December 23, 2013

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

The angel visits Joseph
(Click here for today’s readings

In the famous balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks, “What’s in a name?” It is true enough that the name is not the same as the reality. And yet some names do matter.

There are many names in today’s readings: Ahaz, Isaiah, Paul, Mary, Joseph. Two others really stand out: Emmanuel, and Jesus.

About the name Jesus, St. Peter says in chapter 4 of Acts: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Jesus means God Saves, or God is salvation. This is why the angel tells Joseph, “You are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Then, of course, there is the magnificent prophetic name Emmanuel: God with us.

Another name for Jesus also appears in today’s Gospel: Christ, which means Anointed, which translates the Hebrew title Messiah. Whenever we say Jesus Christ, we could equally say Jesus Messiah.

One other name appears in all three readings today, but only in passing, not as a character. That is David. Ahaz is addressed as “House of David,” that is as king, a member of David’s royal family. Joseph is called “Son of David” by the angel. And Paul writes that Jesus is “descended from David according to the flesh.” All this reminds us that Jesus is truly human, with real human ancestors. David is one of the great sinners of the Old Testament. He is also one of the great saints.

David means “beloved,” but that is not really the point here. What matters more is his story, his place in the history of salvation, and his love of God, expressed especially in the psalms. He was anointed king, which means he also bore the title “Messiah.”

We are all “anointed.” We were anointed twice at our baptism, and again at our confirmation. In a real sense we are all called to fulfill prophecy, even not knowing what or how, just by being faithful to our vocation “to be holy” in the “obedience of faith,” to use Paul’s words.

Unlike Ahaz, we are not told to ask for a sign; but each of us is called to be a unique sign of God’s presence among us, each of us is called to be Emmanuel.

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