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Bishop's Homily for the Fourth Sunday Advent

December 22, 2019

[St. John the Apostle & Evangelist Church, Mililani; St. Joseph Church, Waipahu (with Adult Confirmations)]

As you may know, only two of the four gospels say anything about the infancy and childhood of Jesus -- Matthew and Luke.  Luke is by far the more romantic, speaking of dialogues with angels, angel choirs, and the scene that we have certainly romanticized of the baby Jesus lying in the manger.  While Luke is also a realist, it is Matthew’s gospel, which we hear today, and in fact most of this year, that confronts the characters in Jesus’ life with some very hard realities.

Sometimes we are so accustomed to hearing a reading that we do not pick up what is between the lines, so let’s look again at this gospel.  One would think that being the mother of the Messiah, of the Savior of the world, would be pure privilege and pure joy.  Or that being the husband of Mary would be an honor beyond compare.  But the humanness of the story needs to be emphasized.

Joseph and Mary were betrothed, that is formally and officially engaged, but not married.  We may romanticize Mary’s pregnancy, but imagine the anguish she must have felt informing Joseph and her parents that she was pregnant -- and claiming that it was not Joseph or any other man who had been involved, but the Holy Spirit!  “O isn’t that lovely, dear!” is not the response that I imagine.  And when she told Joseph, think of the hurt and anger there must have been.  How could a woman who seemed so honest and so loving betray him in that way?  Did she think he was a fool that he would believe this story about being pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit?  Luke’s gospel has the angel Gabriel say to Mary, “Rejoice, O highly favored daughter!”  Matthew does not immediately allude to joy, but to crisis, a possible divorce.

But then the joy came, because Joseph put faith in the message he had received in a dream, and his faith strengthened him not only to believe the unbelievable, but to act on it.

Ahaz, too, is worth noting.  Ahaz was the king of Judah, and two of his stronger enemies entered into an alliance to invade Judah and take over its land.  Ahaz naturally began to think of how best he could stave off the attack, and so he was inclined to make an alliance with his neighbor Assyria to rebuff the attack.  Then Isaiah comes along and says, “God says he does not want you to do anything.  God will take care of you.  You don’t need a military alliance or protection.  You need to trust in God.  And to bolster your faith in God, ask him for a sign.”  Then continues today’s reading.  In other words, no matter how difficult or even hopeless things seem, put your trust in God, and God will take care of you.  Believe the unbelievable.

So here we are, a few days before the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, and we have so many problems in the world and in our own lives.  As we proclaim the coming of the Wonder-Counselor, we stand before him with many fears and sorrows.  As we try to make merry, someone here is out of work, someone else has a loved one in the hospital, another person is in the darkness of depression, another is facing a life-threatening illness, parents are worried about their son in the armed forces, and a family is mourning their loved one who just died.  And for many this season of peace is much more a season of stress, and although we sometimes say we welcome it with joy, in some ways we will be glad when it is over.  Joy to the world!

In the midst of all this, we are like Joseph, choosing to believe what God says rather than what seems obvious to everyone else.  Matthew’s gospel is starkly realistic, but it is a gospel, it is Good News, the same good news that Paul proclaims:  God is with us!  Emmanuel!

To sit still while one’s enemies are plotting to destroy you may seem foolish, but sometimes it is to test our faith in the power of God.  To believe someone who tells you something that is unimaginably far-fetched and hurtful and to marry her anyway seems to go against the grain of all human sensibility.  But God is with us!  Emmanuel!

Of all the realities we encounter in life, be they good or bad, joyful or sorrowful, the most real of all is our faith in the power of God manifested to us in the flesh in Jesus Christ.  We may not always see how, but we believe with all our souls that God is with us, Emmanuel.  And in the midst of tragic news, there is good news, that our salvation is found when we believe the unbelievable:  God is with us!  Emmanuel!