advent The Sánchez Archives


Patricia Datchuck Sánchez


ISAIAH 7:10-14
ROMANS 1:1-7
MATTHEW 1:18-24

With these words, the author of the forty-sixth psalm invited his contemporaries to come aside for a moment from the hundreds of every day, things both big and small, which otherwise filled their days and nights. Today his words call to us as well.

“Pause a while and know that I am God . . .” It is Christmas eve. There are no more shopping days left until Christmas. There is nothing as important right now than to come aside and to consider the mystery of his presence. He is with us! Christmas and the season of Advent which readies us for his coming is a time to celebrate his appearance in time and space, in flesh and blood. He is with us! That reality has forever changed the way we perceive ourselves and him. The incarnation is not simply an invitation to accept God in faith and to welcome him into our lives; it is an ultimatum. He is with us! What are we going to do bout it? How shall that fact shape the way I live? the words I say? the thought I think? the decisions I make?

Pause a while and know that I am God! They gave him the name Jesus, a name which defined his reason for existing, a name which means God saves. He is with us! The one who saves has become a part of human existence. Without him there is no meaning to our life; we pause and know “that he is our helper and savior, on whose gracious providence we are dependent, that he of his mercy will forgive us our guilt, that we shall have to plead our responsibility before his court of judgment, that for those who believe in, hope in, and love him, he prepares an eternal life of happiness.” (Karl Rahner, Everyday Faith, Herder and Herder, New York: 1968). He is with us! But, we are blessed with an incredible and frightening freedom. We need not pause; we need not know; we need not believe! We can “offer a no to that God of Absolute closeness”!!!* . . . and yet He is with us!

Pause a while and know that I am God! Today’s scripture readings call us beyond our terrifying capacity to offer a no to God’s presence in order to perceive him anew in Jesus. He is with us! Promised by the prophet (first reading), prepared for by hopeful sinners, his presence is the good news for all the peoples of the earth (second reading). In him, the God of absolute closeness has begun to tell his saving story (gospel). In his birth, promise meets fulfillment. In every aspect of his life, from the crib to the cross, the love of God is revealed.

Pause a while and know that I am God! . . . at the end of this day, when all the gifts have been opened and all the songs have been sung . . . when all the food has been eaten and all the friends and family have gone their way. . . Pause a while . . . He is with us! He is the gift which never ends, the nearness which never leaves, the sacred food which never ceases to nourish, the song which never ends.

Pause a while and know that I am God!

(* Karl Rahner, Everyday Faith, Herder and Herder, New York: 1968)

ISAIAH 7:10-14

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), the noted American historian, novelist and poet once said, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” When Isaiah offered Ahaz the sign which he had refused to request, the prophet’s message bore some similarity to the words of Sandburg. A baby would be born, he prophesied, and that child’s existence would underscore, yet again, God’s fidelity to his promises. Judah could be sure that its world would indeed go on.

Recall the fact that God had promised (2 Samuel 7:14) an unending dynasty to David; on the strength of that promise, the people hung their hopes for a coming messiah (anointed king) whose reign would restore the peace and prosperity for which they longed. It had become obvious that Ahaz was not to be the messiah for whom they waited. During his reign (ca. 726-716 B.C.E.) Syria and Israel had formed an alliance against their common enemy to the north, Assyria. Rezin and Pekah, the kings of Syria and Israel pressured Ahaz into joining them and when he refused, they attacked Judah. Just as Ahaz was about to initiate an alliance with Assyria in order to thwart the Siro-Ephraimite invasion, Isaiah stepped in to offer his prophetic insight.

Alliances or covenants with anyone other than Yahweh were sure to lead to Judah’s demise, Isaiah counseled, as he encouraged Ahaz to ask God for a sign that the Davidic dynasty would be preserved. Signs, in both the Hebrew and Christian tradition, were a form of revelation which assured the people of God’s continuing and faithful provenance. The sign offered to Ahaz was that of a baby’s birth, an event which would communicate God’s caring presence, i.e. Emmanuel, God-with-us! Because of the living character of the sacred word as well as the quality known as its fuller sense (sensus plenior), Isaiah’s words can be interpreted on different levels.

On one level, the sign communicated hope for Ahaz and the proximate future of Judah. A young woman (the Hebrew text has ’almah or maiden of marriageable age; the Septuagint translates ’almah as parthenos or virgin) shall be with child. No doubt, the woman the prophet had in mind was Ahaz’ wife or one of the concubines in his harem. With the birth of her child, viz. Hezekiah, Ahaz’ son, who was to be the next king or messiah, the people were assured that God kept his promises. . . David’s dynasty would continue despite all threats to its integrity. In the birth of the child, God proved himself once again to be Emmanuel; God-with-us.

On another, fuller level of meaning, the Isaian prophecy has been understood to apply to the birth of Jesus. As is reflected in today’s Matthean gospel, the early Church realized that the Israel’s centuries’ old messianic aspirations and God’s promise to David were finally and completely fulfilled only in his coming. In the birth of his Son, God assured us of his opinion that the world should go on.

Today he invites all who would celebrate his presence among us to pause a while and know him once again.

ROMANS 1:1-7

Janus, one of the Roman gods, had two faces which signified his ability to see both past and future, at once. His image was posted in the doorway of Roman houses, from where it was thought he could protect the comings and goings of the inhabitants. Wherever Rome was at war, the doors of Janus’ temple were left open; in times of peace, they were closed. During his reign as emperor, Augustus (31 B.C.E. - 14 C.E.), ordered the doors to Janus’ temple to be closed three times as evidence of the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) which he established, enforced and which perdured for two centuries. Before his death at age 75, Augustus had so organized Rome’s provinces and made its extensive system of roads so safe that commercial enterprise flourished and extended even into India and China.

When he wrote to the Christians at Rome, Paul’s letter was safely carried from Corinth to Rome, and like the other early Christian missionaries, his many journeys for the sake of the gospel were made less difficult because roadways were maintained and guarded by Roman soldiers. But when Paul extended his traditional greetings of grace and peace (vs. 7) to the Roman church, it was not the Pax Romana but the Pax Christi to which be referred. Christ’s peace, which is so much in the forefront during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, is the gift of himself, incarnate, crucified and risen. His peace is not enforced but offered to all who will appropriate his gift in faith.

Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome, the introduction of which comprises today’s second reading, was written to formally introduce the apostle to a church which he had not founded and which he wished to visit in the near future. From a home base of operations in Rome, Paul wished to take the good news to Spain (15:28). But, in order to secure a reception in Rome, Paul set before the Roman community his understanding of the gospel. Many scholars believe the Roman Christians may have had been ambivalent about Paul; a rather conservative church, there may have been some doubt as to his orthodoxy. Therefore he wrote at length to explain his understanding of salvation as the power of God, for Jews and Greeks (1:16-17).

In this pericope Paul identified himself as servant of Christ and an apostle set apart by God for the preaching of the good news (vs. 1). He also underscored the dual origins of Jesus. According to the flesh Jesus was descendant of David (vs. 3) and the one in whom the promise to David (2 Samuel 7:14) was realized. But he is also Son of God in power, by virtue of his resurrection from the dead (vs. 4). Through him, all are called to be holy; because of him, all are blessed with grace and peace (vs. 7).

Obviously, the world which Jesus became incarnate and for whose peace he died has not attended his gifts very carefully. Today we are reminded once again to pause a while, to know him, to experience his presence with us and to open ourselves to his peace and grace.

MATTHEW 1:18-24

Birth announcements are such good news! New parents, wishing to share the joy of a new life and a new member of their family, customarily send cards to friends and relatives. Vital statistics such as the name of the baby, its weight, the date and time of birth, and sometimes, even a footprint or photograph are included in the announcement. In today’s gospel, Matthew shares with his readers the good news of Jesus’ birth. But there is no mention of Jesus’ weight or date and time of birth; rather, Matthew’s birth announcement is a christological statement which identified Jesus and defined the purpose of his existence.

Part of the infancy narrative with which Matthew prefaced his gospel (Matthew 1-2), the announcement of Jesus birth also introduced the first of a series of formula citations or texts from the Hebrew scriptures. Also called fulfillment citations, these texts (about 10 or 12 in all) are woven throughout Matthew’s gospel and offer support for his proclamation of Jesus as the promised messiah-savior of humankind. Each reference to the Hebrew scriptures (usually from the prophets and in particular from Isaiah) was introduced by a formula which indicated that the event in Jesus’ life was to be perceived as a fulfillment of the Old Testament text. In today’s gospel, the formula, “all this happened to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet” (vs. 22) served to introduce the Isaian text (Isaiah 7:14), which the early Christians believed to have been fulfilled in Jesus.

Matthew’s reasons for structuring his gospel on the support of these formula citations were probably two-fold. First, the citations were apologetic in character, aimed at guarding the faith against those who denied Jesus’ messiahship and who rejected those who accepted him. Secondly, the citations served the evangelist’s didactic intentions; Matthew used the texts to offer his readers a solid support for their growing understanding of and faith in Jesus.

In addition to presenting Jesus as the fulfiller of Jewish messianic prophecies and aspirations, Matthew’s birth announcement proclaims the significance of Jesus’ name and mission. As indicated in verse 21, Joseph, in a dream, was instructed by an angel-messenger (in scripture, dreams and angels function as vehicles of divine revelation) to name the child, Jesus or Yeshuah. A derivation of the name Joshua, which meant Yahweh saves, the name of Jesus also defined his reason for being. Through him, and in his words and works the saving power of God would be made manifest. A further description of Jesus is provided in the citation from Isaiah (vs. 23). His name and his mission among us shall be Emmanuel because through him, God is with us!

Through Jesus’ saving Word, saving Cross and saving Bread, God continues to be with us. . . pause a while today, and say “yes” to his absolute closeness.

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