“The Lord Himself will give this sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. And they shall name him Emmanuel which means ‘God is with us.’ “
Madonna woodcut by +Sister Mary Charles McGough, OSB
© St Scholastica Monastery Duluth, Minnesota
What comforting words these are for us as our Advent journey continues. Again the call of this season encourages us to be about hope, love, and making peace. We’ve heard a lot this last week about “seeing.”
The reason behind this call “to see” is given to us this Sunday – God, Emmanuel, who is with us has “pitched His tent” in our midst. We are urged to reflect on what this mean for our lives, as well as to be more intentionally aware of the signs God is sending us. Are we unaware – do we just not see the signs in our lives? Do we block them out or are we just indifferent or afraid?
Look at the signs all around us:
People are still homeless;
Many are hungry;
Others are sick in body, mind or spirit;
Some are imprisoned from many different causes.
How do we not hear or see people each day who need our help, but we choose not to see or to be busy with our own agenda or schedule.
Still others, in their greediness, have more than their fair share of the world’s wealth and possessions. Some are just indifferent or ignore their brothers and sisters who are in need. They use their possessions, their wealth, to keep from seeing the signs that are all around us – like a huge fence around their lives.
The Lord told Ahaz to ask for a sign and he said –no, he would not ask, he would not tempt God. So the prophet Isaiah tells him – that he is wearying the people and he is wearying God also!
Then, Isaiah says that God will give him a sign – a child called Emmanuel – “God with us.”
The Gospel shows us how Joseph also was afraid to take Mary as his wife when she was found to be with child. He had his mind made up that he would quietly divorce her. But in a dream the angel of the Lord brought him a message –“do not be afraid.” And then the angel told him of the sign: “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel.” Joseph chose to live in the presence of God.
Paul, in the letter to the Romans, says that “we also are called to belong to Jesus Christ, . . . called to be holy.” How does this happen if we aren’t aware of the signs God sends us? Are we, like Joseph, afraid? Are we like Ahaz and say, “I won’t tempt the Lord?”
Are we searching for a way out so we won’t have to respond? Facing the challenges of the signs God sends into our lives might make us uneasy – we don’t like stepping out of our comfort zones. This fourth Sunday of Advent is all about our awareness and living with and in “the presence” of our God.
Recently, I read an article from the Presence magazine published by Spiritual Directors International titled “Resting in the Presence of God: Soul cCare for Busy People.” The author, Donald R. Clymer, gives us a clue as to why we may not be aware of or are ignoring the signs that are all around us. He says we are too busy – we think multitasking is a virtue (it’s really not) and we live at too fast a pace – life is hectic, chaotic. And we lose the now, the present. The answer, he proposes is that “we learn to slow down allowing our souls to catch up with the rest of us and discover how to rest in the presence of God. He suggests that spiritual disciplines, particularly our prayer life can help us do this. Then we can see and hear the signs.
The message from today’s scriptures is loud and clear: When we find our place with the person who needs some of our time, or our presence, to help them; find our place with all those we judge and name to be “different” from us (the list is endless) and yes, even our enemies, then we also will answer the call we hear today and we will be the sign that “God is with us”.
How do we do this? It just so happens that the Spirit has sent us Pope Francis who not just talks about the signs, but is a sign himself in what he says and in the way he lives.
Listen to a couple of his statements from recent writings:
He warns us “not to close our doors to sinners and imbibe our own righteousness.” This is very powerful language – “imbibe our own righteousness.”
Last week he wrote: “ I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting,
and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a
church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging
to its own security. God’s kingdom is not a fortress. When we
move outside the walls, then we share in the freedom of God.”
We are being challenged to not “cling to our own security whatever
that is for us.”
Pope Francis does not just say these words, he lives them. Can we? Today’s scriptures say we must if we are to be an authentic sign of God’s presence.
The question we must each ask ourselves is “How will I respond? What do I need to do to be able to see the signs and, more importantly, be the sign as Jesus our Savior is?
Let us in this last week of Advent help each other by prayer and example to “slow down, allowing our souls to catch up with the rest of us and discovering how to rest in the presence of God.”