Homily 4th Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 22, 2019

We all embrace a pleasant greeting, unless we’re Ebenezer Scrooge. “Good morning, Ma’am. Good morning, sir. Thank you for holding the door for me, even if it’s an automatic door. The intention was good. Have a great day (that’s a popular one!). May your day be blessed.” There’s much to be said for pleasant greetings, in contrast to greetings grounded in Bah Humbug.

               On the cusp of Christmas just a few days hence, our readings on the 4th and final Sunday of Advent lead us to greetings. Both human greetings, which can go either way, and divine greetings, which go one way, always in our favor, with Jesus having been raised from the dead.

               “The Lord spoke to Ahaz;” a divine greeting. “Ask for a sign, Ahaz. Make it deep as the netherworld. The large underground world where souls waited for the Risen Jesus to come and rescue them. Ahaz, make your sign as high as the sky. Don’t hold back.” That’s quite a greeting from the Lord to the mere mortal Ahaz. If the Lord greeted us personally, “Ask for a sign as big as you can imagine, a sign that will remove all doubt in our hearts and minds that God is not only close, but that your life is everlasting, could you request a sign big enough?”

               Ahaz doesn’t accept the Lord’s greeting. “I’m too insignificant to ask for a sign. Why does he want one from me?” is the human response to this Divine greeting. This greeting had much potential, until Ahaz said, “Oh no, I can’t do that. I cannot tempt my God. I will not!” So, the Lord’s greeting bypasses Ahaz, landing on the lap of the Prophet Isaiah, who will answer, “The Lord himself will give you a sign; the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” The divine greeting that began with Ahaz ended with Isaiah. And it was all good, despite the fear of Ahaz. Don’t push away your divine greetings.

               And then we have Paul’s human greeting to the Christian community in Rome, beginning with, “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus.” How’s that for a greeting! When’s the last time we greeted someone with the words, “I’m Fr. Riley, slave of Christ Jesus. Nice to meet you.” Wouldn’t we like to extend such a greeting to some relatives or friends who have lost their way with Christ Jesus? I believe that would capture their attention. Or, the deeply personal question to ourselves, “Are you, Fr. Riley, a slave for Christ Jesus?” Translated, “Are you living in the freedom he offers your life by being his slave, his disciple, and not a slave of the world?”

               Paul’s human greeting is strong, attention-getting, in those few words to the Roman community of early Christians. Paul’s greeting is the penultimate greeting that we can extend to another person or community. A slave of Christ Jesus is the deepest sign, the netherworld-type of greeting that we can extend. It removes all doubt as to who we are close, and to who or what we worship. It’s the perfect set-up greeting a few days before his impending birth.

               And, speak of removing all doubt, poor Joseph, like John the Baptist last week in prison wanting to know if Jesus was the one to come, Joseph is filled with doubt concerning his relationship with Mary. His love for Mary never lessens. Joseph loves Mary with all his heart, his soul, his mind, and his strength. He sees her perfect beauty both inside and out. She is God’s perfect creature. The only creature created to perfection. But Joseph in his heart believes he spies an imperfection in Mary. Hmm, does he know something God doesn’t about Mary? Many people think they do. Joseph doesn’t know how it happened. His eyes do not deceive him. She’s pregnant, and he’s not the father. “You got that right bother!” Time to divorce her quietly. Why quietly? Why divorce Mary in the silence of the night? Because, he loves her unconditionally, and Joseph does not want the community of judges to judge her harshly by stoning her. “Time for another greeting,” says the Lord. 

               “Gabriel, go down and speak with Joseph. Please tell him this is all my doing. This is my plan from the beginning of time. My plan to bring my people from the netherworld, from depths unknown to the human mind. My plan that will raise them up so that they may be together forever in my presence and each other’s loving presence. Hurry Gabriel. Go forth and tell Joseph he needs to stay the Divine Plan of Redemption. Greet Joseph in his dream and tell the righteous man to hold fast and hold Mary by the hand. Tell him to be her husband for life and enjoy the beauty of her presence and companionship. Go Gabriel!”

               The 3rd greeting on this 4th Sunday of Advent initiated by God personally, is the greeting that saves the day. It saves Christmas Day. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. Do not separate from her. Do not distance yourself from her. It’s through the Spirit – the Holy Spirit – that this child has been conceived in her. She is pregnant through the power of the Author of all Life. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

               This Divine greeting saves the day, the world, and all creation. It’s probably a good thing Joseph didn’t know all this was somehow dependent upon his decision to take Mary his wife into his home, rather than divorce her, quietly or otherwise. It’s a good thing he lacked certain knowledge about these events.

               But we don’t lack such knowledge in hindsight. Like Joseph, we embrace the 3rd greeting on the 4th Sunday of Advent, as we prepare for the greatest greeting of all time in an obscure manger in Bethlehem.