19 December 2010

"A Tale of Two Sons of David" by Fr. Anthony Strouse

Fourth Sunday of Advent
            “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  You don’t have to be a Jeopardy contestant to recognize that this quote comes from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  It follows a number of different characters in London and Paris (the two cities to which the title refers) before the French Revolution.
            Our first reading and our Gospel today could be called A Tale of Two Sons of David (granted it doesn’t have the same ring).  In the first reading we have King Ahaz, the king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  Now, if we just skim over the reading, we may wonder why Isaiah the prophet is so hard on him.  After all, we often hear that we shouldn’t need to ask for signs from God; we should just have faith.
            But in this case, upon closer examination, we realize that God told Ahaz to ask for a sign.  Rather than being obedient to the Lord, likely speaking through Isaiah the prophet, Ahaz has a false piety which makes him think that God is trying to trip him up in telling Ahaz to ask for a sign, and so he declines the offer for a sign: “‘I will not ask!  I will not tempt the LORD.’”
            But God promises a sign to him anyway, a sign which is fulfilled in Jesus: “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”  And Emmanuel means God-with-us.  Jesus is the manifestation of the Father’s love, the Father’s very presence on earth.  He loves to be with us and just spend time with us, as a loving parent loves simply spending time with their children.
            Now the other son of David, St. Joseph, was almost the exact opposite.  He did not fake piety, but, as the Gospel relates, “was a righteous man.”  When he found out that Mary was pregnant, he assumed it was by some other man.  But, not wishing to bring shame to Mary, and really, if he wanted to, he could have had Mary killed, he decided to quietly divorce her.  Rather than taking full advantage of the Law that God had given through Moses, St. Joseph, because he was righteous, decides to extend mercy to Mary. 
            And because of his righteousness, and close attention to following the spirit of the Law, God gives St. Joseph a sign, a dream, without St. Joseph even asking for it, to confirm that the child in Mary’s womb was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and which will fulfill the prophecy made to the first son of David, King Ahaz.  But, whereas the earlier son of David, Ahaz, doubted the Lord, the later son of David, Joseph, “did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” 
            As we round out this Advent Season and prepare for Christmas on Saturday, we have those two examples that we can follow: Ahaz and Joseph.  If we take Ahaz as our example, then the way we enter into Christmas is just to be very passive, and not really enter into the season.  We let the busyness of this last week of Christmas preparation: buying presents, sending cards, Christmas parties, etc., take over.  The problem is not the activity itself, but whether or not that is taking center stage in our lives.
            If we take Joseph as our example, then we make this last week of Advent a time of faith and mercy.  We still celebrate, and still prepare for the secular celebration, but we also try to take simple steps to trust more in the Holy Spirit and less in ourselves.  We seek mercy more than justice.  We spend time in silence thanking God for how much He really does want to be with us, to be Emmanuel.  
            And for us to be like Joseph doesn’t mean we need to have powerful dreams with God speaking to us as He did to Joseph.  Having faith in God means maybe saying a quick prayer before we go shopping for presents that God will guide us in making the right choices, not just that we get the gift that the person wants, but that reflects good stewardship of the gifts God has given to us, and that will build up the other person in holiness, even if that is done simply by allowing the person to relax and recreate in a new way.  Having faith in God means preparing to cook that Christmas dinner, or the part that we were given, but to trust God that it will turn out alright and provide nourishment for those who partake of it.  Having faith means celebrating with friends and family with all the usual Christmas songs that we hear and love, but making sure that our minds and hearts are focused on the real reason for Christmas: Jesus Christ our Lord and God.
            And just like Joseph, who was not well known, and is never recorded as saying a word in the Gospels, when we are faithful and grow in faith it will often not be in ways that many others notice, and that we might not even notice at first, but growing in faith will allow us to be more open to recognizing Christ in unexpected situations and providing for Him, just as St. Joseph protected Jesus by protecting and caring for the Blessed Mother, through our caring for family, friends, the poor, and the outcast.  Our Lord is coming and will not delay.  Blessed are those faithful servants whom the Master finds ready to welcome Him on His arrival.