Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year A 2019 at St Luke’s Catholic Community, Marsden Park
Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24
22 December 2019
The subversive way of God’s vulnerability
We live in a world where greatness is often measured by the amount of power, wealth and success. Chairman Mao famously said that power comes out of the barrel of the gun. It might sound crude in the digital age but it still holds true. Many countries in the world, including Australia, spend much more money on the military than they do on education.
During the last federal election, there was a slogan “Make Australia Great Again”. It had some traction with those who felt that their privilege and power had been undermined or threatened. Thus, asserting the greatness of one nation or one group usually means the exclusion or diminishment of others. The latter could be foreigners, refugees, migrants, people of certain religions, welfare recipients et cetera.
The Word of God on this Fourth Sunday of Advent challenges the worldly notion of greatness. It teaches us that God reveals himself to us in powerlessness and invites us to a new way of living and relating. We must be prepared to let go of our desire to be in control and accept the way of God with humility and courage.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks to King Ahaz concerning God’s plan for his people during the turbulent time prior to the collapse of Judah, the Northern Kingdom. Ahaz has allied himself with the powerful King of Assyria at the expense of its sibling rival, Israel. He has sought to strengthen his power base through astute alliances! It is classic political expediency and opportunism. We are no stranger to this, especially when it comes to the preferential voting system where deals are made for the interest of a few.
Isaiah, though, goes against the grain of survival politics. He is more concerned about fidelity to God’s covenant and integrity with Israel’s heritage, which would have been compromised by alliance with a foreign king. He told Ahaz that God would save his people not through powerful alliances but through a vulnerable and helpless child. “A virgin will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel, a name which means God is with us”. God works through weakness and vulnerability is a poignant lesson for the people of the covenant as well as for all of us, believers.
The Gospel reinforces this lesson through the story of the Annunciation. Mary’s life was thrown into chaos when she was told of God’s plan. In spite of the mystery and uncertainty, Mary gave that generous faith-filled response, “I am the handmaid of the Lord and let it be done unto me according to your word”.
In today’s episode, it was Joseph’s turn to be disturbed and to have his life turned upside down as a result of divine interruption. Upon discovering that Mary was already pregnant, he planned to divorce her. However, he was told in a dream, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.” Just as Mary had done, Joseph too learned to submit to God’s plan and live it out with a vulnerable trust.
Like King Ahaz, Mary and Joseph, we must be open to God’s way, which often shakes us out of our familiar and secure environment. It is not easy to learn to adapt to new ways. Yet the message to them was clear: They can no longer do business as usual. They must align their attitude and behaviour in favour of God’s revelation. They must see life and live it differently.
As people of faith, we ascribe to the biblical alternative to the dominant system. We are called to live and relate to each other in a way that is different to the competitive, trickle down, survival-of-the-fittest ideology. Like the faithful remnants of Israel, we must learn to create a new society of solidarity, compassion and justice even at the cost of our privilege and comfort as opposed to the dystopia of exploitation, inhospitality and exclusion.
We are a counter-cultural community, which is grounded in God’s deep and all-embracing love. Our greatness is not measured by the amount of wealth, power and success but the quality of our discipleship. Let us pray that, as St Paul reminds us, we may be faithful in carrying our mission of sharing the Good News and witnessing to God’s vision of human flourishing. May God of the journey accompany and form us into his people and his instruments for the transformation of the world. May Mary and Joseph be our models and examples of faith and trust in God as we prepare to meet the Prince of Peace at Christmas.