Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fourth Week of Advent Year C 2018 at St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith
Readings: Micah 5:1-4; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-44
22 December 2018
God’s challenge against our settled securities
One of the constant themes in the Bible is the need to guard against settled securities, so that we do not grow comfortable and forget God’s purpose for us in the world. Throughout biblical history, the temptation to forgetfulness or amnesia is apprised as much as the temptation to nostalgia.
We are familiar with stories of God’s chosen people wanting to go back to Egypt when the going got tough. Their nostalgia for the good old days is as strong as our yearning for security, clarity and prosperity in times of rapid social change.
The anniversary of the Cronulla riots around this time of the year is a timely reminder to us, particularly European Australians, of such nostalgia and the need for us to be vigilant about what we see as our birthright.
In today’s scripture, the temptation that is highlighted for us is not so much nostalgia in times of hardship as forgetfulness in times of security. We are drawn to amnesia when we conform uncritically to the Gospel of prosperity, security and self-interest. We forget how to be morally indignant at injustice, exploitation and violence. We are too comfortable, too settled and we see no need; we feel no discomfort; we hear no summons to God’s vision for the Church and for the world.
In the first reading, the prophet Micah gives a critique of the way the leading citizens look after themselves to the negligence of the poor and the vulnerable. Israel had been divided into two competing kingdoms with Samaria and Jerusalem being the centres of power.
Micah denounces the powerful in both cities who were concerned about how to increase their influence and affluence instead of seeking justice for the poor. Against their settled securities and arrogance, he issues a warning that God would align himself with the weak and the vulnerable. In fact, Micah is the first prophet to identify the Messiah with Bethlehem which is like chalk and cheese to Jerusalem.
This metaphor is both an indictment of the comfortable rich and a vindication of the afflicted poor. In the midst of the wheeling and dealing where everyone looks after his own interests, the prophet summons the people to their true calling. “The Lord requires of you only this” he says, “to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God.”
The yardstick of righteous living that Micah sums up is as relevant today for us as it was for our ancestors in faith.
Justice, compassion for and solidarity with the oppressed has been the distinguishing feature of the God of Israel. Indeed, it will be the ultimate criteria by which we will be judged at the end of time (“When I was hungry you gave me food et cetera”).
Micah’s prophecy reminds us that when all is said and done, we must be faithful to the God who is not so much worshipped with elaborate ceremonies in Jerusalem as identified with the powerless in Bethlehem; the God who is not so much appeased with sacrifices of the rich as indignant at the injustice done against the poor.
The Gospel offers us another perspective into the God of justice, compassion and solidarity. Whereas Micah condemns the movers and shakers in Jerusalem and Samaria for their self-centredness, the Gospel gives us a positive model of living for others.
Mary of Nazareth is the antithesis of indifference and apathy. She refuses to settle comfortably in her status. Instead, she lives out her missionary discipleship by accepting inconvenience and risk. She goes out of her security in order to accompany and share the Good News with others.
Mary is, therefore, a model for us Christians individually and collectively in not hiding behind the shield of our security but in going out to the periphery and in being in solidarity with others. She embodies the God who raises up the lowly.
Brothers and sisters,
We are at the threshold of Christmas which is the mystery of God identifying with us in all our human vulnerabilities. As God abandons his own security in order to be with us, so must we have the courage to live for others. We cannot be true to the Gospel if we safeguard our privileges and fail to deliver justice and human dignity to those who are unjustly deprived of it.
We cannot be his disciples of Jesus if we ignore the plight of the marginalised and the vulnerable. We cannot be salt and leaven if we allow our Christian conscience to be desensitised by the inequality, injustice and inhumanity in our society and in the world.
It is God’s vision of justice, mercy and the fullness of life for all that consumes us and spurs us on.
Let us pray that we have the faith and courage of Mary in responding to the needs of others, to say Yes to the God of solidarity, compassion and justice. May we learn to live in vulnerable trust. May our Yes be total and unreserved as we endeavour to carry out the plan God has for every one of us.