Scripture Readings, Dec. 18, 2022

Dec. 18, 2022

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 7:10-14

Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-24

Each Advent, you and I return to remembering how the mysterious river of God once flowed into human life bearing the Word of God made flesh. And, each year, we recall as well that Advent is for each of us such a time to recognize how our own lives are caught up in the same endless flow of that mysterious river. We, too, wait to discover God made flesh in our own day. We wait for someone to say again I love you, or we wait for enthusiasm to return in spite of the fear it may have all been spent, or we wait for meaning to be found amid the ho-hum days that drift along. You and I do find ourselves living in a lifelong Advent of hoping and of waiting to be surprised by the ways of God, always believing that it can be and will be once again.

Most of us tend to think of the good things that take place as the hand of God, like winning the lottery or falling in love, which as we think about it, is much like winning the lottery. The bad things, the sad times, the hurts and the pains that seem to be sewn into our lives, all of those we don’t think of as the hand of God. They come from another place, we say. Yet sorting them out in a way by which we can know one from the other, well, who is to say which is which? Then again might they not all be of God’s hand, both the good and the bad, if indeed bad is what they are?

The American poet Mary Oliver seems to say it as well as anyone in her poem “At the River Clarion”:

If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck.

He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke.

And later in the poem:

If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics,

He’s the forest, He’s the desert,

He’s the ice caps, that are dying,

He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.

And again once more:

When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks?

And should we not thank the knife also?

We do not live in a simple world.

The poet is right. Life is not so simple, never has been, and yet out of it all comes new life, new beginnings, new hope.

I find myself wondering, then, if that was not also the sort of musing that Mary and Joseph of this week’s Gospel found themselves doing, a kind of being caught up in that river of God without any understanding of what it was that was taking place, a kind of Advent of their own carrying them to only God knows where, which is to say to where God knows.

All that Matthew’s Gospel says of the event is that “When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” That’s all — a simple statement of fact, no explanation, no why or wherefore. Matthew’s Gospel, written about a decade before Luke’s, has no angel Gabriel, no “Hail, full of Grace,” no “let it be done to me according to your word.” For Matthew, it was simply “she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” That’s all.

And then there is Joseph, who goes to bed one night unsure and confused by what is all taking place, at sixes and sevens over what to do, only to rise in the morning mulling over whatever it was he dreamt, and that perhaps he should follow some deep instinct and say yes, contrary to all that would make sense. And so he does, without ever knowing where it would all take him. And take him it would — to Bethlehem in the cold of winter, and then to Egypt hounded by a frightened king and his henchmen, and then back home again to Nazareth.

We say it was all in the plan of God, now so much later recognizing how that river of God did flow and where it carried them. Yet I can’t help wondering if it was all as clear to them as it is now to us.

To live in Advent time is to live in limbo time. It is to live with a past the whys of which we do not always understand, and with a future that may reverberate with uncertainty and apprehension, and yet with a present that is graced with trust in a power greater than ourselves, the river of God carrying us into forever.

Past Catholic Herald scripture reflections by Fr. Joe Juknialis have been published by GIA Publications entitled “Echoes, Sunday Scriptures Heard amid Culture and Life – Cycle A,” and are available on their website.


Where might the river of God be carrying you today?

How have you learned to live with uncertainty?