Homily for Advent 4
December 22, 2019
God With Us
Back in 1995, pop singer Joan Osborne had a hit song, “One of Us” in which she asks the question, “What if God was one of us?” The song’s writer later said, “It would be an interesting thought, wouldn’t it? That God became one of us? I wonder what that would be like?”
Poor fellow! I suppose he never read the Gospels! This is what the Incarnation means – that God has become one of us. He entered into the messiness of this world, with its suffering and filth, just because He loves us. Consider: the Incarnation means that God got sick. God stubbed His toe. God had friends and went to parties. God played games. God worked hard and sweated and hungered. God got tired. God had to learn how to walk and talk. God wept when His friend died; God rejoiced with His Apostles.
Many of our Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin practiced a unique religion called “Deism”. Deism believed that God exists, but that He has nothing to do with His creation. They use the example of a watchmaker – back in the 1700s, a watchmaker would wind up his watches and then just let them run, and they functioned on their own. Likewise, they said that God created the universe, set the laws of nature within them, and then just stepped back and watched the universe run on its own without any intervention.
But this is not Christianity! Christianity says that God stepped down into His creation. He was not aloof, distant, just watching over creation. He is intimately involved in His Creation – first and foremost by becoming part of it, in Jesus Christ.
It can be very comforting to know that God is “Emmanuel” – God-with-us. Seven years ago I had one of the hardest days of ministry of my life. It was December 14, 2012, and I was assigned to St. Mary’s in Bethel on the day the Sandy Hook shooting happened. Bethel is only seven miles from Sandy Hook, and almost all of our parishioners had friends or neighbors who were affected. That night, our church was packed with seven hundred people for a prayer vigil.
All throughout the day, I had been texting my friend Fr. Luke Suarez, who was assigned in Newtown at the time, to see how he was doing. Finally, at 10pm, he texted back and asked that all of the clergy from Bethel come down to the Sandy Hook firehouse – we were needed down there. So we headed out, unsure of how we were needed. When we arrived at the firehouse, the police chief split us up into 26 different teams of a clergy member, a mental-health professional, and a police officer to give the official declaration of death to each of the 26 people killed in that shooting.
I will never forget whose house I visited – the house of Jack Pinto, one of the first-graders killed in the shooting. On the drive to the house I was more nervous than I have ever been in my life. We arrived at the house and knocked on the door, and heard only screaming from inside: “We know he’s dead! We know he’s dead!” We came in and sat with the family for an hour. What words could you say? There was nothing that can console a family in such grief, that their six-year-old had been brutally murdered. A lot of that time was spent in silence, just being with them, being present.
Later on, I reflected on that experience. Although there were no words that could bring the dead back to life, we came and we prayed and we tried to help them understand that “God-is-with-us” – Emmanuel. Yes, God did not take away their suffering. But God was with them in their suffering, because God knows what it is like to be human, with all of its grief and pain and joy. This is an incredible consolation to all of us. We can no longer say to God, “God, You don’t know what I’m going through!” Because He does know what you’re going through. He can say, “I’ve been there – and I am with you.”
And so our response to this great mystery of the Incarnation is to love Him and to follow Him. First, we love Him. I’ve met many people who said that they felt betrayed by their dads because their dad never came to their baseball games as a kid. Showing up is a form of love – if someone comes to your sports game, or visits you when you’re sick, or invites you to coffee when you’re sad, then you know that this person really loves you. In the same way, to prove His love for us, God “showed up” – He became one of us. He’s not an absentee father; He loves us enough to come and be with us!
But not only do we love Him for His Incarnation, we follow Him as well, in the hopes of becoming like Him. As St. Clement of Alexandria said, “God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become like God.” God has taken our humanity and filled it with His Divinity. When we look at Jesus, we realize what we are meant to be – imitating Him, we become more than human, as His grace makes us like God.
My friends, this mystery of the Incarnation (God-taking-flesh; God-with-us) is one of the central mysteries of our Faith. Even our very society sees it as the turning-point of history – this is the year 2019 because we count from the date when God became man! What a consolation it is to know that God loves us enough to enter the world with all its messiness and pain! What a joy it is to follow Him as He shows us the path to Heaven!