4th Sunday Of Advent
Deacon Tom Vert
Preached: December 22, 2019
“Please ensure you listen when your name is called! “
So last Saturday morning, Carmela and I were in the San Juan airport coming back from a cruise vacation (sorry Father Mark – I know deacon’s have too much vacation time!)
So, we arrived at the port around 7am, but we had a later 5pm flight home, so we decided to go to the airport early and thought we would go try to fly on standby at 1pm.
The person at the gate said the flight was pretty full, but we might make it. We were at the far end of the airport with 3 gates loading at the same time and a large crowd was there with people sitting on the floor, children running around and many people eager to get home.
The gate attendant says to us – here are the seat requests, no guarantee, but she looked at me in the eye and said, “please ensure you listen when your name is called!”
She was implying to stay close to the gate, listen to announcements, don’t be distracted with our phones, or downloading a Netflix movie, or reading a book, or shopping for last minute gifts – be ready to hear and act!
This ability to listen when your name is called, to be able to listen to God when he speaks to us, is a theme in the readings today on this 4th Sunday of Advent.
In the readings we have a real contrast between one person who is listening to God and another who is not and just does their own thing, with very different results.
In the first reading from Isaiah, we hear of king Ahaz, who we know from history was one of the bad kings of Israel. Ahaz was very self-reliant and worshiped other gods and not Yahweh of Israel. He was morally and spiritually corrupt.
In today’s reading, we see that the prophet Isaiah is trying to give him advice from God – he tells Ahaz: “ask for a sign!”:
But we see that Ahaz was not open to a sign from God using excuses – I don’t want to put God to the test. In reality, he was already negotiating a deal with the king of Assyria and wanted to do his own thing.
If he got advice from God, he would have to follow God’s path instead of his own. He would have to listen and then act on God’s word; but he wanted to do his own thing and we know from history this led to Israel’s downfall.
Isaiah says to the king that you can follow your own plan, but God will find another way to give a sign to the people – he will send His Son in the future – Emmanuel, which means God is with us; to the earth as a physical presence of of God in the world.
This reading makes us think – Do we follow our own path in life? Are we open to let God give us a sign? Are our ears and hearts ready to listen to God’s message?
In the gospel story, we see a different response to a message from God.
A little background to the story is necessary here as the history to how marriages took place in ancient Israelite times is key to understanding how the story unfolds.
We have to appreciate that in a Jewish marriage there are 3 phases:
First there would be an engagement (that would have been arranged by the parents, many times when the children were very young);
Second there would be the betrothal, were the desire to marry would now made official by the children, which could be stopped if they didn’t want to go ahead; However, if they proceeded then a one year period of formal engagement would have taken place were they would be know as husband and wife during this time.
The marriage could still be broken by husband, but only through divorce (which we hear Jospeh is thinking about when he says he would divorce or dismiss her quietly because of the pregnancy)
And finally, a marriage ceremony would take place after one year to make things official and permanent.
It is during the second phase that the story takes place.
Joseph finds out the situation with Mary and is mulling his options, and then an angel of the Lord comes to him and tells him that “she has conceived by the Holy Spirit” and that this is to be the promised Messiah of Israel – they are to name him Jesus – which means Yahweh is salvation.
Joseph’s reaction to the dream is positive – he woke up and did what the angel commanded him and gave him the name Jesus.
See how different this is from Ahaz in the first reading. Ahaz also had one of the greatest messengers in the history of Israel – the prophet Isaiah and yet did not listen at all.
What is the key difference – it’s not the angel versus Isaiah – instead it is the disposition of the recipient, the listener.
In the reading we are told that Joseph was a “righteous” man.
The word used in Greek is “dikaios” which means, a person who keeps the commands of God, one who is faultless and whose actions conform to the will of God, which is one with a pure heart.
The “righteous” person is the one who is open to hear the message of God and act on it.
Joseph was a righteous man, so he could hear the truth in what the angel said, and he could immediately act on it because he knew in his heart it was God’s word.
So, today’s readings challenge us in a way to take a moment and think if we are more like Ahaz or more like Joseph?
We need to ask ourselves – when we get a message from God, do we truly hear it?
Which begs the question: how do we hear a sign/message and know that it is what God wants?
I would say that 3 things are required:
- First we have to have a heart or conscience that is pure, open, and active and has been shaped through prayer and discernment so that we can always hear the truth and not our own feelings/emotions – the psalm we sung was we are to have clean hands and a pure heart
- Second is we have to have times of silence to be able to hear – God speaks to Joseph in a dream, he spoke to Elijah in a whisper, he spoke to Moses in private; We have to give God an opportunity by times of quiet meditation or prayer in our lives.
- Third we have to have hands and feet that are ready to act and put the message into action. We cannot be hermits who keep the message to ourselves, but we need to be apostles like Paul – called by God to be his hands and feet in the world for a task that is unique to the skills and timing that God has for us!
These 3 things are not always easy, especially in this Christmas season, with the noise, busyness, high expectations, traffic, crowds, “elbows up” at Fortinos to get the last turkey or cranberry jelly!
But I would ask you this, a little homework between now and Christmas Day.
Set aside 10 minutes of silent prayer to see if there is a message for you this Christmas?
It may a person to call, a visit to be made, a prayer to allow forgiveness to happen, a few minutes to allow for grieving of a loved one, an anonymous gift to a person who needs it – something unique to you.
Be open to what God may tell you and “Please ensure you listen when your name is called! “