God is with us

Published on 19 Dec 2019

When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do [1].  Advent, until the very end, is a summons to wakefulness. The coming of the Lord demands our attention. The season of preparation is an exercise in being alert to what God is doing and saying. Attentiveness to God gives rise to obedience to his commands.  Clarity about what to do accompanies the revelation of God incarnate.

The Lord himself will give you a sign [2].  The long and continuing history of God’s loving communication with his creation includes the instructions given to Joseph about the birth of Christ. The alertness of Joseph to what God was saying to him and his willingness to do what he was asked express the spirit of Advent. The Lord is very close to us and is guiding our life.  We could miss what he is saying to us.  If we are not awake and ready, the incarnation could pass us by.  The good of the divine presence among us is for everyone; but not all are able to give their attention to what is happening.

Advent helps us not to miss the arrival of Emmanuel, a name which means God-is-with-us [3].  We could overlook the Word-made-flesh because of the seeming insignificance of the birth in Bethlehem. We could fail to understand what is being done for us.  It is not apparent to everyone that the world has been changed forever.  The immensity of God’s gift of his Son is disguised by the obscure circumstances in which Jesus enters the world.  However our life of faith puts us on the alert for the One coming quietly among us. In the sacraments, in prayer and in our loving service of others we are enabled to cultivate openness to God being with us.

Why would we not be open to something so wonderful? Who wants to be other than attentive?  What could lead us to miss that which the Lord is doing for us and saying to us?  Advent has encouraged us to remove the obstacles which prevent our focusing on what is most important.  Sometimes we seek what is not God. Our sins, our resistance to grace and our being so easily distracted can make us impervious to the signs of divine closeness. Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?  Who shall stand in his holy place? The man with clean hands and pure heart, who desires not worthless things [4].   The incarnation takes place whatever we are like. However we desire to be the sort of people who can see and understand that God is with us.

Fearfulness can deaden our appreciation that the word of God is being addressed to us and should be acted upon right away.  Joseph, son of David do not be afraid [5].  Even a very good person may be intimidated by the power and prevalence of evil.  A heart focused on God may nevertheless be dismayed by the troubles of the world.  Our anxieties freeze us. Overwhelmed by trouble, we could cease to be on the alert for goodness.  Reverence for the grandeur of God can fade into hopelessness and pusillanimity.  Forgetful of his mercy, we might stop listening for his approach.

Joseph woke up [6].   The slumber of Joseph was not carelessness. Mary and the child-who-was-to-be-born were continuously under his care.  This person of honour [7] was vigilant even when sleeping.  Joseph was on the alert all the time.  The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream [8].   God spoke to him in his sleep. He heard, understood and awoke to act as he had been directed. Joseph had his part to play in the incarnation. Attentive, he stirred from his rest.  Refreshed, he set about performing the tasks which had been allotted to him. ‘God has created me to do him some definite service’ [9].  With humility and vigilance, Joseph accepted the divine command although it was different from what he had made up his mind to do [10].

As we listen to God, who addresses us night and day, his call becomes audible.  Through him (Jesus Christ) we received grace and our apostolic mission [11].  Our being vigilant in the Lord’s service is not incompatible with attending to our other duties, including taking the rest we need.  Advent is a busy time.  Can it, at this late stage, include some repose?  There is attentiveness in our being quiet, is there not?  Seeking peace, we are called to be saints [12].  Like Joseph, we are summoned from slumber to our work.  Drawing strength from the love of God, which sustains us even when we are sleeping, we awake invigorated.

‘Save us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace.’[13]  In the silence of our times of tranquillity, God speaks to us. He honours the vigilance and alertness that is in our being at peace.  Such are those who seek the face of God [14]. Like Saint Joseph, we are on the alert at all times. People dear to their creator have been entrusted to us.  There are pauses on the journey: rest is necessary.  We are silent so as not to miss what is said. In the last days of Advent something dawns on us. God sends his messenger.  We wake up joyfully to do what we have been asked to do.

Homily by Peter Gallagher SJ

[1] Matthew 1.24

[2] Isaiah 7.14

[3] Isaiah 7.14

[4] Psalm (24) 23.3-4

[5] Matthew 1.20

[6] Matthew 1.24

[7] Matthew 1.19

[8] Matthew 1.20

[9]  Saint John Henry Newman ‘Meditation on hope in the Creator’ March 7th, 1848

[10] Matthew 1.20

[11] Romans 1.5-6

[12] Romans 1.7

[13] from Compline

[14] Psalm (24) 23.6