Forth Sunday Of Advent – Your Purpose Is In Your Name
By – Archbishop Joseph Harris
Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24
This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel,” a name which means “God-is-with-us”. When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.
This weekend is the last weekend before Christmas and the readings remind us of the essential in preparing for the coming of the Lord. The gospel today has many themes but the most striking to me is the theme of names and the act of naming.
In the ancient world and in many non-secularized cultures, names are meant to express the essential about someone with the hope that what is seen as the essential will in fact be lived out. Sometimes though, names are given because of what is being lived and so we have the phenomenon of nick names.
At least up to one generation ago, Christian parents had the habit of given their child a saint name for two reasons, one was to ensure the saint’s protection over their child, the other was in the hope that the child would in fact reproduce the characteristics of that particular saint.
In today’s gospel passage, Joseph is told to give his child the name Jesus, a name which means saviour. The passage goes on to speak in the future tense; “he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.”
The gospel story does in fact tell us that Jesus saved his people from their sins, but even though putting emphasis on the sins, the gospel portrait of Jesus is of one who saved his people for various things, like embarrassment [see the young couple at the wedding in Cana when the wine ran out], he also saved people from all sorts of illnesses and possessions and he gave the lame and the blind the capability of working. In other words, Jesus’ saving of his people was both spiritual and material. But it was this complete saving work of Jesus that revealed the loving compassionate face of God to his people and so the words of the prophet became real, “they will call him Immanuel,” a name which means “God-is-with-us”. Jesus could be known asGod –is-with –us, because he was faithful to his name Jesus [saviour].
There are two consequences flowing from the above. Firstly it was Mary and Joseph who taught Jesus to be saviour. It was they who taught him by word and action to be sensitive to the needs of others, to be compassionate with them and to love them, especially the most broken in their midst. Must not our children also learn from their parents to be merciful and compassionate and so become more Christ-like each day?
Secondly all of us are called to be faithful or to live out the characteristics of the names that we have. It is by being a just, compassionate person and one who listens to the Spirit, that I am faithful to the name Joseph. All of us whether we are called Mary, Anthony James or Rita, are called to live out the gifts and blessings that our name signifies. In so doing, just as Jesus became “God is with us”, we become Christian, other Christs in the world. We make Christ present today. In making Christ present today, we make the merciful and compassionate presence of God active in our land.
To be another Christ in the world is the essential of our waiting creatively for God who will come again to each one of us personally and to all creation at the end of time. If when God comes to me personally and definitively, God recognizes the image of his son in me, then I will be embraced by the Father and my waiting will not have been in vain.
That is in fact the story of the lives of all the saints and the good people that we know, and of all those, catholic or not, Christian or not, who have affected the world for good. They became or have become other Christs, contributing to the saving of the world, both spiritually and materially.
As this season of Advent ends may we become those other Christs bringing salvation to others. Then our waiting will not have been in vain.
All-powerful and ever-loving God You sent your Son to be Emmanuel, God with us, so that we might come to know your merciful and compassionate love. As you sent your Son Jesus, you now send us, your son’s disciples to complete the work of revealing your mercy and compassion to the world. As we remember and celebrate your Son’s birth in this world, give us the grace to understand that our belief in your Son commits us being our Christs, and that our prime responsibility as Christians is to reveal to all around us your merciful and compassionate love. We ask this through Mary our mother and Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with –us. Amen