22 December 20194 Advent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
4 Advent
Fourth Sunday of Advent - A Cycle - Matthew 1:18-24

A child was terrified of the dark. Her father tried to calm her by saying God was in the bedroom with her. She still was upset. She told her dad, "I want a God with skin on Him."

The Christmas season for most of us is speeding in the fast lane miles above the speed level. It is bearing down on us like a truck out of control.

Theoretically these last few weeks should be spiritual quality time between the approaching Christ and ourselves. But preachers are spitting into the wind. Many Catholics will first touch Jesus when, exhausted, they put the chipped plaster Infant back into the shoe box after the Epiphany. Then they put it in the dusty attic for the next year.

The malls that ring our towns decree that gift-hunting season opens the day after Thanksgiving's turkey find its way into the soup pot. Malls can't wait to get their hands on our wallets.

This is one of the worst times of the year for many. Depression before the holiday arrives as faithfully as credit card bills arrive after it. The University of Utah School of Medicine has reported that ninety percent of us suffer from emotional reactions brought on by Christmas stress.

In Chicago, three hundred counselors operated a hot line one year from December 21 through 27. They clocked two thousand calls from depressed people. Suicide rates rise significantly. Death from heart attack and natural causes peak on Dec 25 and 26 and Jan 1. (A sacramental confession this week is a good investment.) Alcoholics, who have been dry for years, will find their way back to friendly, neighborhood liquor stores. "Spare me Christmas wrapping," they will snarl.

Children suffer anxieties about Santa's existence. They become greedy because of too many gifts or envious because of too few. "I want," said a boy, "any kind of gift as long as it's expensive." Non-Christians feel shut out since they are told Jesus is the reason for the season and wise men still search for Him.

Even Norman Rockwell's blue-haired grandmother is hiding in a Florida condo where kids are as welcome as hurricanes.

This we are advised is the season to be merry, but the above suggests many of us would be wiser to be wary.

Jules Feiffer puts it this way: "Every Christmas the family gathers together and fights about presents and why we don't get together more often. And it occurs to me the Bible must have the dates wrong. Christ was born on Good Friday and crucified on Christmas. Isn't everybody?"

But Jesus the Christ whose birthday we celebrate can hardly be enthralled by the style of many of us who claim to be authentic Christians. If you want to better understand what it cost God to become one of us, think how you would feel becoming a cockroach. (CS Lewis)

One is more inclined to look more kindly on Ebenezer Scrooge. There is an awful lot of humbug in Christmas.

Yet, Jesus is not humbug. The birth of Christ brings the infinite God within reach of finite man. (Unknown) The girl who began this homily is going to get God with skin on Him.

When you look into the stable, you witness the Absolute in swaddling clothes and Omnipotence in bonds. (John Newman) The Incarnation is superb poetry, exquisite painting, and sublime music wrapped into one gayly wrapped package.

One never tires of Jesus as a subject. The cover stories of both Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report regularly mark His nativity. One reason for featuring Him so often is that their circulation invariably increases. Born twenty centuries ago, Jesus still sells. Mel Gibson broke all records with his DVD version of The Passion of the Christ. He sold nine million copies in three weeks at $22 a clip. The first book published by Pope Benedict XVI is called "Jesus of Nazareth." It quickly found a home on the Best Seller list of The New York Times.

As you read these lines, dozens of writers, unknown to one another, work at their computers around this cosmos to produce still one more volume on Him. This despite the fact that the Library of Congress already has twice as many books on Jesus as any other subject.

Artists at their easels struggle to paint His portrait again.

Have you seen Andy Warhol's Nativity? Composers struggle to salute Him with a fresh musical score. Will it ever be otherwise? I believe not.

Tell others of Jesus. But firstly allow Him to be born in you. He can't be born again, but we can. (James Tahaney)

If you want to be considered subversive this week, answer "Merry Christmas" when people wish you "Happy Holidays."

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
4 Advent
Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Joseph the Righteous, Joseph the Just,
Joseph the Compassionate

Today's Gospel gives us the opportunity to focus in on one of the main figures in the stories of the Birth of Our Lord, or the Infancy Narratives, St. Joseph.  First of all, the term infancy narratives.  These are the Christmas stories as found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  The Prologue of the Gospel of John gives a theological presentation of the Eternal Word of God become flesh, but John starts his narrative with the events that took place when the Lord had already become a man, the preaching of John the Baptist and the baptism of the Lord. 

The Infancy Narratives in the Gospel of Luke present Joseph as the foster father of the Lord, but the main focus outside of Jesus is placed on Mary. It's the Gospel of Matthew, today's gospel to be exact, that focuses on Joseph.  This makes a great deal of sense.  Matthew's main audience was Jewish Christians.  Joseph was of the line of David.  The Jewish people were very much aware that God had promised David that his Kingdom would never end.

But the Gospel also makes it clear that Joseph was not the natural or birth father of the Lord.  Mary was a Virgin.  The child was conceived through the Holy Spirit.  So, why is Jesus seen as part of the line of David through Joseph?  This is because Joseph names the child.  For the ancients this meant he had made the child his own.  We can even say that he adopted the child.  Now we view adoption as a legal procedure.  The ancients viewed adoption as both a legal act and a spiritual act.  When a man adopted a child, all that made that man who he is, his background, his ancestry, all of this poured out upon the child.  When Joseph named the child, adopted the child, Kind David, King Solomon, and all that was part of Joseph's ancestry became part of Jesus' ancestry.  The prophets predicted that the Messiah would come through the line of David.  This takes place through Joseph.

Even though the infancy narratives in Matthew focus on Joseph, Joseph is not quoted.  But we still know a great deal about him.  We know that he was a righteous man.  That meant that he was in the right with God.  And we know that Joseph was open to the guidance of God, given to him three different times in dreams. 

One of Joseph's ancestors was the patriarch Joseph.   This was the son of Jacob whom God spoke to through dreams.  His brothers, you remember, were jealous of him and were about to put him to death, when they changed their mind and sold him into slavery to an Egyptian merchant.  The merchant's wife tried to entice Joseph, but he remained honorable, so she had him put into prison, claiming that he assaulted her.  Joseph's righteousness was rewarded by God.  Joseph had dreams about a coming famine in the area.  The Pharaoh heard about these and sent for Joseph.  He believed him and placed Joseph as administrator of the Kingdom of Egypt.  Joseph had huge silos built to store grain for coming years.  When the famine came, Egypt had plenty and could also sell their grain to other nations. You might remember that Joseph's brother's came groveling to him when famine hit their families.

Our Joseph, St. Joseph, received three dreams of which we are aware.  In the first, and most important, he was told not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.  A second dream took place after the birth in Bethlehem. Joseph was told to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt for the wicked King Herod meant to kill Jesus.  After Herod died, and while the Holy Family was in Egypt, Joseph had another dream, this one telling him to return to Palestine, which he did but avoiding Jerusalem.

The most important information we have about Joseph is not that he was a dreamer; it was that Joseph was a righteous man, a just man.  A just person puts his or her relationship with God before all else in life and cares for people as God would care for them.  In scriptures, someone who is just reflects God's compassion.

We all know the story so well.  Joseph was about to marry a beautiful young girl.  Then he learned that she was pregnant.  He was devastated. He must have been heart broken.  His life must have appeared to be shattered.  Now Jewish Law would come to the aid of a man in his situation.  The offending woman would be tried, and most probably killed.  If there were extenuating circumstances and she was lucky, she would be cast out of society, and treated with scorn the rest of her life, a pariah, an outcast, forced to beg for food for herself and her child.

Joseph was a just man.  Joseph was a compassionate man.  He would not do this to the girl.  He would not expose Mary to the law.  He was certain that God couldn't possibly want that to happen.  He would send her away to a distant relative where she could live somewhat of a normal life with the child.  Treating Mary with kindness was more important than his rights before the Law. 

There is a great deal that we need to learn from St. Joseph.  So many times we invoke the law of the land rather than consider how God is calling us to behave.  We rush to sue someone who has offended us instead of consider how we can settle the situation in a Christ like way.  We hide behind the law as we tear apart families.

The basic problem is that there are many Americans who place country before God.  St. Paul tells us that in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven.  God comes first, then country.  What we need to do as Catholics is work hard that our country's laws reflect the law of the Kingdom.  What we should never do is invoke the law of the land over the law of God.

Joseph was exposed to ridicule.  Some people had to have known that Mary was pregnant and that Joseph was not the father.  Joseph had the law on his side.  But Joseph was just.  He was compassionate. He asked himself, "What would God want me to do?"  Then he made the decision to protect Mary, even though at that point in his mind, it appeared that she had offended him.  He would send her away where she could be safe.  It was after Joseph made the decision to do what God would want him to do, that the angel appeared to him in the dream.  He was not only to care for Mary and the child.  Joseph was to name the child.  This child would really, perhaps not physically, but really be Joseph's. The Church recognizes that by becoming the father of the Holy Family, Joseph became the father of the Universal Church. 

Joseph is one of our greatest saints.  His greatness flows from the fact that Joseph was righteous.  Joseph was just.  Joseph was compassionate. Today we pray to St. Joseph to give us the courage to be righteous.  Give us the courage, St. Joseph, to choose the way of the Kingdom of Love over the ways of the kingdoms of man. 

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
4 Advent

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
4 Advent
Fourth Sunday of Advent

We are now in the period of immediate preparation for Christmas and the scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent reflect this with the first reading being an extract from Isaiah which explicitly predicts the Virgin Birth. This text is chosen by the Church for the liturgy this Sunday in order to highlight the fact that it was not just the coming of a Messiah that was foretold in the Old Testament but even some of the circumstances of his birth, most especially the fact that he was to be born of a virgin mother.

The Gospel text then provides us with the account of the immediate events leading up to the birth of Jesus and explicitly quotes the prophecy of Isaiah which we already heard in the first reading. The key character in the extract set before us is Joseph to whom all the circumstances are revealed in a dream.

Matthew's Gospel contains more about St Joseph than any of the other Gospel writers. St Luke mentions him seven times but none of these tell us very much about Joseph himself. He only gets one brief mention in the Gospel of Mark and two passing references in the Gospel of John.

Matthew is much more explicit and we are told about the four extraordinary dreams of Joseph the first of which is presented to us in today's reading. In a further dream, he is instructed to take his family into Egypt to escape King Herod's wrath and then once the danger is over another dream informs him that it is now safe to return home to Israel. The final dream warns him to go to Galilee instead of Judea.

About the only actual description of Joseph in the Bible is also given by Matthew in today's reading where it simply states that he was a man of honour. This says a very great deal about Joseph and anyone would be quite proud to have those words said about them as a final epitaph, that they were a person of honour.

I suppose it is because Matthew was a Jew that he tells us more about Joseph. It was important to the Jews to be able to identify one's father for it was from your father that you were able to establish your legitimacy.

Anyway, the main point is that Joseph did the right thing. The true paternity of Mary's child is revealed to him in the dream and he does what he is asked by the Angel and marries Mary and protects her and the child Jesus, returning only to his own village once things were safe for them. These are indeed honourable actions for which he is to be highly commended.

We admire Joseph because he does not question the Angel; he simply does what he is asked to do, recognising that these instructions come ultimately from God. We would do well to imitate Joseph in our own lives especially when we are faced with circumstances which are far from ideal. We should take him for our model and do the right thing at the time when it is needed.

And the fact that Joseph does his duty and protects Mary and Jesus in time of danger is something else that he ought to be commended for. A husband protects his wife, a wife protects her husband and both protect their child. These after all are the principal duties that fall to those who are married. Carrying out these responsibilities is important for the welfare of each family and indeed serves the good of society as a whole.

In these final days of Advent we prepare ourselves to celebrate the feast of Christmas. Let's not, however, focus on all the practical preparations, all the shopping, all the decorating and all the cooking. What we have to understand is that it is far more important for us, who profess ourselves to be Christians, at this particular time to focus on the actual events of Christ's birth.

As we come to the end of the Advent season we ought to be spending time in thinking and meditating on the Christmas mysteries. We ought take a little time out to read for ourselves the Biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus and let them speak to us. Our prayers in this immediate pre-Christmas period should be centred on the coming of the Saviour of the World. And as we do these things, as we meditate on the birth of Christ, our hearts will be filled with hope for all that he represents.

We realise that this was not just any birth, miraculous enough as all births are in themselves; but our recognition is that this is the birth of the one who has come to redeem and save the world. The coming of Jesus is the coming of our salvation, it is the coming of the one who forgives our sins and it is the coming of the Son of God who invites us to share in the life of heaven.

These are weighty things. These are matters of the greatest possible significance. What was achieved through the birth of Jesus was nothing less than the irrevocable first step in the salvation of the entire word.

For some people, most notably those who do not profess the Christian faith, the story of the birth of the Christ Child is nice but not significant. For many it is a beautiful story but of no greater consequence than a legend. Many of those who do not subscribe to the Christian faith simply don't know what to make of the Biblical accounts of the Virgin Birth; for them it is an event whose significance is totally unclear.

But for us Christians the events that took place on the hillside in Bethlehem are earth shattering because they open up for us the road to glory. These events are what make eternal life in heaven possible. For us there is nothing that could surpass their importance.

This explains the joy in our hearts as we celebrate the feast of Christmas. This explains why we want to make up with those we have offended. This is the reason we want to confess our sins. This is the motive behind our celebrations. This tells you why we want to give each other gifts. This tells you too why we come to Church and give praise to God on that most special day of the year.
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