4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR A ON DECEMBER 22, 2019 (R. 1: Isaiah 7: 10- 14; Psalm 24: 1- 2, 3- 4, 5- 6; R. 2: Romans 1: 1- 7; Gospel: Matthew 1: 18- 24)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
TIME SHALL TELL
The story of how the birth of Jesus came about, as narrated by Matthew in today’s Gospel passage is like the preview for a movie; it is like the table of contents of a book. The table of contents tells us the topics that will be discussed in the book. Then when we get into the body of the book, we see the details of the topics. Similarly, today’s Gospel passage gives us a hint of what will become of the child in the womb. There are three hints or topics that we can identify about Jesus in this passage, namely scandal, law versus love, and quiet confidence.
Scandal: the pregnancy of Mary first appeared like a scandal. How can one explain that a virgin is pregnant? She is betrothed to Joseph; she is now pregnant, but Joseph is not responsible for the pregnancy. There is no sin here; the Holy Spirit is at work. Sometimes, when the Holy Spirit is at work, it is misunderstood as scandalous because of the inability of human beings to fully understand the things of the Spirit. This narrative gives us a hint of what this child will be. As an embryo in the womb, he is already causing “scandal,” imagine what he will be as an adult: he will challenge the status quo, he will be “caught” eating and drinking with sinners and tax collectors, he will “claim” to be God/God’s Son. The earthly-minded will see him as a source of scandal, but the reality will be that God is at work in him.
Law versus love: Joseph had the right to expose Mary and have her stoned to death because of adultery (cf. Deuteronomy 22:23-24). But he decided to spare her and divorce her secretly. By this, he became a good example of “hate the sin but love the sinner.” In this case, Joseph was able to distinguish between the person (Mary) and her perceived sin (adultery). He was able to identify love as the foundation of law. He wanted to keep the law by his plan to divorce Mary, but love was the foundation, so he planned to protect Mary from shame and death by his plan to divorce her quietly. This aspect of Joseph is like the table of contents giving us a hint of what this child will be. In his public ministry, Jesus will teach that he came to fulfill the law, that love is the foundation and the fulfillment of the law. When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus said that love is the center of God’s law, that is, love of God and love of neighbor (cf. Matthew 22:36-40).
Quiet confidence: In Isaiah 30: 15, the Lord says that your strength shall be found in quietness and confidence. Mary was dealing with a lot in today’s Gospel passage. She knew she was pregnant; she knew she had not lost her virginity, such an unprecedented combination! She knew the angel Gabriel visited her and that she was carrying God in her womb as a child. She had every reason to defend herself, but she was mute, she was confidently quiet as she pondered everything in her heart. This step taken by Mary is also part of the table of contents. It prepares us for what the child will do when he grows up. At his trial before Pilate, Jesus knew his identity; he knew his mission, he knew his origin. He had earlier said that he is the “way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), but when Pilate asked him “What is truth?” (cf. John 18:38ff), he was confidently quiet, just like his mother, who pondered everything in her heart about thirty-three years earlier.
We have two lessons from today’s gospel passage, one from Joseph and one from Mary. It is not uncommon to hear people blame their actions/inactions on their conditions or circumstances. For example, a person may say, “I am generally a good person; it was the condition that led me into doing bad things; I was pushed to the wall.” But I am becoming more convinced that conditions do not change people; they only reveal who they are. Joseph found himself in a condition that would have “changed” the gentle/loving Joseph to a murderous Joseph; he had every reason to have allowed the condition of Mary’s perceived betrayal to push him to be wicked to Mary, but he remained true to himself. So, when we find ourselves doing evil in certain conditions, rather than blame the condition, it is better to take responsibility and accept the fact that the condition has brought out our true self and if we are not comfortable with who we are, the next step is to work on ourselves to bring out a better version of ourselves.
In Mary, we learn the power of time. Time is one precious gift that we have here on earth. Time heals, time also reveals and answers a lot of questions. Mary knew what was going on in her, she knew what the angel revealed to her, but she did not go around defending herself. She waited for God’s time to make things known. The initial perception was that of scandal (adultery), but when the right time came, the angel told Joseph the true story behind Mary’s pregnancy. When the right time came, her son’s life began to show that he was not a product of adultery. Jesus was falsely accused of blasphemy, that he claimed to be God, but when the right time came on the cross, one of the centurions declared, “This truly was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).
My dearly beloved in Christ, what is going on in you at this moment? Maybe in your family, in your place of work, in your school, in your neighborhood, in your church, there is a misconception about you, there is a malicious rumor making the rounds about you, your good works are being used against you. Mary is teaching us the power of quiet confidence, the power of time, and the power of trust in God. There are things that words may not be able explain, but time will explain. As you go through the temporary pain of false allegation or wrong perception of you, remember that every lie has a date of expiration; and that no one can suppress the truth forever. What you are going through may not make any sense at the moment, but in the future, you will look back and thank God that you did not interfere in the plans of God. In God, we trust; may our trust in God never put us to shame until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.