Preparing for the last Sunday of Advent when there are so few days until the celebration of the birth of Jesus, takes some doing, some hurry-up prayer. We have six more days to experience the prayer of longing. In our North American culture, we don’t do longing very well. Immediate gratification is our usual style. Waiting is for the “poor”; longing is a frustration to be relieved by a presumed right of purchase.
I wish I longed for the celebration of the birth of Jesus as much as I long for the semester to be over, or the ultimate victory of my favorite football team. Perhaps I am too accustomed to the story and the reality of His birth. Perhaps I have too many comforts and warmth of clothing and nourishing food to really want! I would want the inquisitiveness of the shepherds, the searching of the Wise Men, the wondering of Joseph and Mary.
We can pray for emptiness, a place in our Inn. We can prepare for this liturgy as we do for Christmas itself - by allowing some experiences of not having to be a kind of having. Nature abhors a vacuum, our hearts ache for completion. We can pray for a peace of soul that accompanies our unique ways of hungering.
What’s in a name? In our familiar First Reading for this last Sunday of Advent, we hear a short conversation between the prophet and a trembling king. As in our times, warring was a popular past-time between Israel and its surrounding neighbors. Earlier in the chapter from which these verses are taken, God has promised that Judah and Israel would be spared and Ahaz was relieved to hear this. When he is asked to ask for a sign, Ahaz does not want to do that, only does he want to trust that the kingdoms will be safe.
The prophet Isaiah then gives Ahaz a second comforting word. Not only will the two kingdoms be safe, but the future will be safe as well, because a young woman will give the Davidic family-line a son whose name will be “God-Is-With-Us”. Ahaz does not want to tempt God. God wants to affirm that God is faithful to past promises and future fruitfulness. God is with us now and in the years to come.
What’s in a name? The Gospel has also some name-calling in Matthew’s account of how Jesus came to be “God-With-Us”. We do not like mystery very much. We want to know exactly how things work, how it all happens. Joseph wanted to know of course. We don’t deal with dreams very well either. Joseph had a mystery and a dream and trusted through them both. When an angel, (we don’t deal well with angels either), addressed Joseph as “son of David” we hear how Matthew intends to affirm that Jesus is from the “Rod of Jessie”, the royal lineage. What’s in a name? There is plenty. Joseph trusts as did Ahaz and a young girl is found with child in some mysterious, angelic way.
The child to be born will have a name, “He Who-Saves-His-People-From-Their-Sins” is a prophetic and comforting name and title. Matthew then affirms this all by referring to the passage from Isaiah which we hear in the First Reading. The One Who is to save His people from their sins is also the God Who is with us now and for our fruitful futures.
Ahaz received a promise. Mary received a promise. Joseph receives a promise and all three do not ask for verifying credentials or exact signs of coming attractions. In the final verse of today’s Gospel, Joseph wakes up and takes Mary into his home. Wakening and welcoming is all we have been invited to during these Advent days. Ahaz had to trust what could not be seen. Mary trusted what could not be physically experienced. Joseph trusted what he could see, Mary, who to all appearances seemed the same as before the dream.
Now we stand at the threshold of the Stable. Our “stable-ability” is literally whether we can stand in the face of promises, mystery, and see beyond appearances. Joseph took into his life more than his wife Mary. There was a Mystery inside her which he welcomed as well. He could see what he could see, but there was more than met the eye there.
We live the “stable” life ourselves. God has made promises to us which invite us to see beyond appearances and take mysteries into our unstable lives. They become unstable by our demanding signs which can give us a false sense of security. For as joyful as these days of Advent and Christmas can be, there is a hidden and dangerous aspect. We would approach the straw-ful stable supported by crutches of certainty and our Global Positioning Systems to make sure of things, just the way we approach any call to trust. We would meet Joseph there with nothing but his faith hanging out. Mary would be there, smiling compassionately at our falsifications. What’s in a name? Our name is the “us” with whom God is. Our name is “His People” who will be saved from their sins. What’s in a name? We would be there with our impatience hanging out and somehow invited to enter into the stable-life of seeing within the physical, the presence of the Promised.
“Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a savior.” Is. 45, 8
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