18 Dec 2016
4th Sunday of Advent, Year A
God wants to know us personally. That’s been said many times in Scripture, and it’s been the cornerstone of the Church’s spiritual life since forever. God wants to know us personally, and he wants us to know him personally: our human nature in sync with his divine nature. Jesus even goes so far as to call his disciples his brothers and sisters, and his friends. There’s a personal connection we’re meant to have with God.
Nonetheless, the Lord is still the Lord. He is the King of Glory; he is Emmanuel; he is the Son of God. And so, our relationship with the Lord is a little complicated. We’re meant to be his friends; we’re meant to be intimate with him, and bare our souls to him. And yet, at the same time, we’re not equal to him; he is far greater than we are.
And so, what we end up with in our relationship with God is not only friendship and intimacy; we also an alliance with him; an alliance and an allegiance. God becomes the one whom we trust with our lives. And we can understand the idea of that.
When you’re going through a rough patch—maybe there are financial problems, maybe the kids decided to be atheists, maybe you’re just generally frustrated—when we’re going through a rough patch, what do we turn to? Food? Work? Sleep? Prayer? The internet? When life gets tough, we turn to whatever takes our mind off it for a while.
We know where to go for comfort or support; we turn to our allies. For a lot of people, food is a tasty ally. Or sleep is an ally that helps us to escape. Of course, if you really want to get away from troubles, the internet is a great ally; you can get totally distracted there. When life gets tough, we turn to our allies—and we know who and what those allies are.
The trouble, of course, is that our allies aren’t always the best choice. That was the problem with Ahaz, the King of Judah. When he was in trouble with the King of Israel (and his fellow Jews), he turned to the enemies of the Jewish people; he turned to the Assyrians for help. Now, God had said to Ahaz, “I’ll be your ally; ask me for a sign.” But Ahaz trusted more in the Assyrians than in God, and so he rejected God’s offer. Ahaz survived, but he ended up being a slave to the Assyrians. Ironically, his trusted ally turned out to be his conqueror.
And that’s perhaps a danger in putting all our trust in other things or people or ourselves, and not in God. God has no interest in conquering us, but all those other allies we make for ourselves—those may actually end up conquering us. And then our allegiance may not be to God at all, but to those other things. And if it got to that point, we’d have to question if we are actually a people of faith. We’d really have to wonder if it’s true that “in God we trust.”
If there’s one thing that connects all the lives of the saints, all the lives of “holy” people, it’s that alliance with God built on friendship with the Lord. And it’s an alliance that a good portion of the population out there sees as silly, as foolish, as uneducated. But, you know, it’s the foundation of what we’re about as Catholic Christians. Our allegiance is to: an unseen God, a God who died a humiliating death on a cross, a God who sometimes appears weak and impotent. That’s our ally: our friend the Lord.
As Americans we reverence the stars and stripes. Ideally, that’s what connects us as Americans: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. That’s where our allegiance is as Americans: for the ideals embodied in the stars and stripes.
And as Christians, we reverence Christ. He’s our one common ally, and the crucifix is our flag. That’s what we hold up as Catholic Christians. Whenever we’re in procession, at the start of Mass, at the end of Mass as we go, in a procession to the cemetery, and so on, we’re led by the crucifix. That’s why it takes a central place in the church; we don’t tuck it away into a corner, because that’s the one we pledge allegiance to: Christ the Lord, Christ our ally.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. We’re sinners, of course. As much as we say that Jesus is Lord, and that God is our ally, we still put other alliances ahead of our friendship with him. Whether it’s with parish decisions, or relationships at home or with friends, or whatever we can always be better about really trusting in our friend, Christ the King. We can always hold the crucifix just a little bit higher in our hearts and in our minds to let him lead the way.
And Advent is certainly a time to do this; to reorient our lives toward Christ, our one true ally, our one true and eternal friend. It’s a time, again, to say, “I pledge allegiance to Christ the Lord,” and mean it. And maybe that’s what makes the coming of Christmas even more of a celebration.
In the midst of all the presents and the parties, the food and the music, the candy and candlelight, is the realization that God really is with us. “I pledge allegiance to” . . . one who is here; to one who comes not just to “us,” but to “me:” to one who is with me when I am frustrated, who is with me when I am afraid, who is with me when I am confused or hurting. With Christmas we celebrate God our faithful ally who is with us.
Just like he did with King Ahaz, God comes to us—to each of us—with an offer; an offer of alliance, protection, and guidance; an offer of friendship. And he places that offer in the form of the Infant Jesus lying in a manger in Bethlehem. He places that offer into our hands at Communion. What more of a sign do we need of God’s alliance and friendship with us than the incarnation of Christ at every Mass?
God is with us; the offer is made and put into our hands. What’s left but to accept it, and to let the Lord really be our friend and ally, in both good times and in bad . . . never to be parted.