4th Sunday of Advent (December 18, 2016)

4th Sunday of Advent (December 18, 2016)


Reaching the end of a job interview, the Human Resources Person asked a young engineer fresh out of MIT, "And what starting salary were you looking for?"  The engineer said, "In the neighborhood of $125,000 a year, depending on the benefits package."  The interviewer said, "Well, what would you say to a package of 5-weeks vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, company matching retirement fund to 50% of salary, and a company car leased every 2 years--say, a red Corvette?"  The engineer sat up straight, much energized, "Wow! Are you kidding?"  The interviewer replied, "Yeah, but you started it."  [http://www.cleanjokeoftheday.com/jokes-highexpectations.html]


Expectations.


We’ve all no doubt had the experience of things not happening or turning out as we expected.  Perhaps there was a big project or plan that we were working on and something didn’t go right with it, or maybe others didn’t go along with it as we were hoping.  Perhaps there are difficulties in a relationship with a loved one that have developed.  Perhaps there’s a health issue that has appeared without warning, or even the sudden loss of a loved one.  Perhaps there are some financial stresses that have cropped up.  Perhaps our life in general just doesn’t seem to be turning out the way we had hoped or expected.

Expectations.


Our season of Advent is considered a time of joyful expectation as we prepare for the coming of Christ.  But perhaps even in our preparations for Christmas we’re caught up in all sorts of expectations—putting too much pressure on ourselves or others as to what will make for the “perfect” Christmas or a “magical” Christmas (as movies and advertising keep pushing), expectations that will hardly make us joyful if they don’t materialize.  Yet even if we look in the Gospels, things didn’t always turn out as expected.  As we heard last week, for John the Baptist, even though he was “a voice of one crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord,” Jesus didn’t seem to be the Messiah he was quite expecting, feeling the need to have his followers ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”  Looking at the time around Jesus’ birth, certainly Mary and Joseph’s life together didn’t turn out anything like they had expected: the angel’s announcement of a special child conceived by the Holy Spirit before their marriage was complete, having nowhere but a stable for this child to be born, needing to flee to Egypt because the king wants him killed—probably not what they were expecting their life to be like.


So what do we do with all this?  Where does this leave us?  The answer is found in the name Emmanuel, “God is with us.”  It is this that we remember and celebrate in a special way this time of year: God is with us.  It is this that enlightens and enlivens our faith and our hope: God is with us.  Even though things don’t always turn out the way we would like or expect, God is with us.  In times of fear and uncertainty, God is with us; in the midst of challenges and difficulties, God is with us.  When we feel isolated and alone, God is with us; when we feel lost or worn-out or at our wits’ end, God is with us.  Despite all of the noise and distractions in the world, God is with us.  And really, because of all of these things, God is with us. 


Advent calls us to refocus our expectation on trusting in the presence of “God with us.”  For good old St. Joseph, while things seemed to be turned upside down, he did not doubt God’s power to save; but as a quiet witness of faith and trust, he had the expectation that God would make it happen.  And so he willingly gave way to God, allowing God to work.  On the other hand, in our 1st Reading, it didn’t seem that Ahaz’s expectations of God were all that high.  He was a young, inexperienced ruler who was being threatened by the great Assyrian army drawing ever closer.  And yet when the prophet Isaiah tells him to ask for a sign from God, Ahaz replies, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!”  (This is really just false piety.)   At the end of the day, even with the enemy at the gate, it didn’t seem like Ahaz actually believed that God could do all that much for him—which of course really frustrated the heck out of poor Isaiah.  And seeing Ahaz’s lack of faith, Isaiah encourages him to hope and to trust in God’s promise to keep His covenant, and that he will still send the great sign of the child “Emmanuel.”  This prophecy was brought to its ultimate fulfillment with the birth of Jesus Christ, bringing God’s plan of salvation to completion. 


Brothers and sisters, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, we can recommit to that “obedience of faith” that makes us less like Ahaz—trusting in his own devices over God’s—and more like Mary and Joseph: giving way to the loving plan of God that brings forth life, living out of this expectation by allowing God to work in us and through us, we “who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”  Gathering today for Mass, we know that this high expectation is not just wishful thinking for us.  We know that God is with us in the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ whose Body and Blood gives us the promise of everlasting life, giving us a share in the victory even over sin and death that He was born to accomplish.  So let us “let the Lord enter; he is king of glory.”