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Fourth Sunday of Advent

As Good as His Word

I wonder how willing you are to trust other people? Are others willing to trust you? Today's gospel is all about trust. First, there is Joseph -- quite an incredible man amongst men. How many men, discovering that a girlfriend is already pregnant, would marry her on the basis of a dream? There is no doubt why Mary trusted him. He is a man of noble character, refusing to make a public scandal out of Mary's pregnancy. Joseph knew Mary too, and in the depths of his heart he trusted her. Of course there were difficult facts to face but it took just one mysterious dream to set Joseph's heart at peace.

Then there is Mary herself. She puts her trust in the words of an angelic messenger although few people are likely to believe her story and she knows that to bear a child can only bring shame on her family. She trusted Joseph, and God too, resisting what passes for human respectability and 'common sense'. You can just imagine the tongues wagging in that little town. Perhaps that is partly why Mary and Joseph chose precisely that moment to set off to be registered at Bethlehem -- it was a good excuse to get away from all the gossip.

Behind the human trust that we see so poignantly displayed in Mary and Joseph there is of course something much greater, the eternal trustworthiness of God and a word that can never be broken. God's total fidelity in keeping the covenants made with humanity is not only on a completely different scale from ours, it has another extraordinary dimension to it. Once God gives His word it immediately begins to achieve what it has promised. In fact long before God had made a covenant with His chosen people Israel, long before he had plucked the Israelites out of relative obscurity and entrusted them with His laws, there was already a more ancient covenant in operation, the unwritten promise that God had made to creation.

You see a glimmer of it in the unspoken bond that exists between an infant and its mother and her total devotion to her child. And even that is only a faint reflection of God's fidelity to his own creation. A mother may abandon her child but God is forever committed to us. We can't really talk about God being true or faithful, because God is the very measure of truth and fidelity.

We are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus and mysterious and wonderful though the birth was, we have to say that it was in a way the most certain event in this world. From the beginning God has been as good as His word and His coming as man was meant from the beginning. The Word made flesh caught us by surprise -- it even caught Mary and Joseph unawares. But it was always in God's mind to do this -- to become part of His creation, to become one of us.

God is asking us to renew our trust in each other and to build a world in which not only individuals but whole nations display a genuine care and concern for each other, a world in which we are more concerned with our duties to each other than a fearful preservation of our own petty rights on our own little patch of turf.

But God is not only asking us to keep trusting each other even when we feel let down. We are being asked to trust in something much more sure and certain than a vague hope in human benevolence. God is asking us to trust Him, the One who makes eternal covenants, the One whose Word is the surety of every human word.

Only God's Word can restore our credibility and put truth back into human speech. Only God's Word can restore a fragmented humanity to wholeness and ensure that honesty and fidelity prevail in human relations. The gospel tells us that Mary bears a son whose name is Emmanuel, or 'God-is-with-us'. The knowledge that God is in our midst as one of us is the guarantee of true peace on earth, the peace that comes from living in God's presence.

No one can rise to the fidelity and truthfulness of God and yet how ironic it is, that as human beings accuse each other of deceit, of lying, of breaking promises, few it seems are really prepared to trust in God. This Advent may we all grow in honesty and in fidelity to God and to each other.

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