The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Fourth Sunday of Advent||December 19, 2004|
If we listen very deeply and carefully to the lessons today, I think we'll discover that they prepare us very well for receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.
The first lesson especially we must look at and listen to very deeply, but we have to put it into context. The very brief passage that we heard today, we have to put into the larger context of what was happening at the time Isaiah said those words to Ahaz the king. At that point in the history of the chosen people, they had split into two nations. There was the kingdom of the north, Israel, and the kingdom of the south, Judah. Isaiah was from the southern kingdom, Judah, and Ahaz was the king there. Now the northern kingdom, Israel, had allied with Syria and was engaged in a war against Assyria, another nation. Ahaz as the king of Judah was trying to figure out what to do.
He was afraid they were going to be attacked by the Assyrians also. So he wanted to make an alliance with the Assyrians in order to be on the side of the kingdom that would win, and he was sure that would be the Assyrians. But Isaiah was preaching to the people of Judah, urging them, "Don't enter into an alliance. Don't join with the Assyrians. Don't go to war. Be faithful to the covenant that you have made with God, that the chosen people have made with God. Be faithful to that covenant. Trust in God. Follow God's ways only."
But Ahaz was not willing to accept that sign and not willing to listen to Isaiah. He joined the alliance and went to war.
There is more to the sign than we heard in the lesson today. Isaiah went on to say, "He will live on curds and honey by the time he learns to refuse evil and choose good for therefore the child knows how to reject evil and cherish virtue. The land of the two kings that you abhor will be deserted. There will be a time much worse than any since [Abraham] broke from Judah."
Isaiah was telling Ahaz and the people that when they don't listen, when they don't trust in God, disaster comes. He told them that when this child who is called "God with us" reaches the age of discretion, which is 5, 6 or 7 years, disaster would strike. The kingdom will be ravaged. People will be driven into exile, violence, hatred, all the evils of war will break forth.
The challenge for us, as it was for Ahaz, is to trust in God. To trust in God in every aspect in our lives. When sickness, suffering or something difficult becomes part of our everyday life, we trust in God. As a nation, instead of going to war, we try to trust in God and follow God's ways. That is a very difficult challenge, of course. Ahaz failed the challenge, and sometimes we fail the challenge also. In our relationships with one another or in our actions in our nation, we choose other ways than God's way. It's on every level that we either trust in God and follow God's ways or we go a different direction.
This lesson also shows that it isn't so much that God punishes us when we fail to trust, but as Isaiah said to Ahaz, "Look, the disaster comes because of your sin."
Our sins bring evil and distress into our lives, destroys the humanness that God gives to us, that God wants to bring to fulfillment. When we fail to follow God's way then it isn't so much God punishes us but we diminish ourselves.
That happens in everyday life when we act out of jealousy, for example. We don't hurt the person of whom we're jealous. We don't hurt God. We diminish ourselves. When we act spitefully or retaliate or let our hearts be filled with hatred, we do something to ourselves. That is what Isaiah was telling to Ahaz: "If you don't follow God's ways then disaster comes into your life and the farther you fall from God's way, the greater will be the disaster, the less you will be the full person God wants you to be. "
We need to listen to this word of God proclaimed through Isaiah as we look into our lives to discover the ways that we fail to trust in God, trust in God enough that we will always follow God's ways. Follow the way that Jesus guides us in and models for us.
The Gospel lesson also is very helpful for us as we prepare to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. Matthew reminds us that the one who is to be born of Mary will be given a very special name. That name is Jesus. If we look into the etymology of the name "Jesus," we discover that it comes from "Yehoshua" which means "God saves." So Jesus is the one who comes into our lives to heal us and to save us. Jesus is also Emmanuel, "God with us." Jesus saves us, not just from enemies, not just from physical disasters but Jesus saves us from our sins - from our spiritual disasters. The promise is that we can become whole, if we turn to Jesus, place our trust in Jesus and follow Jesus.
When we do that, then we can proclaim as Paul does in our second lesson today: "The very promises God foretold through the prophets and the holy scriptures regarding God's son are now fulfilled, because Jesus is recognized as a descendant of David and also endowed with power upon rising from the dead to the Holy Spirit, and so is son of God in power. Through him and for the sake of his name we receive grace and everlasting life forever."
That's the promise God makes to us if we are willing to hear God's words, trust in that word especially as proclaimed by Jesus and follow it.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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