THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: IMMANUEL – GOD IS WITH US

4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24

Theme: Immanuel: God is with us

One of the major thrusts of Saint Matthew’s gospel account is to show to his Jewish audience that God is always faithful to his promises, that God is a promise keeper. And a very major theme for Saint Matthew is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies in the prophetic corpus of writings. This is why in several instances, especially around the annunciation, birth and infancy narratives of Saint Matthew, we hear him repeatedly saying, “And this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet…” We also see this playing out in today’s liturgy of the Word.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah was speaking to king Ahaz of Judah who was under attack by two kings, Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel (Isa 7:1-2). Ahaz was terrified by the thought of being conquered, and God sent him the prophet Isaiah to bring him words of encouragement and of comfort. God said to Ahaz through Isaiah, “Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint…” (Isa 7:4). However, despite these words from the prophet, Ahaz was still not convinced, hence, he remained in his fear. It was to further convince him that God was with him and he need not fear that he was asked to demand a sign as proof of God’s abiding presence, and the subsequent promise of the Emmanuel, as we heard it in today’s first reading.

The prophetic promise of the Immanuel (Isa 7:14) was a promise to be kept for all eternity, not only to Ahaz and the people of his day. God re-echoed that promise when the birth of Jesus was announced by the angel Gabriel and it was ultimately fulfilled at the birth of Jesus. In several other instances in scriptures, we also hear God reassuring his people and us that his presence with us never fails. Advent points us to Christmas, and at Christmas, we celebrate Immanuel, God-with-Us (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). Christmas is a reminder of the fact that God is always with his people, that God never forgets us (Isaiah 49:14-16). Jesus also gives us this assurance when he said he is with us “even to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20), and even when he was to return back to the Father in heaven, he promised not to leave his disciples and us as orphans, but to send the Holy Spirit to be with us (Jn 14:18, 24).

Child of God, as you celebrate Christmas then, have it in mind that you are celebrating God’s presence with you. Irrespective of your condition in life, whether you are rich or poor, God is with you; in sickness or in good health, God is with you; whether you are a childless couple or you have children, God is with you; if you are married or you are still searching for a life partner, God is with you. Is your business thriving or is it struggling, God is with you in it; are you of a buoyant, strong faith or are you struggling very hard to stay on the path of righteousness, God is also with you; even when evil people band together against us, the word of God says we should not fear, their plans will not stand, for God is with us (Isa 8:10). Dear friends, at all times, in all circumstances, God is and always wants to be with us. Let us then be encouraged, let us take heart, let us not fear, for Immanuel is not just a name, Immanuel is the nature of our God, the God who is always with us.

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: “YET, I WILL REJOICE…”

3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh

Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Theme: Yet, I Will Rejoice…

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, also called Gaudette Sunday. Gaudette is the Latin for ’rejoice’, and it is drawn from the first word of the entrance antiphon of today’s Mass. In today’s first reading, God calls us to a life of joy. He says to the wilderness, the dry land and the desert to be glad, to rejoice and to blossom. Why? Because “the glory of Lebanon shall be given to it.” The desert is symbolic of emptiness, wastefulness, hopelessness, dryness, etc, yet God says to it: Rejoice!

The call God made through Isaiah was to the people of Israel while they were in exile in Babylon, and it is the same call he makes to us today: God is calling on us to rejoice, to be happy. I know that the question you’ll be asking in your mind is: “What is there to be happy about?” Looking at the circumstances of many of us, do we really have reasons to be happy? Should we be happy or sad? With the present reality of hardship facing us in Nigeria today, many people have lost and are still losing hope, finding no meaning in life, yet God says to us, “rejoice!” Again, with the numerous challenges facing many of us, why should we rejoice? What do we have to rejoice about?

  • You may have rent to pay soon, yet you do not have the money to do so
  • You may have lost your job recently
  • You may have children to feed and school fees to pay
  • Your business may be doing very badly
  • You or your loved one may be battling with one sickness or the other
  • Christmas is near and you do not have money to celebrate it
  • Your salary may not have been paid for some months.
  • The list goes on and on.

But in the midst of all these, do we truly have reasons to be happy? Yes, we do! And much more than we may even realize. In spite of the dryness and emptiness of the wilderness and desert, God says they shall rejoice. This means that even in the seeming dryness and emptiness of life, God has still given us reasons to rejoice and promises to give us still greater joy.

The problem however is, that:

  1. We are looking at our problems and not our blessings: The song “Count your blessings” says a lot to us about this. Are there not reasons in our lives for which we ought to be thankful? If we take a pen and paper to write, will we not find things to write that we can be thankful for? Despite the hard times we may be facing, the word of God says to us, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thess 5:16-18).
  2. Many people have tied the source of their happiness to things that actually do not give true happiness: Many people have tied the source of their happiness to material possessions. We think if we have this and that, we will be happy, but this is not true, because we shall only want more. The only real source of happiness is God, and we can only find this joy in his presence. As Psalm 16:11 says “in the presence of God is the fullness of joy.” When Paul was writing his letter to the Philippians in which he tells us to rejoice, he was in prison in Rome. That wasn’t a joyful circumstance to be in, but he knew he had God, so he could be happy. Romans 14:17 says “The kingdom of God is not about food and drink, but about righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” So if we give God space in our lives, though things may not be as we would want them to be, we would still find reasons to be happy. And I want you all to know that whatever your circumstance may be, if not for god, it could have been worse. The Bible says in Habakkuk  3:17-18 – “Even though the fig trees have no fruit and no grapes grow on the vines, even though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no corn, even though the sheep all die and the cattle stalls are empty, yet, I will rejoice in the Lord, BECAUSE the Lord God is my Saviour. Why should we rejoice even when things are failing apart? We should rejoice because “The deliverance of the just comes from the Lord, and he is their helper in times of distress.” (Psa 37:39).

Dear friends, I know we all have one or two reasons to be sad, but God says to us today that the desert shall rejoice; that the wilderness shall be glad. Remember, if it is not for God, it could have been worse. I pray for you today, that every desert in your life receives the touch of regeneration from God; may every wilderness experience in your life receive the grace of fruitfulness and increase; and may your dryness be watered by the rain of favour, in the name of Jesus. All that is required for us to experience this turnaround touch of God is to, “seek God first, and his righteousness and every other thing will follow” (Mat 6:33). So dear child of God, in all circumstances, see what God is doing for you and rejoice, bearing in mind that if not for God, it could have been worse.