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God is with Us

Entrance Antiphon: Is 45:8 — “Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior.”

First Reading: Is 7:10-14 — “Behold, the virgin shall conceive.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6 — “Let the Lord enter; He is the King of Glory.”

Second Reading: Rom 1:1-7 — “Jesus Christ, descended from David, is the Son of God.”

Alleluia: Mt 1:23 — “Alleluia, alleluia. The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel. Alleluia, alleluia.”

Gospel: Mt 1:18-24 — “Jesus will be born of Mary, the betrothed of Joseph, a son of David.”

Communion Antiphon: Is 7:14 — “Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son; and His name will be called Emmanuel.”

Some of us remember our dreams in vivid detail while others barely or rarely remember them. Either way, neuroscientists tell us that everyone dreams and that dreaming while asleep is important for our overall health. That’s when the brain processes memories and emotions, allowing us the sound sleep needed for our bodies and brains to heal. It can be said that regular prayer habits do the same. Speaking with God and listening for God’s response are vital to living well. The readings today point to the promise of God’s presence in one word: Emmanuel.

God has promised to be present in each moment of our lives whether we are awake or asleep. But we don’t always hear God’s voice. That requires spending time with God – just as we do in building all loving and intimate relationships. Our time spent in prayer and getting to know God’s voice, enables our hearts to listen and respond to God’s generous spirit.

The First Reading introduces Ahaz, a mighty king in the royal line of King David. The Gospel presents Joseph, a poor, humble carpenter and descendant of King David. Ahaz spurns God, believing only in his own wisdom and power. In fact, Isaiah points out, Ahaz “wearies” God with his resistance. Ahaz misuses his power and wealth. He ignores the Prophet Isaiah, rejects God’s will, and consequently hurts his own people.

Even before receiving God’s message, Joseph chooses to act righteously, regardless of loss and embarrassment. He puts Mary’s welfare before his own. As a faithful Jew, he remains open to God’s will.

Ahaz’s refusal to seek God’s help demonstrates his inability to recognize God’s voice. He has not attempted to cultivate his relationship with God.

Joseph, on the other hand, knows God’s voice, which points to a life of prayer that has deepened his faith and relationship with God.

Although Scripture tells us relatively little about Joseph, he plays a critical role in salvation history. The Davidic line as prophesied continues with Joseph. Joseph protects, guides, and loves the child Jesus. Because of the courage of an ordinary man, strong in faith and reliant on God’s grace, the unseen God can take on human flesh to fulfill God’s promise of salvation.

Often we may act more like Ahaz than like Joseph, wasting time agonizing over problems when our plans fail, forgetting to pray first and let go of the control we think we have. Joseph relies on the “Spirit of holiness” (to use Saint Paul’s words in today’s Second Reading), aligning his intentions with God’s – for the welfare of others. Joseph is well aware of how God speaks to him. Just as we work to improve ourselves in other areas of life, such as work or play, we have many opportunities to expand our faith and deepen our relationship with God (for example daily prayer, going Mass, a retreat, perhaps subscribing to Ascension’s Bible-in-a-Year or Catechism-in-a-Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz, etc.), God is present in all we do. During Advent we mindfully prepare for Jesus’ birth through prayer and the sacraments. Admittedly, we have also taken time to find the “right gifts” and plan parties. Let us pray and prepare our hearts for the best gifts, that we may be more like Saint Joseph: righteous, just, courageous, obedient, trusting, humble, merciful, and fully aware of God’s presence. Our best plans follow God’s will.

In 2013, Pope Francis added the name of Saint Joseph to Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV. Pope Francis cited Saint Joseph as a model of kindness and humility and ordinary, simple virtues. “Through these virtues, this just man, caring most lovingly for the Mother of God and happily dedicating himself to the upbringing of Jesus Christ, was placed over God the Father’s most precious treasures.”

As we near Christmas, we focus our attention on the mystery of the Word made flesh, Emmanuel, “God-is-with-us.” We are called to respond in faith to something that surpasses human understanding ... and while today’s Gospel reveals what may sound like a completely irrational explanation of “how the birth of Jesus Christ came about,” Joseph makes a life changing decision based on a dream. His faith and trust in God’s Word not only change his family’s life but that of the entire world. We need to make courageous choices that other people may consider irrational.

And so, in our Eucharistic celebration on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we rely on the gift of faith, which alone reveals the mystery of God’s presence: God-is-with-us, Emmanuel.

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