Advent 4: The Mystery of Our Identity
Most of us reading this live lives that are fairly secure, we are aware of the contradictions in our social fabric but accommodate ourselves to them in one way or another. We use what power or influence we have to maintain our lifestyles and so we become part of the status quo. Michel de Certeau, the French Jesuit scholar posits that against the strategy of cultural life given to us as a people, each of us has tactics that allow us to navigate those laws, degrees, customs, policies of the state with some degree of personal integrity.
But what happens when the imperatives of God’s love so commands our lives that we discover the tactics we have adopted to stay alive do not work. When Mary said yes to the Angel Gabriel her security, the established way of living for a young Jewish woman was compromised. There she was not yet married and pregnant. How do you explain this even to devout parents and to maybe less than devout neighbours as day after day she goes to the village well to gather water with her pregnancy showing.
And what is one to make of the tactics of her righteous spouse, Joseph, who plans to dismiss her quietly, but instead is induced to take her as his wife. Where does that put him in the honour system of his clan by bring the disgrace of a woman, not pregnant by him, into the family.
Both are moved from the strategies of Jewish life to a deeper level of relationship with God and with each other. The meaning of their lives change and they move forward discerning with Mystery. Joseph has his dreams of angels. Both become vulnerable as they hand over their lives to Divine Providence who later rescues them from Herod’s killing of the innocents though they become refugees in Egypt. They give up the ordered places in an ordered society to being something new into the world, the Christ Child, our Messiah.
These are remarkable events, and one might think one in a lifetime events. But in the second reading in Paul’s letters to the Romans, we have Paul; formerly Saul the persecutor of the Christian faithful, now also transformed to be “a servant of Jesus Christ” and called “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name “. Here we have another irruption of God’s mission into a tradition that opens it to radical forms of otherness it had not seen fit to encompass. A fanatic Jew becomes a Christian and extends the invitation of becoming part of God’s the very people he once despised as unbelievers.
The power of the Lord transforms, and it is this power that Ahaz, of Jerusalem, in the first reading. rejects preferring a political alliance with Assyria when he is to be besieged by his enemies. While he seems not to want to bother the Lord, it is because he already has his strategies for defeating the enemy. The prophet rebukes him and foretells the coming of one born of a virgin who will be God’s warrior bringing God’s peace to the world that God has created.
What the 4th Sunday of Advent brings home most forcefully is the radically transformative power of God in our world. Hope enters history and transforms that history into something more human. We, today, may have our own tactics of dealing with the preparations for celebrating the coming of the Child Jesus into our lives. There is the Christmas ethos, carols, the giving and receiving of presents, home decorations, visits of families and friends, even the annual donations to charities.
But underlying all of those individual or communal tactics, and deeper that the strategies of Christmas for different for different countries and cultures, is an overwhelming Mystery that heralds the transformation of a fallen creation into a new creation.
It deconstructs the power structures of our day, it releases the possibility of a new social imagination, it hears and embraces the cry of the poor responding with the Word-Made-Flesh – Emmanuel, God with us.
This Advent season can shore up our sense of security with the familiar and the traditional; we can subscribe to the dominant narratives of our times in what Christmas means and how it is to be celebrated; we can enjoy the power of being attached to those narratives and to the comfort it brings. We can see this as the way Christmas is to be celebrated.
But the readings of the Fourth Week of Advent offer a different perspective. It calls us beyond our security to a rootedness in the Father which deconstructs our ideologies of Christmas and leave us open to live in an ongoing relationship with a God who comes vulnerably into this world and who asks us to be vulnerable as he is, radically depending on the Father and on those the Father has chosen to support his mission. It is out of this intimacy that the ongoing mercy of God appears when Christ is born again and again in every human act of love which recognizes each of us called to be a living word of God.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent offers us the mystery of our identity. It calls us beyond ourselves into an intimacy with the ongoing Body of Christ .