Friday, December 14, 2007

Dec. 23 Simbang Gabi - 4th Sunday of Advent

Commentary 1: Fr. Jerome Marquez, SVD
Professor of Canon Law, Divine Word Seminary
Tagaytay City
Director, St. Jude Catholic School
Manila, Philippines

Commentary 2: Fr. Ferdinand Alfante, SVD
Assistant Administrative Head
St. Jude Catholic School, Manila, Philippines
Reading 1: Is 7:10-14
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
R. (7c and 10b) Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory.
Reading II:
Rom 1:1-7
Gospel:Mt 1:18-24


Christmas Is To Have Jesus
Whom do you want to be with this Christmas? Your family, your sweetheart, your children, your friends…. Oh definitely, we want to spend Christmas with the significant persons in our life. For Christmas is truly a story of love and relationships. It is narrative of God wanting to be with those whom He loves.

This gospel of Matthew (1: 18-24) provides us with this love story. It gives us an account of the conception of Jesus in relation to Mary and, more decisively, in relation to Joseph. Joseph was identified as the “son of David” and through whom Jesus legally became the descendant of David, the awaited Messiah to come. The gospel also tells us that Mary had been betrothed to marry Joseph. This betrothal includes the arrangement that the woman should live in the house of her parents and must not yet sleep with her groom. But Mary was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit. When this pregnancy became apparent to Joseph, this righteous man did not expose Mary to shame. He decided to divorce her privately until God’s messenger appeared to him in a dream telling him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home and to accept the child as his own. The angel indicated the name of the child and his mission. As soon as he awoke, Joseph obeyed God.

So with whom do you want to be with this Christmas?

Christmas is to be with Jesus.
The naming of the son, “But she will bear a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21) is a significant part of this account. It is a widespread conception that the Messiah will be the savior of his people. There is a special interest that the saving act is related to the forgiveness of sins. Thus Jesus as the Messiah, the one promised to be born, is to “save us from sin”.

In the Old Testament, the verb “to save” is used primarily as deliverance from the enemy. During the exile, it expressed God’s deliverance of the people from exile and their restoration to God’s kingdom (Isa 35: 4; 43: 11-12). This forgiveness is to be understood also as a restoration of the proper relationship with God. Jesus in Matthew’s gospel announces the forgiveness of sins (1:26). Thus to be with Jesus is to be forgiven. To be with Jesus is restore relationship with God.
Christmas is restoring relationships with God. Christmas is restoring relationships with our family, with our sweethearts, with our children, with our parents, with our friends, with our enemies, with persons we are called to relate. As George Herbert adds, “He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.”

Therefore, to be with Jesus on Christmas is to have restoring relationships…to build bridges over which we can connect again with people.

Christmas is not only wanting to be with Jesus, it also means God wanting to be with us.
In the gospel, Jesus will be called Emmanuel. Since Emmanuel is not a name of Jesus and also not a usual title, it attracts attention. Allusions to God’s being with us permeate the whole Gospel (17:17; 18:20; 26:29). But Matthew has especially through the last verse of the Gospel (Mt 28:20: “I am with you always, until the end of time) created an inclusion that the resurrected Jesus will always be with his community. Jesus is the Emmanuel, the God with us. God is with God’s people. God is present with us today in this community.

Here we understand that Christmas shows us a God who chose to be with us. The presence of God is the presence of the Holy. Jesus’ coming among his people has the effect of transforming the characteristics of human situation. Instead of being a situation characterized by the presence of sin, the unholy, it is now characterized by the presence of the Holy, who is with us.

Therefore if God is with us, he helps us transform our human conditions and situations.

In 1942, Mother Theresa with the permission of her confessor made a private vow to God –binding under Mortal sin – that she will “give to God anything that He may ask, and Not to refuse Him anything.” Only later did Mother Theresa explain the reason for it: “I wanted to give God something very beautiful and without reserve”. When Mother Theresa made this remarkable private vow “not to refuse God anything,” this was to be put to the test. In 1942, India was involved in World War II which disrupted the life of her community and school. During that time there was no teacher from class 4 to class 10. Mother Theresa took all the classes and she kept the girls busy in order to let them forget and overcome their fear of war and violence.

Added to her hardships was the Bengal famine of 1942-43 which took the lives of at least two million people. As the sisters and students began to suffer from food shortages, Mother Theresa who has pledged to refuse nothing to God, in turn trusted that God would not refuse her anything. So one day at 8:00 am, she said: “I am going out children, you stay in the chapel and pray.” By 4:00 pm the store room was full of different kinds of vegetables. They could not believe their own eyes.

Indeed, if God is with us, we can do something beautiful and without reserve to transform human condition and situations.

Who do you want to be with this Christmas? Our response: we want to be with Jesus, the Emmanuel, the God with us.

Allow me to end with another love story of Christmas. The painter of “Hapag ng Pag-asa” (Table of Hope), Mr. Joey Velasco, wrote a book as a follow-up to his painting. This time, he went back to the poor children he depicted in his Last Supper painting. He went to their squatter houses, listened to them, and wrote the stories of their life and poverty.

One day while he was groping in dark for the title of his new book, he went for a coffee break in a donut restaurant. He met a lady who glanced at the picture of Hapag ng Pag-asa painting, grabbed it close to her eyes and squinted.

“This strikes me as the Poor Kids’ Last Supper…” And then she stared at the painter and said,

“You know, my friend, they are actually not poor…”

“What? You’re the only one who said that.” Joey wondered smilingly at her remark.

And she continued: “…because THEY HAVE JESUS.”

That struck him. That has become the title of his book, THEY HAVE JESUS. That line stayed with him because it was so heartrending. He had been searching for it for so long. That is Christmas. We might search for so long on who should be with us on Christmas. Maybe that lady was correct. It is Christmas if we have Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us.

When a student excelled in the class, he is given the honor.
When a bar examinee got the highest mark, he is honored as the topnotcher.
When Manny Pacquiao won the super featherweight fight, he is called the Pinoy top-boxer.

Today’s gospel gi
ves tribute to a man who was not an honor student, neither a bar topnotcher nor a well-loved boxer. He was just known as a silent worker, a carpenter, a husband of Mary, and a foster father of Jesus. His name is Joseph.

Joseph had an important role in Jesus’ Incarnation. In a patriarchal and heavily hierarchical society like that of the Jews in Jesus’ time, there is a need for man to stand up for the rights of women and their children. Since Mary conceived a child by the power of the Holy Spirit during the time of their engagement, Joseph’s action of taking Mary as his wife was very important. If Joseph did not marry her, Mary with the child in her womb might be stoned to death. The Divine Plan of Incarnation would have been ruined.

Why did God choose Joseph as the guardian of Jesus and Mary? Let me present three reasons why Joseph was chosen by God for this significant role in the Incarnation of Jesus.

1. He is obedient to the will of God. The gospel says, “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” Today’s gospel tells us about how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. Mary, Joseph’s wife, was found to be pregnant by the action of the Holy Spirit before they were married. “This took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him ‘Emmanuel’.” God always fulfills his promise – the imminent coming of the King. Yet He needs the cooperation of human beings to make His plan come true. That’s why God called Joseph to take responsibility to accept Mary as his wife. Although in such a critical situation Joseph might have panicked a bit and even “planned to dismiss her quietly,” he was disposed to listen to God’s message as it was revealed to him by an angel. Joseph accepted the call and responded positively despite the fact that his acceptance jeopardized his personal interest. Furthermore, he was all the more ready to put the Lord’s command into practice.

2. He is a righteous man in the eyes of God. The gospel says, “… he was a righteous man.” Joseph did not only think about his own good. He thought about Mary’s good, too.

His justice was truly greater. Instead of denouncing, he preferred to respect the mystery which he did not understand. The greatest justice of Joseph saved both the life of Mary and that of Jesus.

3. He is King David’s descendant according to the plan of God. The gospel says, “… the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife…’” Joseph was the descendant of King David, and the father of Jesus. This is to fulfill what the Lord had said to prophet Jeremiah, “I will raise a shoot from David.” Despite of David’s sins, he was a man after God’s own heart. It was he whom God accepted to begin the dynasty of kings, and it was in his line that Jesus the Messiah would be born. In the Old Testament, David was known as the most popular and most beloved king while Jesus was the most famous and most loved king of the New Testament.

As we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent, we should be careful not to overlook the essential elements in our preparation for the birth of Jesus. Today’s gospel encourages us to imitate the attitude of Joseph as God’s cooperator in His plan of salvation. Similarly, we are also called to cooperate with God in the salvation of humankind. That cooperation can be expressed in the way we take our responsibilities; by the way we are acting intelligently, with justice for the good of all the people. With this we can reflect upon our own lives. How responsible am I in my life? How do I cooperate with God’s plan to help people?


Anonymous said...

very nice and touching...

viaspagna said...

thank you for the insight. plain and simple. i might as well use it in my homily, with your permission. fr. ferrer