4th Sunday in Advent (A)
Through Doorways of Danger
Picture: cc bookgrl
Sisters and brothers, what do you do when you feel that your living environment is becoming more and more dangerous? What do you do, for example, if crime is increasing at an alarming rate in your neighborhood? Or if terrorists are continually threatening to attack your country? What do you do? How do you react, when danger comes knocking on your door?
Especially in this modern society of ours, it often seems that only one reaction is open to us, that only one response is reasonable. It often seems that when danger threatens, all we can do is to try to keep it out. And we do this by tightening security. In our homes, we buy and install stronger locks and more sophisticated alarm systems. For our country, we man check-points, and set up border patrols. At our airports, we use more sensitive scanners, and give travelers more intimate pat-downs. In our world today, it often seems that, when danger comes knocking, all we know how to do is to tighten security at the door.
Of course, in itself, security may not be a bad thing. If we were truly living in a dangerous neighborhood, we’d be silly not to lock our doors at night. But could it be that when we make the search for security our only response to danger, we may actually be creating more problems for ourselves? Could it be that, in our desperate attempts at keeping our doorways safe, we may actually also be keeping out other things as well, things that may be very dear to our hearts?
This is a useful question for us to ponder especially today, as the season of Advent approaches its climax. Throughout the past three weeks we have been preparing ourselves to welcome the Lord. And yet, in the response to our psalm today, we hear a call that may sound puzzling to our ears. Let the Lord enter, we are told. Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory. But why is it necessary to tell us this? When the Lord comes, of course we will let him enter! Of course we will open the door! Or will we?
Before we answer this question, it’s helpful first to pay attention to how God chooses to enter the lives of the people in our readings today. Both in the first reading and the gospel, we find someone standing in a doorway through which God wishes to enter. But not everyone lets God in.
In the first reading, the one answering the door is Ahaz, the ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah. Ahaz is facing a serious problem. The kingdom of Israel has entered into a military alliance with Syria. Together, these two armies from the north are threatening to invade Judah in the south. Ahaz’s kingdom is in danger. Yet it is precisely at this moment that the Lord tells Ahaz to ask for a sign. For some mysterious reason, God chooses to enter Ahaz’s life through the doorway of danger. But Ahaz is reluctant to open the door. He refuses to ask for a sign. He says he doesn’t want to test God. But perhaps he’s afraid of what the sign might say. What if it predicts his defeat and death? Better to opt for security. Better to keep the door locked. Even if it may mean shutting God out.
In the gospel too, God chooses to enter someone’s life through a doorway of danger. We know the story well. Joseph is betrothed to Mary. But before they live together he discovers that she is with child. And he is not the father. We can imagine how Joseph must be feeling. In addition to the shame that comes from knowing that his fiancee may be bearing another man’s child, there is also the danger that his reputation might be ruined by scandal. Even worse, the Law provides that someone in Mary’s situation should be stoned to death. All of which places Joseph in a dangerous position. Yet it is precisely through this risky doorway that God wishes to enter. It is exactly under such dangerous circumstances that God wishes to bring about the salvation of creation. An angel is sent to reassure Joseph. Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. Do not be afraid to open the door of danger, for it is God who wishes to enter in. Unlike Ahaz before him, Joseph obeys. And the prophecy is fulfilled. Emmanuel. God is with us.
Two people in similar doorways of danger. Two people with very different reactions. One is paralyzed by fear. The other finds courage. One remains obsessed with security. The other opens his heart and his life, and allows God to enter. But how is it, we may wonder, that one succeeds where the other fails? Perhaps the way they conduct themselves at the door is connected in some way to how they live their lives on either side of it. We know, for example, that both as a person and as a king, Ahaz had a very poor reputation. He is said to have lived a wicked life. He introduced and encouraged many idolatrous practices among his people. If such was his conduct in times of security, is it any surprise that he should find it difficult to trust God in times of danger? In contrast, in the gospel, we’re told that Joseph is a righteous man. Not only is he faithful to the Lord, he also respects and cares for his neighbor. Despite his shame at Mary’s pregnancy, he tries his best to find a way to save her. Even if he is afraid when God comes knocking – as anyone else in his place would be – he is able to trust God enough to open the door.
What then is the lesson that Ahaz and Joseph have to teach us today, sisters and brothers, if not that an obsession with security may well prevent us from allowing God to enter into our lives and into our world? And this is especially so because, whether we like it or not, God makes it a habit of entering through doorways of danger. We see this not just in Ahaz and Joseph, but also, above all, in Jesus. As Paul reminds us in the second reading, Jesus was established as Son of God in no other way than through resurrection from the dead. Which is why, it is fitting that in our opening prayer just now, we prayed that the Lord might lead us through his suffering and death to the glory of his resurrection. Our prayer is that we may allow ourselves to be led through doorways of danger into the safety of the kingdom of God.
As we offer this prayer today, I'm reminded of someone who had suddenly found herself afflicted with a rare illness that paralyzed half her face. Recently, she wrote to say that through the long and painful process of recovery, she felt the healing presence of God. Through the dangerous doorway of her illness, Emmanuel came to meet her.
I’m also reminded of these words from a hymn written by Sr. Miriam Therese Winter.
Christ come quickly, there’s danger at the door.
Poverty aplenty, hearts gone wild with war.
There’s hunger in the city and famine on the plain.
Come, Lord Jesus, the light is dying,
the night keeps crying: Come, Lord Jesus.
Sisters and brothers, through which doorways of danger does the Lord wish to enter into our lives today?