The scriptures for the Fourth Sunday of Advent are filled with great promise but also with risk beyond imagining. They tell stories of crisis and challenge, of calls to conversion and questions that insist on answers. They demand a life lived on the cutting edge of awareness, a life that risks and responds without counting the cost. Life lived to the full, life in God, is filled with promise, with signs and wonders.
This is the way of God’s life within us. When difficult questions have to be answered, when tough choices have to be made, only love can move us in the direction of life-giving choices. At times like these we need people to walk with us, to reassure us, sometimes just to celebrate with us. How differently the stories of Advent would be if Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph had let fear and anxiety triumph over love and trust and faith. Would we tell the stories at all? Advent promises the triumph of love over fear, of light over darkness. This love is difficult but so essential; we need to know that God is with us.
Joseph tossed and turned in the night and the questions crowded out all other concerns during the day. What would he do? How would he arrange this? What were his responsibilities? He tries to find as comfortable a solution as possible for everyone concerned. But the word of God breaks through this chaos and darkness and Joseph sees with startling clarity that the answer lies not along the path of least resistance but in the one solution he never considered. When the spirit breaks into human life we are confronted with an insistent challenge. We are called to choose life or death. Joseph follows the spirit, chooses life and receives the assurance of Emmanuel. We, too, are called to let the word of God break through the confusion in our lives. If we accept its illumination in spite of our fear, our uncertainty, our human weakness, we will know God with us. This is the way the birth of Jesus comes about.
Out of the silence of Advent comes the promise of the incarnation. The word breaks into our lives with the startling and dazzling revelation that through Jesus of Nazareth, God loved us in the visible, tangible ways the angels could never understand. Because we believe this, we’re called to love one another with the same incarnate love. Such love is a challenge to be gentle, to give of one’s self, to enter deeply into reconciliation, to grow and to change, above all to trust. It is a commitment of trust and faith, of promises made, kept, broken, reconciled. No real love can be born without risks, without vulnerability. Perhaps this is at the heart of our reluctance to believe the good news. We know that if it’s genuine, it will always have a price. As Christians we’ve staked our lives on the belief that only through death is there life. Our love is born of a passionate belief in promise, in commitment, in covenant.
To this love we commit all that we are and all that we can become. When despair overwhelms us, when promises suddenly seem empty, when it seems that we’re surrounded by dashed dreams and disappointment, by love betrayed and friendships faltering, prophets break into our lives with the word that God still cares, that love is still possible. To believe this promise demands that we risk once again, that we reach out in love, that we trust the hand reaching out to us.