Sunday Advent IV A
(Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24)
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel, which means ‘God
is with us’."
At this time of year, from just before Thanksgiving until April 1st, the young Jesuits whom I work
with are missioned throughout the world, to live and minister in unfamiliar places and challenging situations. The purpose
of their mission is for them to become more intentional and deliberate 1) in finding and seeing God in all things, 2) in relying
on God as their source of life and strength, and 3) growing to trust God more wholeheartedly.
This year we have men working in many places: in a hospital for the destitute in New York City, Campus ministry
at Fairfield University, on a native American reservation in South Dakota, and, further afield, ministry to the poor in Colombia
and Chile, to immigrants in Costa Rica, migrant workers in Jordan, retreat work in South Africa, and various church and school
projects in Zambia, Jamaica, Hungary, India, and Russia. When they return from their missions, each man will share his experience
and tell how he grew or failed to grow in finding, seeing, and trusting in God.
I remember a couple of years ago, one tertian, Mark, lived in a Jesuit refugee camp in Uganda, called Camp
Rhino. There he was part of a team ministering to some 40,000 refugees, victims of the war in Rwanda. When Mark shared his
experiences with us, he spoke about the heat, the poverty, yet also the faith of the people. But then, he focused on one particular
boy in the camp. This ten year old boy was both mentally retarded and crippled from the waist down. He and his mother lived
in dire poverty, and the boy spent his day seated naked outside their hut which happened to be at the crossroads of the camp.
There he would wait in eager anticipation for the mission truck which passed most days to bring the sick to town and pick
up supplies. As soon as he saw the truck, he would wave his arms happily. The truck would stop. Mark would jump down and lift
up the boy, while his mother dressed him in the only short pants that he had. Then, Mark would lift him onto the truck and
ride into town. Mark said that he had never met such a happy child in all his life, -- never angry or frustrated or resentful
or impatient. He seemed to be always content. I could see that this boy touched Mark deeply, but Mark never mentioned the
boy’s name. So, when he finished his sharing, I said to him, "Does this boy have a name?" Mark paused and then, almost
as an afterthought, said, "Oh, yes. His name is Emmanuel." And we all just sat silently for awhile.
God is with us, -- so often in hidden and unexpected ways. God was and is in that child. God was in the room
on that day of sharing. God is with us now. God will be with us in the bread and wine on the altar. God will be with us and
within us as we receive communion. And when we leave here, God will go with us into our homes and into our work places. He
goes with us wherever we go, whomever we visit. But so often we get busy, preoccupied, distracted, and lose sight of Him.
No wonder, then, we can become anxious and afraid and our trust in God weakens. Life’s problems can be overwhelming.
At such moments, we need to remember: God is with us and then be open to what God wants to say or do. A most
painful and confusing situation faced Joseph when He discovered that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant. He must have turned
to God for wisdom and tried to do what was most right. He made the best decision he could. But God had something more to say
and drew Joseph into a journey he never dreamed of. He along with Mary would be the very first to see God as Emmanuel incarnate,
God with us in flesh. He could not have known how the journey would go, but he trusted. God sometimes has more for us too.
Here in chapter one of Matthew’s Gospel, Isaiah’s prophecy about Emmanuel is about to be fulfilled.
We celebrate that fulfillment at Christmas. But we have to remember too that Matthew’s Gospel also ends with Jesus saying,
"Behold, (Remember) I am with you always until the end of the age." (Mt. 28.20) Here, in these words, we have present Jesus’
promise, which is a promise to be present, -- always. How much better the world would be if we all looked more diligently
for his presence in all people and in all places! How much more reverent and respectful we would be towards one another! And
how much more of God’s peace would find a resting place among us! It is God’s peace that Jesus wanted to bring
into the world and wants to bring to us, now, this Christmas. For peace is the sign of the Reign of God, the sign
of the presence of Jesus in our midst.
Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ