Sunday, December 22, 2013

HOMILY – 4th Sunday of Advent – Year A

By Deacon Jerry Franzen – Cathedral   12/22/13

Isaiah 7: 10 – 14            Romans 1: 1 – 7                Matthew 1: 18 - 24

*Maude had a window seat on a 747 jetliner.
She was about to take off for Rome,
a trip she had planned for years.
It was her first flight and she was a bit apprehensive.
Even the presence of four bishops seated behind her didn’t help.  During the takeoff, her eyes were tightly glued shut,
and she had the white-knuckle grip on the arms of the seat.
After they leveled off,
she opened her eyes and looked out of the window
just in time to see one of the engines tear loose
from the plane and disappear into the clouds below.
“We’re going to die!”, she said.  “We’re going to die!”

The flight attendant consulted with the pilot,
who announced to the passengers
that everything was under control.
They could easily fly back to the airport and land
with the three engines that were still operating.
But Maude continued to cry out, “We’re going to die!”
The flight attendant went to her and said,
"Don’t be afraid, my dear, God is with us.
We may have only three engines, but look behind you,
we have four bishops.”
To which Maude replied,
“I’d rather have four engines and only three bishops.”

The flight attendant told Maude: “Don’t be afraid.”
It’s a message we often encounter in scripture.**
Abraham heard it from God as the covenant was established.
Zechariah, who was about to become a father,
heard it from an angel.
Gabriel said it to Mary at the Annunciation.
The disciples heard it from Jesus
as he walked toward them on the water.
Don’t be afraid.
Peter, James and John heard it from heaven at the Transfiguration.  And the angel at the tomb said it to Mary Magdalene
and the other Mary who was with her.

And here today we heard it twice:
In the first reading, Isaiah,
who spoke for God, told king Ahaz to trust in God,
not to be afraid, that God would send a sign of His love
for the Israelite people
who were being threatened by the Assyrians.

Ahaz was of the house of David and an ancestor of Joseph.
Our second hearing is in the Gospel where the angel assures Joseph,
“Don’t be afraid to take Mary for your wife,
for the child conceived within her
is from the Holy Spirit.”

“Don’t be afraid. – Trust in God”
a facet of God’s message to us as we near Christmas.


We know that for Ahaz the message meant God
would protect the Israelites from the Assyrians
and for Joseph it meant
that God would protect him, Mary and the child.
What does all this mean for us as followers of Jesus Christ?
First, we’ll consider what that message does not mean.
It does not mean that,
if you are a believer in and follower of the Word of God,                           you are not allowed to feel afraid.

It also does not say that you are less of a Christian
if you experience fear.
Certainly Mary must have.
She was asked to bear a child,
whose conception would be hard to explain.
Joseph’ fear was exposing his pregnant fiancĂ©e
to what would be the dreadful trial of the Old Law.
(I was reminded that they were considered as though they were married, but Joseph has not taken her into his house yet.)

And what about our fears?
Does “Don’t be afraid.” mean:
“Don’t be afraid, when you lose your job
and your children could be hungry?”
Is it: “Don’t be afraid, when drugs and weapons rule our streets?
Or when you have no access to health insurance?”
Could it be: “Don’t be afraid, when your cancer returns?”
Or “Don’t be afraid, if you are a recovering addict?
Or if you are middle-aged and unhappy with your life?”
Is it “If you are dying, don’t be afraid?”  No! That’s not it.
Fear is a legitimate human emotion,
and if you need a precedent for it,
recall how Jesus in the garden in his agony
begged his Father not to have him die.


So how do we understand the message: “Don’t be afraid.”?
It’s not a matter of “Don’t be afraid, because God said so.”
No, it’s much as that flight attendant told Maude –
“Don’t be afraid; because God is with us.”
He is not with us just to make his presence known;
we know that He can do that in winds, in clouds,
 in a pillar of fire.
No, it’s “Don’t be afraid, because God is with us as one of us:
The God born after nine months in Mary’s womb;
The God who walked on earth, who was hungry, who was tired;
The God who healed the sick, lifted the sinner
and brought hope to many;
The God scourged, mocked, crowned with thorns and crucified;
The God who rose and is with us today, flesh and blood, to save us.”
For the angel said
“ are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
"Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid that through your sin
you have cut yourself off from God,
and that he no longer loves you.

That’s the message for,  “Do not be afraid.”
God has come to us,
so that the trust that He will always love us
may overcome any fear that we cannot become one with him. 


Do be afraid of just walking out into traffic;
be afraid of dark alleys, of wasting money.
Don’t let children play with knives, don’t risk getting AIDS.
Be concerned about who can buy guns and explosives,
who can acquire anthrax and small pox.
Without fear,
this country could once again be an easy target for terrorism.

But Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, as Isaiah named him,
tells me that fear, for all its value,
is not the critical characteristic of a Christian.
At the heart of Christianity is LOVE;
to love as God loves;
to love as Jesus showed us how to love.
This is a dominant message of Pope Francis.
Our Christmas gift from God,
is the trust that He will always love us,
and it demands a return gift of love from us.
Do not be afraid to take the risk, to return the gift of love
to love as Jesus loved.

Don’t be afraid to love God,
because you think of the distant God
the God of vengeance and punishment.
Take another look.
It’s the God in the manger and the God on the Cross.
Can there be any greater reason for us to love God,
than the fact that he humbled himself to be born in a stable
and that he gave his life for us?

Don’t be afraid to love yourself, the unworthy sinner.
Take another look.
This is the God in the manger and the God on the Cross.
If God loved us, even the most terrible sinners,
so much that he became one of us and trusted himself to us,
why can’t we, who are made in his image, love ourselves? 

Don’t be afraid to love others,
even in the face of those who may not love us in return.
Remember, this is the God in the manger and the God on the Cross.
What God has done for us
is the example of what we must do for others;
we must take on their problems
as he took on our problems
and give our lives for them..

So don’t be afraid to take the risk,
to take the plunge into the deep water of love.
Love God, love yourselves and love others with all your mind,
all your heart, all your soul and all your strength.
Have no fear, Emmanuel,
“God-with-us”, is here at this and every Mass.
He is here in flesh and blood; this is His Mass.
We are here to meet Him, to be joined to Him.
He offers himself for us to the Father at each Mass.
How can we be afraid when our God is with us
and offers himself for us?

* Introductory story taken from “A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers” by William J. Bausch, Twenty-Third Publications, Mystic CT, 1998 p 365 #274

 ** Parts of the remainder of the homily patterned after: ”Speak the Word with Boldness” by Walter J. Burghardt, S. J.  Paulist Press, New York 1994  pp 8-13