Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent Year A
Theme: “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:23)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday December 21 2019
He was swept up contentedly incognito in the swirl of bodies jostling through the doors of Holy Cross Church, South Easton, Massachusetts, for the 8:30 Mass on that mid-June Sunday morning. Standing at the door, I greeted the rushed and laughing mob that hoped to make it into their pews before I arrived at the altar. Patting the heads of lunging children and shaking hands with frazzled parents, I spotted the older gentleman seeming to slink past me, hoping, I believed, to be totally ignored by everyone. In khaki slacks and short-sleeved, un-tucked white shirt, he seemed intent only on settling unobtrusively in a pew. His face was so familiar, but who was he? Where had I seen this friendly smile before?
Just as his features became profile in the passing, recognition dawned in a startle. Quickly unhinging my hand from the grasp of a parishioner’s greeting, I pushed through the mob to catch the man before he could elude me further. Anxious to apprehend him, I reached out and slapped a hand on his shoulder before he was beyond reach, a move otherwise unthinkable were circumstances less harried.
Turning in surprised response to my inordinately familiar gesture, Archbishop James MacDonald, CSC, just smiled at the stunned expression on my face. “Archbishop, Welcome!” I stammered. Before another word could pass between us, he put a vertical finger to his closed mouth indicating that I should be, if not silent, at least quieter. “I just want to sit in the pews and attend Mass with your congregation. I can’t ever do that back home, you know. This is a real treat for me, so just go on with things and please don’t let anyone know who I am.”
Then, with a reciprocal pat on my shoulder, he was off, choosing a middle-of-the-church pew, squeezing past several small children with coloring books and their distracted parents to sit right in the midst of the typical Sunday morning Catholic experience. Knowing who was with us and why he was with us, I chuckled all the way down the center aisle to the altar as the congregation sang during the entrance procession.
The Archbishop of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, who had ordained a Holy Cross priest in this very church the day previous, had now returned minus all the pontifical regalia that can lead to bowing and groveling amongst the faithful. On that bright June Sunday morning, I was proud that this humble prelate was a fellow member of our Holy Cross Community, grateful that he had ordained me a priest so many years previous, impressed that he wanted to experience Mass from the midst of a typical congregation rather than from a seat of honor in the sanctuary.
In the gospel passage we hear today, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream offering an explanation for the wondrous birth about to occur. “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:23) And more, God is with us as one of us, the circumstances of his birth so humble as to seem nearly unimaginable.
While homes, public places and churches are magnificently decorated to mark the joy of the season, the actual birth of the Savior, according to scripture accounts, saw none of the pomp and acclaim that has accrued to the event since that dark Bethlehem night. Indeed, the most significant lesson that the birth of Jesus offers is that God chooses to come to us, not once but forever, in all the dark circumstances and events of human history. And what does that mean for each one of us struggling Christians?
I believe the good news of Christmas is that if, indeed, we have been made in the Divine Image, then we are most like God when we are most truly ourselves. But that can be a hazardous venture, allowing our apparent faults and foibles to become visible to others. In a culture that thrives on extreme makeovers, both physical and emotional, it’s a scary venture to put ourselves out there with no cosmetic assistance. To be “real” is terrifying and chancy. It’s also the closest we’ll ever come to being God-like this side of heaven.