Sunday, December 22, 2013

Through Doorways of Danger (Rerun)



4th Sunday in Advent (A)

Picture: cc Tristan Schmurr

Sisters and brothers, what do you do when you experience danger? What do you do, for example, if a riot suddenly erupts in your supposedly peaceful country. And on a scale not seen in the last fifty years. A riot where police cars are overturned and an ambulance set on fire. And what do you do when you notice an increase in the number of construction workers in your neighbourhood? People who appear to belong to the same ethnic group as those responsible for the recent riot? What do you do, sisters and brothers? 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 possible. That only one response is reasonable. Today, it often seems that, when danger threatens, all we can do is to turn it away. To keep it out. For our homes, we may buy and install stronger locks and more sophisticated alarms. For our country, we may tighten immigration policies. Beef up police patrols. Ban alcohol... Isn’t it true, sisters and brothers, that in our world today, it often seems that, when danger comes knocking, all we can do is to increase security?

Of course, in itself, security is 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 create more problems for ourselves? Could it be that, in our desperate attempts at keeping our doorways safe, we may actually end up keeping out other things as well? Things that may actually be very dear to us?

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’ve 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 even necessary to tell us this? Haven’t we been watching and waiting for the Lord? Haven’t we gone to confession in preparation for his coming? Isn’t it reasonable to expect that we will surely open the door for him when he arrives? Of course we will! Or will we?

Before we answer this question, it’s helpful to first consider 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 at a doorway through which God wishes to enter. But not everyone is able to open the door to God.

In the first reading, the one at the door is Ahaz, the ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah. King Ahaz is facing a national emergency. The neighbouring kingdom of Israel has entered into a military alliance with Syria. Together, these two northern armies are threatening to invade Judah in the south. Ahaz and his people are in danger. Yet it is precisely at this moment that the angel of the Lord tells Ahaz to ask God for a sign. For some mysterious reason, God chooses to enter the lives of Ahaz and his people through a doorway of danger. But the king is reluctant to open the door. He refuses to ask for a sign. He claims that he doesn’t want to put God to the test. But perhaps he’s really just 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 feel. In addition to the shame that comes from discovering his fiancee’s apparent infidelity, there is also the danger that his reputation will 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 precarious 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 save God’s people. An angel is sent to reassure Joseph. Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. In other words, do not be afraid to open the door of danger, for it is God who wishes to enter. Unlike Ahaz before him, Joseph obeys. He takes his wife to his home. And the prophecy is fulfilled. Emmanuel. God is with us.

Two people. Each standing at a doorway of danger. Two people. Each reacting very differently. One is paralyzed by fear. The other finds courage. One remains obsessed with security. The other opens his heart and his life to God. But how is it, we may wonder, that one can succeed where the other fails? Perhaps the way they conduct themselves at the door of danger 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 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, the gospel tells us that Joseph is a man of honour. A righteous man. Not only is he faithful to the Lord, he expresses that fidelity in the respect and care he has for his neighbor. Despite his shame and disappointment at Mary’s pregnancy, he tries to find a way to save her. Even if he’s afraid when God comes knocking–as anyone in his place would be–he is able to trust God enough to open the door.

The experiences of Ahaz and Joseph contain an important lesson for us. Although security is important, an obsession with it may lead us to shut the door in God’s face. Preventing God from entering more deeply into our lives and into our world? For, whether we like it or not, God has a habit of entering through doorways of danger. We see this not just in Ahaz and Joseph, but also, above all, in Jesus as well. As we’re told in the second reading, Jesus was proclaimed Son of God in no other way than through his resurrection from the dead. Which is why, it is fitting that, in our opening prayer just now, we prayed that we may by the Lord’s Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. Our prayer is for the courage to allow God to lead us through the dangerous doorway of the Lord’s Cross to the safety and fullness of life in his Resurrection.

I’m reminded of these words from a hymn written by 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, danger comes to us in different forms. In difficult people. In challenging situations. In uncomfortable emotions. Through which doorways of danger does the Lord wish to enter your life? What are you doing to let him in today?

2 comments:

  1. O Lord, as Christmas Day draws near, like the first Christmas, like Mary and Joseph, i find myself faced with the harsh realities of life - where doubts, fears and uncertainty prevails.. indeed, our lives, in all reality, are never a bed of roses...

    Lord, as i come face to face with the uncertainty and the great unknown before me... may i ask YOU to enter in - please ENTER INTO MY LIFE AND MY HEART...... as i find myself standing now at the threshold of a door leading to the great unknown..

    yet, in FAITH, i believe i will be stepping into YOU, as YOU are the Great Unknown and in Your love and mercy, YOU will never abandon me.

    Grant me, Lord, therefore the courage, trust , humility and and necessary graces to dare to enter into YOU and let you come in and dwell in me.

    It is only in YOU who can turn darkness into light, pain into joy as YOU are the REASON for this Christmas Season.

    You alone are my LIFE, my LIGHT and the full meaning of my life.

    Come Lord Jesus - M - A - R - A - N - A - T - H- A.

    Sih Ying
    23 December 2013 @9.35am

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Fr Chris

    The Lord has sent signs of caution to us, in times of danger or any other uncomfortable situations, through our friends or even the scriptures. We need to keep an open heart, to surrender our pride and anger and let go, so that we can receive his merciful grace.

    I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
    delivered me from all my fears.

    This poor one cried out and the LORD heard,
    and from all his distress he saved him.

    The angel of the LORD encamps
    around those who fear him, and he saves them.

    Wishing you a Blessed Christmas.
    Zita

    ReplyDelete

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