Advent week four: We are called

By Maureen Pratt | Catholic News Service
Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Advent candles and a wreath help bring focus to the time before the coming of our Lord. Each candle represents a week of Advent. The fourth Sunday of Advent is Dec. 18, 2022. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

These last few days of Advent draw us further into preparations, celebrations and “must do” activities. We might be feeling mighty frazzled, perhaps pulled in myriad directions, afraid we won’t get it all done.

Blessedly, the readings for the fourth Sunday of Advent refocus our attention away from all that distracts and worries us and toward a reality more uplifting and inspiring than any sparkling decoration or delicious aroma from holiday cooking could be:

“The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, / and shall name him Emmanuel.”

Emmanuel. God is with us.

The first reading, from Isaiah (Is 7:10-14), gives us a glimpse of God’s steadfast love in the face of rejection. Ahaz, the king of Judah, has learned that a terrible army is encamped nearby (7:1-9).

An attack is imminent, and the “heart of the king and heart of the people trembled, as the trees of the forest tremble in the wind” (7:2).

Against this human drama, the Lord sends the prophet Isaiah to Ahaz and instructs him to tell the king to “remain calm and do not fear” (7:4), to trust in the Lord and have faith, without which, Ahaz and his people will not “be firm” (7:9). Without God, they will not escape devastation.

The Lord calls Ahaz into close collaboration, to “ask for a sign from the Lord, your God” (7:11). Yet Ahaz will not ask, perhaps out of a sense of unworthiness, but (more likely) out of fear (or pride?) that God will not be enough in the face of an impending military attack.

Isaiah expresses exasperation at Ahaz’ refusal to accept God’s help over the king’s lesser, human resources. But then hope emerges; even if Ahaz rejects the divine invitation and he and the people of Judah suffer because of it, the Lord will not completely forsake them:

“The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, / and shall name him Emmanuel.”

A wonderful gift as only God can give — reason for praise!

The responsorial psalm offers us an opportunity to give voice to our praise. Unlike Ahaz’ rejection of God’s help, we sing, “Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory,” as we hear of the Lord’s presence and act of creation over and through all “the earth and its fullness” (Ps 24:1).

We repeat the refrain as we wonder who might be worthy to “ascend the mountain of the Lord” (Ps 24:3) and learn that the ascent is for those whose “hands are sinless,” who are of clean heart, and who desire “not what is vain” (Ps 24:4).

We repeat yet again our praise song to “let the Lord enter” as we learn of the blessings to be given, “a reward from God” our savior (24:5). We do not waver in our praise song: Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory!

Fresh from our praise, the second reading from Romans 1:1-7 enfolds us in a fellowship centuries’ deep and gives us a glimpse of what letting the Lord enter does in our lives.

In his greeting, Paul witnesses with his readers long ago and us today to the “gospel of God” (1:1), the good news of God’s promise “through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (1:3), fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

He embraces his (and our) calling “to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1) and “bring about the obedience of faith” (1:4), to spread the good news.

Those to whom Paul writes and, indeed, each of us are “called to belong to Jesus Christ” (1:6). We are “called to be holy” (1:7).

A tall task, requiring courage, but the Lord is ever present, as we hear in Paul’s grace-laden letter.

The beautiful Gospel reading, Matthew 1:18-24, brings us to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed. A righteous man, Joseph does not want to subject Mary to public shame because she is with child before they have lived together. Rather, he will “divorce her quietly” (1:19).

But the Lord has another plan, a divine plan of salvation, and sends one of his angels to reveal it to Joseph in a dream.

First, the angel says, take courage: “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home” (1:20).  Then, the good news: The child, Jesus, is conceived through the Holy Spirit. He will “save his people from their sins” (1:21).

With such divine assurance, who could be afraid?

Joseph brings Mary into his home, and his response to the Lord’s call continues to inspire.

We might think it would be easy to follow God’s call if God spoke directly to us, but we hear in these readings how that is not always the case.

All that keeps us busy (and awake at night!) can weigh us down, make us spiritually distant from the reality of faith.

Yet, blessedly, the readings this Sunday gently call us to courage, to trust in God, to understand that God keeps promises made long ago — and draws us into a firm, freeing fellowship.

“The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, / and shall name him Emmanuel.”

Emmanuel. God is with us!

Rejoice, now and always!


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