and normal self-respect, it trains him for that last stage in which he will willingly undertake any function, even that of hangman.
Hannah Arendt, Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility, (1945)
We cherish this hope: that distrust and selfishness among nations will eventually be overcome by a stronger desire for mutual collaboration and a heightened sense of solidarity.
Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio
Genuine progress does not consist in wealth sought for personal comfort or for its own sake; rather it consists in an economic order designed for the welfare of the human person, where the daily bread that each person receives reflects the glow of love and the helping hand of God.
Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio
What good is it if Mary gave birth to the son of God fourteen hundred years ago if I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and culture?
Meister Eckhart, [13th cent.]
we must ‘look forward to the point when the whole mystery of God will be known in the clasp of your brother [or sister’s] hand.’
Sebastian Moore osb, Monk of Downside Abbey
Magnificat (Prayer for Reconciliation)
My soul comes in the darkness of unknowing to the secret room of God.
My spirit seeks understanding in the happenings of these days,
because God looks upon the people in a new way.
Yes, from this day forward
All generations will speak of these strange events as wonderful,
and those of us who walk blindly trusting, will be called blessed.
For the presence of the Almighty, the most loving One, is felt in our land.
Holy is the name of the One who is eternally new.
God's guiding hand reaches from age to age
for those who grope and stumble in search of the saving way.
We are shown the power of being present to one another,
while our proud expectations for our chosen nation are shattered.
The warrior-king we expected to establish us on earth as the righteous power
has not come.
And we see instead the promised messenger as a common man.
The hungry of heart are fed with enabling love.
In places where there was need,
people now give to others from their abundance.
The rich are troubled and stripped of their power.
Glory to You: Source of all Being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.
The ‘God’ [the followers of Jesus] were now experiencing in the company of Jesus was incomparably more real than the God of traditional religion. It was as though they saw through the hallowed symbols and rituals to the burning reality itself. The corollary was: if this fails, if Jesus fails, if this movement piles up against the stone wall of this world, then God is finished. The only God now believable would have proved powerless. There would be no going back to the traditional God.
Sebastian Moore OSB, The Fire and the Rose are One, p.80)
We must move away from asking God to take care of the things that are breaking our hearts to praying about the things that are breaking God's heart.
Christ does not save all those who say to him: Lord, Lord. But he saves all those who out of a pure heart give a piece of bread to a starving [person], without thinking about him in the least little bit.
The bewilderment of Golgotha is its necessary climate. No instruction, no intuition, no vision even, can dislodge guilt from its central position in the human soul, whence it directs the soul’s perception of God. Nothing short of the catastrophe can do that. When the catastrophe has done its work and left the soul in pieces, no longer holding itself together under the dreaded infinite power, then at last the Absolute can be encountered not as power but as love: the Absolute encountered as love, not by any equation that the mind or heart of man could conceivably dream up, not in thought, but in the psyche.
Sebastian Moore, The Fire and the Rose are One, pp.90-91
Consolation, when it comes, is what Ignatius called ‘consolation without a cause’. This is one of the principle ways in which the presence of God is known, in which a new thing of the soul is known to be of God: when a previous period of severe God-deprivation has made it impossible for this lifting of the soul to be anything else than a touch of God.
Sebastian Moore, The Fire and the Rose are One, p.106
It was only the conflict between Jesus and the forces of this world that the disciples had to face the ultimate crisis of the soul, the death of God which dissolves the master-slave relationship and leaves a void. That void is filled by Jesus newly and bewilderingly alive: alive in a way for which there is no category and in which life’s ultimate value and meaningfulness are not shadowed and questioned by death.
Sebastian Moore, The Fire and the Rose are One, p.112.
Jesus reassures us that every effort to love ourselves and others more faithfully, however imperfectly we are able to do this, is a response to God’s call to love as he loved. It is a response to the two greatest commandments as they stand in relationship to one another
Paula Ripple, Called to Be Friends
For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity, and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
Many find Jesus’ teaching on enemy love and forgiveness a stumbling block to faith. Because we find it too difficult to practice, we dismiss it as unrealistic and utopian. We should think again, and we should pray that it is not unrealistic, because this congruence of Jesus—the consistency between his teaching on forgiveness and his action on the cross—is really our only hope. It is all that stands between us and the consequences of our monumental frailty. Thank God today that Jesus died as he lived, because with those words, ‘Father, forgive...’ he forgives us all, and he forgives us still.
Peter Storey, Listening at Golgotha: Jesus’ Words from the Cross
When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.
Understand that all battles are waged on an unconscious level before they are begun on the conscious one, and this battle is no different. The power structure wishes us to believe that the only options available are those which they present to us, we know this is simply not true, and therefore we must redefine the terrain of this conflict, and clearly, it is a conflict of worldviews and agendas.
The soldier does not wish to appear a coward, disloyal, or un-American. The situation has been so defined that he can see himself as patriotic, courageous, and manly only through compliance.
Fascism is capitalism plus murder.
Upton Sinclair, (AKA: Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr), American Novelist and polemicist, 1878-1968
Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.
Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998), Historian and author
The coward wretch whose hand and heart can bear to torture aught below, Is ever first to quail and start from the slightest pain or equal foe.
The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), Russian novelist
Our enemies didn't adhere to the Geneva Convention. Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death. But every one of us -- every single one of us -- knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or countenancing such mistreatment of them.
John McCain, Republican US Senator
... the United States, for generations, has sustained two parallel but opposed states of mind about military atrocities and human rights: one of U.S. benevolence, generally held by the public, and the other of ends-justify-the-means brutality sponsored by counterinsurgency specialists. Normally the specialists carry out their actions in remote locations with little notice in the national press. That allows the public to sustain its faith in a just America, while hard-nosed security and economic interests are still protected in secret.
Robert Parry, investigative reporter and author
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.
The bad things that happen are repetitions of bad things that have always happened—war, racism, maltreatment of women, religious and nationalist fanaticism, starvation. The good things that happen are unexpected, and yet explainable by certain truths which spring at us from time to time, but which we tend to forget:
Political power, however formidable, is more fragile than we think. Note how nervous are those who hold it.
Ordinary people can be intimidated for a time, can be fooled for a time, but they have a down-deep common sense, and sooner or later they find a way to challenge the power that oppresses them.
People are not naturally violent or cruel or greedy, although they can be made so. Human beings everywhere want the same things: they are moved by the sight of abandoned children, homeless families, the casualties of war; they long for peace, for friendship and affection across lines of race and nationality.
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.
Howard Zinn, ‘Born Yesterday’, Tikkun Magazine
Eternal Spirit, Lover of our souls and bodies,
We thank you and praise you for your enduring love.
May we cherish our own embodiment
as we do yours – that fleshly-wrap housing the Spirit
of infinitesimal power and grace.
May we continue to honor the Temple within,
and gratefully treat our body
that reflects your very presence.
In the name of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. Amen.
Some reflections on the readings……….
‘Do not be afraid’ is a refrain that is dotted throughout the Bible.as applied to Abraham, to Daniel; to Zechariah; to Mary at the Annunciation; the startled shepherds at Jesus’ birth, to Peter, James and John on the mountain [transfiguration]; to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb; and finally to Joseph. It was spelt out to Ahaz who relied on what was outside him for security rather than the God who walks with all of us.
We have many reasons to be afraid: domestic violence and abroad; climate change; job insecurity; our children’s futures; street violence and drugs; bullying in school and workplaces; and, economic insecurity. This fear is makes us turn on Muslim people, asylum seekers who will take our jobs, the growth of China, US belligerency; racism as expressed by Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson. Fear can interfere with our capacity to relate to people in need and to respond to God’s word. It is fear that causes us to scapegoat people. It causes us to scapegoat people; to separate ourselves from others. It makes us want to protect our borders from asylum seekers. It is fear that wants us to build more security around ourselves – whether psychologically or physically – rather than engage in dialogue and understanding. Our world seems so fear-filled and fear-full. We hear how people are intimidated as the powerful patriarchal system still has a strangle hold on millions of people around the world. This is the system that makes war on innocents; that peddles war to our young and creates child soldiers, that can shamefully appoint a military man as chancellor of a Catholic university without question; that puts children into slavery and the sex trade; that victimises the pregnant young girl by finding new ways of shaming her; that judges people with mental illness or other disabilities as ‘unprofitable’; that sees same-sex marriage as a threat not only to marriage but also to society; that persecutes the vulnerable who seek our protection – whether they be youth, women, refugees and asylum seekers.
‘Do not be afraid’ is the Advent and Christmas message. We are reminded that it is love, not fear, that is to be the critical characteristic of our lives – that it is love, not fear, that is to be the critical characteristic of our lives.
Joseph responds to God’s word through the messenger. He is enabled to act with compassion, to forego his rights and privileges, especially his patriarchal prerogatives, and take Mary to be his, and ours. Joseph teaches us that the purpose of marriage is less about sex and reproduction but about caring, compassion and protection of the other.
Christmas offers a chance to reconsider our options, to think again, to go back to our dreams, and listen for the voices that say: Do not be afraid to forgo your privileges. The inability to forgo those privileges affects women, people of colour, and people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Whether distinctions of race, family, citizenship, money, class, sexual orientation, gender privilege, age, beauty, training, education, or all of the above - what is being conceived in all of us is a name which means ‘God Is With Us’ - God with all of us, not just some of us…
Can we contemplate for a moment that it is God's Spirit who makes all things new through this baby? That God is always coming to us in surprising places and surprising [less expected] people to offer new life. As God with us, we hear that God is decisively present in our world and makes everything new. The Gospels provide all the evidence for that: wherever Jesus came, he showed up where people were in need, and he saved them - lepers, the deaf, the blind, the lame, the hungry, the unclean, even the dead. His very presence makes new life possible.
But there is something comforting in that the gospels today link Jesus through Joseph with a pretty dodgy house of David. Just reading about David we hear of intrigue, murder, betrayal and adultery. Jesus’ family. The comforting thing is that trawling through the Davidic dynasty is that Jesus seems quite content to own all is his ancestors – the good, bad and ugly the implication is that Jesus is happy to own us. It is a powerful motivation to put away our fears. Brennan Manning in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel says there is something radically wrong. The powers of this world have bent our minds and twisted the good news of the gospel into religious bondage and distorted the image of God into an eternal, small-minded book-keeper. This is reflected in the Christian community where the elite are honoured and the ordinary ignored. Too many people are living in the house of fear and not in the house of love.
The shock and the scandal of the good news is ‘the furious love of God’ (Chesterton). The God of Jesus is the only God we have ever heard of that loves sinners… whereas the corporate gods despise sinners, the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalised, the slack ones, the ones who continue to fail. The Christmas story is that God is with us as never before in our flesh born of a woman: God is with us in the healing with a touch, forgiving with a word, instilling courage into hopeless hearts; betrayed by a kiss, put to death, but also raised - with us. Those among us who have had losses this year will feel poignantly the gaps and holes that have been left by the passing of a mother, father, child, sibling or dear friend. These are very real but the One Who is Coming every day comes also to touch those places with compassion and love to enable us to continue our journey of recognising the face of Jesus in the many ‘others’ that cross our paths.
Though Mary is silent today, Matthew is not silent about women. He includes five from Jesus’ genealogy – all women who in some way defied sexual norms. Rahab who saved Joshua in Canaan ran a brothel. Judah’s daughter in law, Tamar, dressed herself as a prostitute and lured him into having intercourse with her so that she would no longer be a childless widow. Ruth, Naomi’s daughter in law, saved them both from starvation by seducing Naomi’s older cousin, Boaz. Bathsheba, the wife of one of David’s generals produces a son for him (David), who in turn had the general murdered in battle. Then there is Mary, who is never identified as Joseph’s wife, though he is identified as her husband. This ‘sordid’ history must serve as a prelude to Jesus’ attitude toward women: he reaches to the woman accused of adultery including woman labelled as prostitutes, the Samaritan woman who had five husbands, the woman possessed by demons, the bent over woman, the woman with the haemorrhage, and finally the woman who anointed his feet with costly ointment. Jesus met these women, and many other people in the irregularities of their lives. These represent all people who with little to lose have cast their lot in with one who does not conform to the expectations of the world (or the church).
Though Joseph does not get much attention in the Church Matthew begins with him at centre stage. He names this child ‘Jesus’ (the liberator) and ‘Emmanuel’ (God is with us and will be with us). As liberator he will ‘save people’ from all that oppresses them and prevents fullness of life because of selfishness, greed, violence and vengeance. Christ's liberation is not the political liberation the Hebrews expected. They expected one who would seize power and rule like other kings, whereas true political liberation is from the injustice where the claims of the dominant culture will be dismantled and nullified by his solidarity with marginal and vulnerable people.
The name ‘Emmanuel’ (God is with us) is more than a nice name for a sweet baby. It tells us that the chill of our world has been pierced by love and that this love will not let go of us. It is not just a title but a name that frames the whole of Matthew’s Gospel. It tells the story of what God is about -that God is not a distant cheerleader but present and will always be with us and travels with us through our lives. In Jesus, all could encounter God and experience God's saving grace, God's tender mercies, God's healing love. But we know that in Jesus we hear about God's expectations, too, even though we know they are beyond our capacity. Those beautiful Beatitudes are hard to live up to, as are many of the teachings of Jesus. When we are afraid or feel we can never measure up to the demands of the gospel, we might ponder with Joseph the meaning of the name of Jesus, ‘he will save,’ and remember that it's God who is acting here, not us. In our own efforts to be ‘righteous, ‘there's One who helps us when we fall short, One who is always with us.’ In fact, that's why ‘Emmanuel’ frames the entire Gospel of Matthew: it begins with a baby who is ‘God with us,’ and ends with that child, grown, promising that he will always be with us: ‘In many ways the whole purpose of Matthew's Gospel is to show how Jesus is 'Emmanuel', God with us, and at the end of the story [28:20] Jesus will promise to be Emmanuel for the rest of human history as well’
Joseph participates in liberation. The Angel Gabriel, who whispered the Qur'an into Muhammad’s ear, and who continues to speak to us of God, comes to dispel our fears. ‘Do not be afraid.’ Many people seem fear-filled and fear-full. People are intimidated as the powerful patriarchal system has a strangle hold on millions of people around the world: this system makes war on innocents; peddles war to our young and creates child soldiers; unquestionably puts a military man as chancellor of a Catholic university; puts children into slavery and the sex trade; victimises the pregnant young girl and finds new ways to shame her; that has little room for a woman outside of marriage; judges people with disabilities as ‘unprofitable’; sees same-sex marriage as a threat to marriage and to society; persecutes the vulnerable who seek our protection.
Joseph responds to God’s word through the messenger. He is enabled to act with compassion, to forego his rights and privileges, especially his patriarchal prerogatives and take Mary to be his, and ours. Joseph teaches us that the purpose of marriage is not just sex and the reproduction of children, but caring, compassion and protection of the other. The good news is that God responds to faithfulness by generating new life. Joseph is a sign of the many who practise faithfulness without fuss or fanfare. That is repeated in peoples’ lives over and over again in our parishes, local communities, cities and rural places.
The challenge for us is to recognise God’s presence in all situations and circumstances. We can doubt God’s love in times of grief, pain and trauma, but we find comfort, healing and strength when we are able to experience God’s ‘with-us-ness’ even in such times. And, when we are able to help others to recognise and experience God’s presence and love in their lives – whatever they may be going through – then we have truly become Advent people.
May we be aware of, and care for, those in need as a visible reflection of God’s care. Beyond the walls of the church, simple compassion and solidarity can reflect God’s care. Whatever we may choose to do, the key to experiencing Immanuel again this Advent, is to offer ourselves to be ‘little Immanuels’ in practical ways in our own world.