4 Sunday of Advent, Year A
Is 7:10-14; Rom 1:1-7; Mt 1:18- 24
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’ Cycle A, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong. It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2009 and republished in Viet Nam 2012. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand.
However, if readers like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar, it would be greatly appreciated by the author whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
The problem of loneliness affects not only the elderly, the widow and widower, but also the young and the married. However, loneliness is not the same as being alone, because people can be alone and not feeling lonely. On the contrary, people might still feel lonely, even though they live in the midst of their family and friends or in a joyous atmosphere. That is why the great poet novelist Nguyen Du of Vietnam could weave Thuy Kieu’s sadness into the poetic novel Doan Truong Tan Thanh with a vague sadness: How can a sad person enjoy a cheerful landscape?
The winter with the cold, dull weather can even make people feel more lonesome. According to reports, the number of people who took their own lives was higher in the winter than in any other season. In this season from December to mid-January, the sadness of the elderly who live alone is more acute. They see people with family and friends send greeting cards to one another, visit one another, exchange gifts with one another, and they themselves feel isolated. If their children visit them, send cards or gifts to them, they might question why during the year they have been forgotten and now suddenly they are remembered?
Therefore, they wonder whether their children remember them only according to social customs rather than out of piety and love. The single or the married persons, who, for different reasons, live alone, have to go shopping, do their cooking, their laundry and their house cleaning themselves. To cope with a solitary life, people need to follow some kind of religious guidelines, some ideals for their life so that life may become meaningful. Besides, the single or the married person needs to have quiet time in order to find intimacy with self.
Self-intimacy means to know oneself, one’s good qualities and bad. Most people know their good qualities, but do not pay attention to their bad qualities. Self-intimacy means to get in touch with one’s feelings: feelings of joy, sadness, happiness, depression, tiredness, remorse, pride and guilt. Not only we need to get in touch with our feelings, we also need to know why we have such feelings at that particular time in life. For instance, to know why we are low in spirit at a particular time so that we can prevent it from happened, and cope it when it happens. To be low in spirit may be due to lack of eating and sleeping, or lack of a certain vitamin in the body, or lack of support and appreciation. In summary, we need to observe the signs of our body, the feelings of our mind and the aspirations of our soul.
Self-intimacy will help us recognize our weakness and sinfulness to put our trust and faith in God’s mercy. Self-intimacy will help us recognize our ability and favor as to be thankful to God for those ability and favor received. The result of self-intimacy leads us to intimacy with God. Intimacy with self and intimacy with God should help us cope with moments of loneliness.
To have intimacy with self and with God, loneliness leads to solitude of soul where we can have stillness and tranquility of soul. To have an intimacy with self and with God, one likes to seek a solitary place so as to maintain and prolong the solitude and tranquility of soul and experience the presence of God and intimacy with him. That is the reason why in the past there were hermits who went to the woods to live among trees and plants, seeking harmony with that shrill sound of singing birds and gibbons, or those whispering sound of crickets and insects in order to praise their creator.
Lack of intimacy with self and with God, being alone will become loneliness. Loneliness will become a threat. To cope with loneliness, one might seek to turn to God or to a certain spiritual power. Unable to cope with loneliness, plus a feeling of depression, one might decide to end his/her own life. To cope with loneliness, one might get involved also in alcohol, chemical dependency or pornography in order to pass time. To cope with loneliness, one may seek illicit pleasure, or illicit and temporary relationship. Those illicit and temporary relationships cannot last long. At a certain time, one has to cut it off. When one has to cut off that illicit relationship for different reasons, one would head for suffering a great deal. There were those who felt miserable, floundering and unable to eat and sleep.
Could it be that only God’s love can fill up the emptiness in us? In the past, God revealed himself to humankind in many different ways: in a cloud, on a mountain, in a burning bush, in a desert. However, God’s presence through such indirect ways was still somewhat hidden. Therefore, the prophet Isaiah promised humankind a new presence of God: a personal presence through a wonderful event. That was the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel (Is 7:14). What Isaiah promised, Saint Matthew sees it fulfilled in the Son of the Virgin Mary, named Emmanuel, which means God-is-with-us (Mt 1:23). In the event of Christmas, God became flesh, dwelt among us and made his presence among humankind. To have God’s presence and to experience his presence is similar to the experience of two lovers of the opposite sex, who were absent from each other. Even though they were not present physically, they often think of each other, miss each other, which means they are out of sight, but not out of mind.
The experience of God’s presence in our lives is similar to that. A person, who experiences God’s presence, thinks of God, feels God is present with him/her that God embraces and protects him/her, which God eats, drinks, works and rests with him/her,. That was what Saint Paul wrote: The life I live now is not my own, Christ is living in me (Gal 2:20). Christ is living in us with his grace, his thoughts, his feelings, his dreams and his aspirations. Two lovers have experience of their presence, their shadows, their glances of eyes and their whispering voices. To love God and to be loved by God, we also have experience of his presence, his shadows, his glance and his whispering voice along with his shelter and protection.
Prayer for experiencing the presence of God:
Oh Lord Jesus, incarnate Word about to become man.
You promised ‘to be with us until the end of times’.
Fill the emptiness in my life.
Be my joy, my strength, my hope.
Be my reason to live and my heritage.
Come Lord, Jesus, come and stay with me.
O come, Emmanuel. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong