An FJV reflects on the fourth Sunday of Advent and the current events in our world that remind us, and ask us to show one another more love.
By Katie Lacz
This week, my husband, two-year-old, and I went to Zoo Lights at the Denver Zoo. If you live near a zoo, you’ve probably heard of or been to something like this: You enter the zoo at night, and the pathways are lit up with glowing images of animals, candy canes, snowflakes, and – in our case – Santa Claus being pulled by three hippos. Families wandered around, children shouting while bundled up in bright puffy jackets against the winter cold.
This week, we’ve seen the images pouring out of Aleppo, Syria, where citizens who have been trapped in a war zone are trying, and often failing, to be evacuated before they are killed. As I read an article, one photo caught my eye: a line of women holding the hands of their children, carrying bags that contained all they could take with them from their homes, walking through an utterly destroyed street to an evacuation point. The women were mostly dressed in black; the children were bundled up in bright puffy jackets against the winter cold.
How do we celebrate the fourth week of Advent, a time of waiting in joyful hope, in the midst of a world where this occurs? How do we celebrate coming of the light when the darkness seems stronger than ever?
Today’s Gospel is a familiar story – Mary and Joseph are engaged, he discovers that she’s pregnant, and he intends to separate from her quietly. An angel comes to him and tells him of the true nature of Mary’s unborn child, and he changes his mind and agrees to welcome her into his home as his wife. We see God intervene to stop Joseph’s initial reaction – one of rejection, no matter how gentle it seems – and to change it into one of welcome, of embrace, of making possible the birth of God-With-Us.
Joseph had a lot at stake in this situation. He was a “righteous man” – people knew him to be honorable. But if people discovered that his soon-to-be wife was pregnant before they had even lived together, it would have cast shame on the both of them. He would have faced the loss of his good name, which was a big deal in his time and culture. When the angel appeared to Joseph, it did not promise that if he took in Mary, people would not shame him. But it did say, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid of what you might lose; trust that what you are about to gain is far greater.
Where is God calling us to change rejection into welcome? In what unusual places can we trust that God is waiting to be born? Where can we step out of fear and into the risk of loving?
God is always, always being born into dark times. First century Palestine under Roman occupation was a dangerous place to be. Later in the same Gospel we started reading today, Mary, Joseph, and their newborn son become refugees from political violence in a Middle Eastern state. If we encountered them – this young brown-skinned couple with their small, dark-eyed baby, would we welcome them? Or would we say – gently, because we are a righteous people – that we’re sorry, it’s just too risky? Or not so gently, because fear makes us harsh – stay out, you don’t belong here?
Joseph listened to the angel in his moment of doubt and fear. We also must constantly be listening for the voice that invites us to participate in God becoming Incarnate among us. When St. Paul talks about the “obedience of faith” in the second reading, this is what he’s talking about. The word “obedience” has its roots in the Latin for “to listen.” That obedience is the listening, required of us by faith, to the small voice in dark times that says,
Do not be afraid.
God-with-us is coming.
He will save his people from their sins.
There’s plenty of reason to be afraid. The sins that have created a situation like the civil war in Syria, or the suffering in so many other places around the world, feel almost insurmountable. We constantly wonder what our small efforts will do against a swelling tide of hatred. We fear for the world our children will inherit.
And yet – fear does not have the last word. Love does: not with a false promise that things will be easy, but with the truth that God, out of a love that bewilders me every time, yet again chooses to be born among us here, now, in the midst of fear and pain and oppression.
And that means we are called, like Joseph, to draw close to the unexpected people who are bringing Christ into the world, even when it is risky. The risk is always bound up with the promise of God’s presence, and the invitation to make that presence stronger and clearer through the way we live our own lives.
Maybe that work begins by recognizing the Christ-bearers in their modern guises. Maybe the mother of God is dressed in black, holding the hand of her young child, bundled up in a bright puffy jacket against the winter cold. Would we take her in?
Katie served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2006. She holds a BA in Journalism from Ithaca College, and a Masters of Divinity from Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She currently lives in Colorado with their family.
This post was originally published on Katie’s blog Pure Buttermilk.