WHERE IS GOD?: A HOMILY ON THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C
The question of where God is may not bother us until we either begin to desire an intimate relationship with Him or we begin to experience big problems in life. It is difficult to enter into a relationship with someone you cannot see, this is why even in our human relationships, distance can make a big difference. Also, when certain things go wrong in our lives, we wish we can see God so that He can make us understand better. We may even wonder if He was there watching what happened. The Israelites also struggled with this question. The closest they got in the Old Testament was the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark came into existence in the days of Moses, and the people believed that whenever the Ark is present, God is present. They lost the Ark to their enemies and after the Ark had made several journeys, David, in 2 Samuel 6, went to Baale-Judah to bring back the Ark of God. In his joy upon seeing the Ark, he said “Who am I, that the Ark of the Lord should come to me”. In his joy, he took off his clothes and danced naked before the Ark, so much so that his wife was disgusted by the sight. When David offered to build a temple for the Ark, God told him not to, that his own offspring will build the temple for the Lord. Solomon did and the Ark became a symbol of the presence of the Lord for the people. But due to their sins, the glory of God was said to have departed from the temple. With this in mind, let us read or Gospel of today.
THE ARK IS IN JUDAH
Gospel : Luke 1: 39 -45
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth . And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me ? For Behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”: Mary went to a city of Judah, the same place where David found the Ark of the Covenant. She entered the house of a priest, Zahariah. When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child in her womb, like David, leapt for Joy and I am sure he had no clothes on. Elizabeth, moved by the Holy Spirit, greeted Mary with a greeting reserved only for warrior women. Then she repeats the words of David ‘And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’ In other words, she used the name of Mary to replace the Ark. In other words, Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, carrying something greater than what was in the old ark. She carries God Himself, not just a symbol of the presence of God. If anybody is asking where God is, there is a new Ark in Judah, and there is a new David there too. Jesus becomes our best answer to the question ‘Where is God?’ Bear this also in mind as we read the first reading.
BETHLEHEM OF JUDAH
First reading : Micah 5:2-5
Thus says the Lord: You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who has Labour pains has brought forth; then the rest of his brethren shall return to the sons of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And this shall be peace.: All these may seem to be a coincidence, but God works with a plan. The prophet Micah tells us here of a child that will be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah. Wow! Remember that Bethlehem of Judah is also the birth-place of David. David found the Ark in Judah and that is the same place where Mary visits Elizabeth. From there will come the one who will be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days. Who else but Jesus fits this description?
But there is a little problem. Micah tells us that God will abandon the people until the woman who is in labour gives birth. That woman is Mary. But why will God abandon His people? However, the real question is ‘Can God abandon His people?’ God cannot abandon His people, but His people can abandon Him and they will experience Him as having abandoned them. We pray in our Responsorial Psalm asking God to let His face shine on us. But it is not God who need to turn towards us. It is we who need to turn towards Him. But there is nothing wrong with asking Him to turn towards us. We often pray as if we are trying to change God, but in the process of doing that, it is we who get changed by God. Our second reading will help us to understand this better.
Second Reading Hebrews 10 : 5-10
Brethren: When Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in a burnt offering and sin offering you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God’ as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He abolished the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.: We often speak of our sacrifices and offerings as if we do them in order to make God happy. Jesus tells us that God does not desire our Sacrifices and offerings. It is like when parent punish their children. No parent will be happy to punish their children, but they still punish their children out of love. God does not delight in our burn offerings and sin offerings, but they are necessary in order to bring us salvation. When God is said to have abandoned His people, it is all because He loves them. Sometimes we have to lose what we have before we can appreciate it. Sometimes the situation has to get very bad in order to get better. Therefore, doing the will of God is more important than making sacrifices and offerings.
Children who do what their parent want, will experience their parent’s love as pleasure, while children who are disobedient will experience their parent’s love as pain. But the love never dies. Even those who are in hell are still loved by God; only they experience His love as pain. It is in doing the will of God that His presence is manifested to us. When we dont do His will, He will be present, but we will experience His presence as absence. Our sins have caused us wounds and we are all wounded. God offers us salvation which is the same as healing. If you hug a wounded person, they will feel pain, but that does not mean your hug was wrong. God wants to embrace us, but before then, we have to expose our wounds and be healed by Him. If not, then His love will come to us as hatred and we will wonder if He loves us. Maybe you need to go for confession before Christmas; maybe you need to pray for healing and deliverance.
Jesus is the High Priest of the New and Everlasting Covenant. With Him, we do not need to go back to the old ways of making animal sacrifices. However we are invited to make a sacrifice of our own lives. In Him, the invisible God has been made visible and we no longer need to ask ‘Where is God’. We do not need to make animal sacrifices, but we need to accept His sacrifice on the Cross by committing ourselves to doing the will of God. If we do not do the will of God, even His presence with us now will be experienced as absence. In Igbo it is said that when a child has refused to suck his/her mother’s breast, the same child should not say his/her mother has refused to give him/her the breast. Jesus is always with us, especially in the Eucharist. He is always pouring out His grace in the sacraments, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we receive His forgiveness. He invites us to listen to His word and do His will. Everything is already given and the person who refuses to recieve it may think it is God who has refused to give. Where is God? He is Emmanuel! God is with us!!!