25Dec09

Emmanuel and Jesus: A Simbang Gabi Homily
(Note: This homily was delivered by Fr. Johnny Go, SJ during the Simbang Gabi last Friday, 18th of December in the Sacred Heart Patio)

It’s not easy to dream about angels. It’s the last thing you want to have especially when you’re brokenhearted and feeling betrayed, and the only thing you want in the world is to be left alone—the way Joseph must have been feeling at the time he had his dream.

It has probably taken this heartbroken man a very long time before finally falling asleep. And only to be disturbed by—of all things—a dream about angels!

And who wants, after all, to hear the angel’s message in the dream at a time like this?

At a time when Joseph has decided precisely to walk away from it all, the angel tells him to stay.

At a time when he wants to stay away and hide from the world, the angel asks him to take back Mary.

The angel’s explanation isn’t exactly very clear either, not to mention confusing. I don’t know if you’ve noticed: First, the angel drops the hint that Joseph should name the child “Emmanuel” by quoting the prophet Isaiah about the virgin being with child. But Joseph and Mary end up naming the baby ‘Jesus’—which, if we recall, is what the same angel has instructed Mary to do. Remember the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary at the Annunciation? “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”

We can almost imagine Joseph and Mary having a discussion about what to name the child. “But the angel suggested ‘Emmanuel’!” Joseph must have protested when Mary mentions “Jesus.” Not surprisingly, Joseph apparently decides to follow the name suggested to his wife.

But have you ever wondered why the angel gives Joseph a different name? Is the angel Gabriel just trying to sound scholarly by quoting Isaiah? Is he just trying to be poetic and profound because the name ‘Emmanuel’ means ‘God with us’?

I’ve never thought about that until one parent asked me that question during the Advent Recollection I gave a couple of weeks ago. I gave him the usual answer that time: That the name ‘Emmanuel’ captures the meaning of Christmas because Christmas is about God becoming one of us and one with us. But last night reading the Gospel for this morning’s simbang gabi, I think there’s another answer.

I think angels tell us what we most need to hear. At the time maybe Joseph needed to hear that Mary’s son, who was also to be his son, was precisely Emmanuel—a reassurance that God is with us.

Think about the succeeding events in the Gospel that mention and involve Joseph. Many of them were not easy experiences…

· That long arduous trip to Bethlehem for the census, traveling all those miles with a heavily pregnant wife.

· The desperate, urgent search for a place in the inn so that Mary can have a safe and private childbirth—a search that led to a cold unused stable (some scholars say cave).

· The even more desperate flight in the night after an even more disturbing dream, when an angel warned him of Herod, and yet another long arduous journey, this time to Egypt.

· Years later, losing the twelve-year old Jesus in the Jerusalem temple, and when they finally found him, only to be told by Jesus that he had to attend to His Father’s business—a reminder of the painful truth that Jesus was never his own son.

Going through all these experiences, Joseph must have thought about his first dream a lot, wondering if its message was really true and questioning himself if he was right in obeying that dream.

All these times he must have felt the temptation to walk away. But he stayed. And I’m sure if there was anything about the dream that helped him stay, it was the special, private name of Jesus that the angel gave him.

Emmanuel.

God is with us.

It was God’s special, private message to Joseph.

Emmanuel.

God is with you. God is with you, Joseph, through all these trials, events that are difficult, experiences that you may not understand. God is with you.

And Joseph responded in kind. He returned the favor. He decided to be with God. All his life, he decided to stick it out with the Lord through thick and thin.

I think this may well be a special message that we can bring home with us from our simbang gabi today. Christmas is the season of Emmanuel, of the mystery of God with us, through thick and thin. But Christmas is also an invitation for each one of us to be with God, through every thick and thin—as Joseph did all through his life.

So let’s think about that for a while: Have I been with God the way He has been with me? Have I stuck it out with Him the way He has stuck it out with me? In what way can I stick it out more with Him? How can I respond to this God/Emmanuel.

Here is a poem by John Shea that tells us why Jesus is also Emmanuel.

A Prayer to the God who fell from Heaven . . .

by JOHN SHEA

If you had stayed /

tightfisted in the sky /

and watched us trash with all the patience of a pipe smoker, /

I would pray /

like a golden bullet /
aimed at your heart.
But the story says /

you cried /

and so heavy was the tear /
you fell with it to earth /

where like a baritone in a bar /
it is never time to go home.
So you move among us /

twisting every straight line /

into Picasso,/
stealing kisses from pinched lips, /

holding our hand in the dark. /
So now when I pray /

I sit and turn my mind/

like a television knob/
till you are there /

with your large open hands/
spreading my life before me /

like a Sunday tablecloth /
and pulling up a chair yourself /

for by now /

the secret is out./
You are home.

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