THE ANGEL’S CANDLE: A SYMBOL OF LOVE
HOMILY FOR FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A. Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-7 and Matthew 1:18-24.
As we approach the end of the season of Advent, we recall it is divided in to two parts: (from the 1st Sunday to the 16th of December, and from the 17th to 24th December). We remember the three dimensions of Christ’s coming: by incarnation, through the sacraments and His coming in majesty at the end of time. While the first part of advent focused on his coming in majesty, the second part emphasizes His incarnation, an expression of God’s love to the world that he gave his only Son, which helps us to reflect on the Angel’s Candle, as regards the visitation of the Angel to Mary and to Joseph.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah was like an Angel to King Ahaz, who brought the message of Yahweh to the king. Isaiah recounts the refusal of Ahaz to trust in the Lord as Ahaz was consumed by fear of his enemies (Rezin and Pekah). Rezin was the king of Aram and Pekah was the king of Israel during the reign of king Ahaz of Judah. During this period, Assyria was the dominant power and threatens all lesser nations such as Aram, Israel and Judah. In a way to withstand Assyria, the king of Aram (Rezin) and the king of Israel (Pekah) are determined to forge alliance that will allow them to resist Assyrians. So they asked Ahaz (king of Judah) to join their alliance, but Ahaz refused because of his fear of Assyria. In response, Rezin and Pekah mounted attack on Jerusalem, the capital of Judah where Ahaz was the king, “they frightened Ahaz and the people of Israel trembled” (Is 7:2), and they said, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves” (7:6). It was on this note Yahweh called Isaiah to assure Ahaz that he had nothing to fear because Rezin and Pekah will fail in their attempt to attack Jerusalem (vv.3-8). The only thing Yahweh requires from Ahaz is that he trusts his promises. Yahweh even invited Ahaz to ask for a sign that will make him trust him, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test” (Is 7:10-11). Ahaz refused and would rather lean on alliance with men (the Assyrians, whom he thinks are superpower) than trust in the Lord to fight against Aram and Israel. His distrust brought him defeat and shame.
Isaiah went further to tell him that the Lord himself will give a sign that is incomprehensible to the mind of man; “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:14). If God can do this, how much more king Ahaz that he cannot deliver from the hands of those whom seem stronger than him. However, does this prophecy predict the birth of a child during the life time of Ahaz or is this the messianic prophecy that points to the birth of Jesus Christ? Even if Isaiah intended to speak of a child who will be born within a short while in the time of Ahaz, God sometimes inspires people to say things that reveal truth beyond their understanding, to be fully revealed only later. Meanwhile Matthew interprets this verse as the messianic prophecy, one of the most famous prophecies regarding the birth of Jesus Christ: Immanuel (God with us), an expression of God’s love to humanity.
The gospel presents to us the fulfillment of the prophecy and the opposite character of Ahaz. At the incarnation of God, Matthew says, “When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with a child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly” (Mt 1:18-19). Matthew presents to us the virginal conception and subsequent birth of Jesus. A virgin to give birth is unimaginable. We should consider what a great trial this was for a young woman like Mary and for Joseph her betrothed. Her situation was the most distressing and humiliating that can be conceived. When she thought of her reputation, her honour and her life that was as stake if Joseph had acted according to the law, all she needed then was to lean on God. Invariably, this prophecy of old was realized through the cooperation of Mary and Joseph.
As we reflect on the Angel’s Candle this day, a little comparison can be seen between Luke and Matthew. In Luke’ gospel, the Angel announce to Mary that She will bear a child (Lk 1:26-38), but in Matthew, it is Joseph to whom the Angel appears. Luke tells of Mary’s obedience (Lk 1:38), but Matthew tells of Joseph’s obedience. Luke futures Mary prominently in his account of Jesus’ birth, but Matthew brings Joseph to the forefront. Joseph is important to Matthew’s gospel because Jesus becomes part of David’s lineage through Joseph. Being a just and obedient man as the reading describes him, he cooperated with the salvation plan of God, and was unwilling to put Mary to shame, so resolved to send her away quietly. As he considers this, the Angel appeared to him in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit…” (Mt 1:20). The address ‘son of David’ should have alerted Joseph that something was particularly significant about the Angel’s message. Son of David is a reference of Joseph’s legal lineage to the throne of David and St. Paul in the second reading tells us Jesus Christ is descended from David.
Joseph became obedient to the words of the Angel to take Mary home and to fulfill what the Lord has spoken through the prophets, unlike Ahaz who did not heed to the words of the prophet; Joseph became an opposite of Ahaz. Just as Ahaz was not sure of the battle before him, thought of the shame before other kings of losing a battle, so with Joseph, he was not sure of his mission, neither was he sure of Mary’s pregnancy and the mission of the child, but trusted God through the words of the Angel, which brought peace to his trouble mind. We are told, “When he woke from sleep, he did as the Angel of the Lord commanded him” (Mt 1:24). It is clear picture of Joseph’s obedience to the word of God. If we love God, we will keep his commandment. It is the season of love, we can give our shoulder for others to lean on. Above all, let us lean on Christ in moments of crises, difficulties and challenges. Maranatha!
God bless you!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ