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Bishop's Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 24, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B
[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu; St. Anthony Church, Kalihi]

Prophets and angels are both messengers of God, sent to announce God’s will for a particular person or community at a particular time.  The stories of Advent and Christmas are replete with messages from God, delivered by prophets or proclaimed by angels of various sorts.  The core of the message is always the same:  that God wants to make his dwelling place with us.  But sometimes the tone is very different, depending on the circumstances, because there are many obstacles God needs to clear out of our hearts, our lives, and our communities so that he can have a fitting place among us.  Sometimes the message is that there is to be peace among enemies, because wars are among the worst destroyers of community.  At other times the message is one of hope to those who have lost it, such as the promise of a child made to the old and barren couple Elizabeth and Zechariah.  Sometimes the message is to turn away from sin or idolatry, to pay more attention to the poor and suffering, or to receive the immigrant, the alien and the foreigner.  Sometimes the message is an amazing promise, such as the promise made to King David that his kingdom would last forever.  And there was the most amazing promise, announced by the Archangel Gabriel, that a humble virgin in the nowhere town of Nazareth was to be the mother of God’s own Son Jesus.

As we reflect on all of these beautiful and challenging stories of prophets and angels, it would be too easy to presume that such revelations were only relegated to the past and that with the coming of Jesus there is no longer a need for the messages of prophets and angels.  Yet if we are attentive, we will come to know that angels still speak to us, that prophets are still among us, and that sometimes we ourselves are called to be prophetic messengers for others.

I have heard of many people who said something affirming to another person just at a time when that person was contemplating suicide, thus preventing that tragedy.  I have heard of people who were desperately ill, and others surrounded them with prayers that completely changed their situation.  I have heard stories of cars breaking down in mysterious ways, only to find out later that because of the delay caused by the breakdown, the driver was not on the bridge when it collapsed or on the flight that crashed.  I have heard of people who never thought a certain person would amount to much, but by the grace of God that person became a great leader of others in time of particular need.  There is no doubt that angels and prophets are still at work so that in all things God can be glorified in Jesus Christ.

And just as the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary was the fulfillment of the prophecy made to David centuries earlier that his throne would last forever, so that she herself became the Temple of the Living God, it is now our duty and our salvation to proclaim this good news to others.  There is the homeless person who has lost all his human dignity, yet we may be called to effectively announce the person’s dignity as we listen to the angel that moves us to feed, clothe, or house that person whom God loves so much.  There is the culture that demeans the life that God has given to the tiniest and most vulnerable person in the womb or to the person whose illness or disability depends heavily on the resources of others, and we can be the prophets who raise our voices or our votes to assure that they can live the lives God has entrusted to them.  There is the mob mentality of vengeance against those who have done wrong, wanting to lynch them in the media or strip them of their livelihoods, and we can be angels of mercy, not turning a blind eye to sin but, by forgiveness, turning a person away from it.

God has made it clear that he is not interested in simply watching over us from afar.  He wants to be intimately involved with every aspect of our lives.  This is exactly why he became a human being in the person of Jesus.  This is why the risen Jesus now makes himself available to us in an intimate way by feeding us with his own Body and Blood.  It is still such an awesome message that it is hard to believe.  Yet we have been given the gift of faith so that we can be prophetic and angelic voices that proclaim to a lost world that God-is-with-us, Emmanuel!  The annunciation that God takes flesh and dwells among us in a kingdom that lasts forever is now ours to announce with joy to all the world.