Friday, December 17, 2010

4th Sunday Advent Year A (Matthew 1:18-24) The difference our individual response makes

1600 years ago a man boarded a ship in Wales and sailed to Ireland.  He didn’t particularly want to come back here, but he believed that God was asking him to, because of a dream.  When he got here he began teaching people about the Christian God, about the death and resurrection of Jesus, about why this happened and about the eternal life that God now offers us.  His name was Patrick.

About 2000 years ago a different man found himself in a very difficult situation.  He was promised to a woman in marriage, already legally bound, but now she was pregnant.  If he divorced her, as he was entitled to do, then she would be shamed and he didn’t want to do this.  If he did not divorce her then he would be shamed as it would look like he had had sexual relations with her before they were fully married., which would have been quite a scandal at that time.  This was of course Joseph and Mary.  But then an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to take Mary as his wife and it says that ‘when he awoke he did exactly as he had been commanded to do.’ 

Both of these men responded to a dream, prompting them to do the opposite of what they had intended to do, but look at what happened as a result.  Because Patrick responded to the dream, Christianity was brought to Ireland.  Because Joseph responded to his dream, Jesus was given the proper parents that God intended for him.  No doubt the reason both of these men responded to God in this particular way was because they were open to God.  They wanted to do what was right and to live as God asked. 

What God asks of us can be difficult, but it will always be the most worthwhile path.  We may be asked to give up all kinds of attractive opportunities in order to be faithful to our wife or husband and families.  We may be asked not to be involved in certain kinds of activities which are against the teaching of God.  Standing up for what we believe in can be difficult, but sometimes God asks this of us.  And all of us have a role to play as fathers or mothers, single or married.  You might be tempted to say, ‘yes but God does not speak to us like that.’  The truth is that God is speaking to us all the time, through the Scriptures, through each other and God is still asking us to live by his commandments, even though it may mean going against the tide, being the minority.

I think that I can safely say that pretty much everyone is very disturbed by the things we are hearing on the news every day.  It seems that even here in Ireland there are one or more murders every day now, something we would never have heard of twenty years ago.  Why is that?  Could it be because many people have abandoned the way of life that God calls us to live?  What can we do about it?  What we can do about it is to make sure that we respond to God's call ourselves.  You can be cynical and say that it won’t make any difference, but I think that deep down we know that it will  make a difference.  In fact  the  response of each individual  is precisely what makes the difference in any society. 

One of the things that has started to happen because of the recession is that people are coming together voluntarily and making all kinds of projects happen, many of them for charity.  And because they are not getting paid for it, it is creating great good will.  People are giving of their time and energy freely, and I think this is a wonderful thing, not so much because of what they achieve, but  because of the goodness it draws out of people.  There is good in everyone, and sometimes it takes situations of difficulty to bring it to the surface.  You often see that at funerals, where neighbours are so good to a family when someone has died.

Jesus said ‘you are the light of the world; you are the salt of the earth, or the yeast (baking powder) that makes the flour rise.’  We are fewer now but how we live is so important, because it influences the world around us.  Making our society and our world a better place begins with me, where I live, with the people I deal with.  That is what God calls us to.  Remember Patrick, Joseph, Mary and so many others.  Their individual responses to God changed the course of history.  Their responses at the time probably seemed quite insignificant, but in the long run it made all the difference in the world.  It is always the few people in society who try to live as God asks that make the difference.  That is also what God calls us to do: to live by his commandments, to try and do what is right and not to be afraid or ashamed of what we believe in.

‘When Joseph awoke from sleep he did exactly as the angel had told him to do.’

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