19 December 2010

The Annunciation to Joseph

4th Sunday of Advent - A

Readings: Is 7:10-14; Ps 24:1-2,3-4,5-6; Rom 1:1-7; Mt 1:18-25

"Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ."

We begin with the old embolism said after the Lord's Prayer at Mass. Embolism means an interpolation. This short prayer amplifies and elaborates on the implications of the Lord's Prayer. I begin with this note because this prayer may sum up the message of the readings this Sunday.

Our Gospel story is centered on the birth of Jesus, but a good part of the passage is spent on how Joseph dealt with the news of the Incarnation. Here is the story of the Annunciation to Joseph. It starts with a man filled with anxiety.

Joseph felt like he was the luckiest man in the world: marrying a beautiful girl, the most virtuous girl in town, the love of his life. Until one day, shortly after their betrothal, her bride told him the news: she was with child, the next words she spoke didn't matter anymore. She was with child and he was not the father. His well-laid plans changed. Things took a different turn. He was at a loss on how to deal with the situation.

The story of Joseph speaks to us and our many anxieties. Life brings us many anxieties: how to make ends meet, how to get back to that project after the Christmas break is over, how to mend a broken relationship, how to cope with illness or death in the family, and for some, just basically how to survive.

Even the Christmas season brings its own list of things to be anxious about: what gifts to buy, what goes to whom, how to decorate, what food to prepare, how to keep the weight down, how to deal with being with the "SMP" (samahan ng mga malalamig ang Pasko).

In the Gospel story, God intervened and sent an angel to relieve him of his anxieties. "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid" the angel told him. Joseph listened and believed, he took Mary home with him and was at peace. He might not yet fully understand everything but he knew God was guiding him.

There is another man filled anxiety in the today's readings. King Ahaz, in the First Reading, was in dread over an impending invasion of his kingdom of Judah by an alliance between King Pekah of Israel and King Rezin of Aram. This was the time of the divided kingdom. Ahaz was one of the so-called bad kings of Israel. He was not good at wielding power responsibly. He worshipped other gods. To top it all, he once sacrificed his own son to the god Molloch. It was not clear whether it actually involved the killing of the child or just a symbolic offering. Nonetheless it was a clear violation of the covenant between God and His people.

But God did not abandon King Ahaz at his time of need. He sent the prophet Isaiah with a message to ask for a sign from the Lord, so that he and his people will have peace. But Ahaz said no. Foolishly he pontificates: "“I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!” Disappointingly, the prophet answered: "Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God?" Ahaz, in his pride and confusion, could not get to have faith even in God himself.

To underscore where the real salvation of the people lies, Isaiah prophesied about a sign: "the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel." It is the same prophecy quoted by Matthew in today's Gospel passage. St. Paul in the Second Reading (Rom 1, 1-7) identified this sign, promised through the prophets, as the Son of God, Jesus Christ the Lord.

Both Joseph and Ahaz thought of ways to solve their problem. King Ahaz sought a military-political solution: he made an alliance with Assyria to conquer Pekah and Rezin at the cost of great destruction and death to the Israelite nation. Joseph thought of an extra-legal solution: he would discreetly divorce his bride, perhaps asking her to spend some time with a relative in a far-off place to avoid scandal and risk to her life.

But God has a different solution in mind: He sent His Son into the world. He is the light that dispels the darkness of sin and its effects: fear and anxiety in our hearts.

This is what Christmas is about: to remind us that in Him alone is our hope. If we put all our trust on mere things or on our own judgment, we won't withstand the anxieties that life bring. If we base our Christmas celebration on things, and not on Jesus, it will be a shallow celebration, bereft of the Reason for the season. It may even be a sort of momentary escapism, deceptively telling us all is well in our world if only we allow a vague Christmas spirit to run over.

Christmas is about us choosing to live by the light in the midst of darkness. Jn 1,5 says: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it."

I would like to end with these captivating lyrics from a favorite Pinoy Christmas Song:

O bakit kaya tuwing Pasko ay dumarating na
Ang bawa't isa'y para bang namumroblema .
Hindi mo alam ang regalong ibibigay
Ngayong kay hirap na nitong ating buhay

Meron pa kayang caroling at noche buena
Kung tayo naman ay kapos at wala nang pera?
Nakakahiya kung muling pagtaguan mo
Ang 'yong mga inaanak sa araw ng Pasko.

Mabuti pa nga ang Pasko noong isang taon
Sa ating hapag mayroong keso de bola't hamon.
Baka sa gipit, Happy New Year mapo-postpone,
At ang hamon ay mauuwi sa bagoong.

Ngunit kahit na anong mangyari
Ang pag-ibig sana'y maghari.
Sapat nang si Hesus ang kasama mo
Tuloy na tuloy pa rin ang Pasko!

Ngunit kahit na anong mangyari
Ang pag-ibig sana'y maghari.
Sapat nang si Hesus ang kasama mo
Tuloy na tuloy pa rin ang Pasko! 

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