A Reflection on the Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Advent Year A.
Note: Please enjoy Deacon Mark Mueller’s reflection on Sunday’s gospel passage.
There is a story of a young monk who came to his spiritual director and told him that he was making no progress in leading a holy life. He would do OK for a while, but then loose his way. His director, never a man of many words, simply looked up and told Him, “Go to your monastic cell and stay there. Your cell will teach you.” In other words, go to a place with no distractions, listen, and seek the signs that God offers. This is our goal in Advent. It is no easy task. So much competes! Yet, the rewards are tremendous. After all, we are talking about salvation for us and those we love, if we then have the patience and courage to follow the signs God gives.
The fourth Sunday of Advent is traditionally called “Rorate” Sunday. “Rorate” in Latin means, “rain down.” The Antiphon which traditionally begins Mass is,
“Drop down dew from above, the heavens, and let the clouds “rain down” the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior.” (The Roman Missal)
We need the Just One, our Savior, to “rain down” so that we might receive the signs of love to journey through this world to heaven. We need to seek the signs and heed them. And don’t grab an umbrella, the distractions of the season, we need the rain!
When I was a kid, maps were plentiful and necessary. My dad kept a pile of maps in his car and before any long trip, the Esso map was spread out covering the entire kitchen table to mark out our route. When I got my first car, he gave me a Rand – McNally Road atlas. Better than the huge fold-out maps, it had page after page of maps, with zoom-ins, and a matrix of distances to help figure out how far you would have to drive. I used it constantly. Before taking a long trip, I too would highlight my route and then write down a list of the road numbers, exits, and major towns along the way that I would need to look for to stay on path. These were the important signs. If I hit a detour, or worse was distracted, miss a turn or exit, I would have to find a place to pull over and determine how to get back on my path and calculate how much time I had lost. Paying attention to the signs along the way was, and is still, important!
Now, like just about everyone else, I plug my phone into my car and use the GPS App to navigate. I could be like Ahaz in the first reading and declare, I don’t need a sign, God don’t bother; I have my GPS. I read a story recently about three people who escaped their sinking SUV after the vehicle's GPS directed them down a road and into a lake. Following the GPS at night, the driver thought they were on the road to their hotel. They were actually on a road that took them toward a boat ramp across from the hotel. There were numerous signs that indicated that there was a boat launch ahead, but the driver kept his eyes on the GPS. Why watch for a sign? The driver followed the GPS straight into the water. The three were able to wade to safety, but the vehicle, sank. I wonder, if anyone had looked at a map and heeded the signs, could the story have ended differently?
In the first reading from Isaiah, The Lord offers a sign to King Ahaz, the King of Judah. Ahaz is in trouble! The Syrian and Israeli Army is poised to wipe out his Kingdom. He doesn’t know where to turn. Isaiah comes to him and seeks to reassure Ahaz that he need not fear the invading armies. God has promised to establish the Kingdom of David forever. (2 Sam 7:12–16) Isaiah tells Ahaz that God will give him a sign to reassure him. Ahaz incredibly, tells him, don’t bother. He is like the three people in the SUV; “who needs a sign when I have my GPS?” However, God gives Him, gives the people of Judah, the sign of hope they need,
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”( Isaiah 7:14 NABRE)
We know now how this sign is revealed. In just one week, we will celebrate the birth of God’s infinite love and mercy which “rained down” upon the earth in the form of a child, fully man and fully God, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Christ comes down to take our hand and guide us to heaven. We need this! Left to ourselves, we cannot possibly find our way to God. We are like ants at the bottom of Mount Everest. The distance to the top of the mountain is far too great to climb alone. We cannot know the way, we need help!
Lots of religions talk about finding a path to heaven, a searching for God. Unfortunately, it is like those ants aimlessly seeking the path to Mount Everest’s summit, or those ladies blindly following the route that leads to disaster. It cannot be done without help! Only in Christianity does God “rain down” to search for us and lead us to heaven. That is what we celebrate at Christmas! In the incarnation, God becomes man to lead and lift us up. In this, God gives us many miraculous signs to stay oriented and to give us strength, but we have to look past all the distractions and allow the Lord to speak? Like the Spiritual Director advised, we need to go back to our cell and let it teach us.
The purpose of the Advent Season is to remove the distraction, quiet the noise, and allow us to see the all-important signs God has given and is giving us. We need to see the moments in our life which reveal God’s miracles and love. We must consciously open the eyes of faith and see God leading us.
In the Gospel today, Joseph is in a quandary. To be betrothed in ancient Israel was very public. To have your fiancé show up pregnant was a very public embarrassment and dangerous, as the law required her death by stoning. We hear in the Gospel today,
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose [Mary] to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19 NABRE)
Joseph decided on a path, using his own GPS, but God gives him a sign. We hear in the Gospel that,
Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus…” (Matt 1:20–21 NABRE)
His eyes opened by the intervention of an Angel, Joseph now recognized the sign recorded in the book of Isaiah, “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” He sees the sign and follows the divine will! It must have been overwhelming to be suddenly thrust into God’s miraculous plan for Salvation. St Joseph had to have questioned what was happening. It would have been easy to disregard the signs and trust his own plan instead. He did not. Joseph, always the quiet man of faith in action, “he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” (Matt 1:24). He saw the sign and followed it. He ascended the mountain!
Internet Image - Anton Raphael Mengs | Public Domain
From our Psalm today,
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD? or who may stand in his holy place? One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. (Psalm 24:3-4 NABRE)
In this final week of Advent, if you haven’t had the opportunity to go to your cell and in silence seek the signs we need to come to God; do so! Our Lord never ceases in raining down for us, so take down any umbrellas that block grace and follow the signs of love which abound in the miracles that surround us. Ignoring the signs and blindly following the world, like blindly following your GPS WILL lead to disaster.
Rejoice, Our Lord has come and is coming, raining down, to lead us to heaven. Come Lord Jesus! And, do not delay.
Mengs, Anton Raphael Painying, The Annunciations to Joseph. Vinny Flynn. (2014, March 19). Retrieved December 17, 2022, from http://www.vinnyflynn.com/2014/03/19/the-annunciations-to-joseph/
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
The Roman Missal: Renewed by Decree of the Most Holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Promulgated by Authority of Pope Paul VI and Revised at the Direction of Pope John Paul II. Third Typical Edition. Washington D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.