Sunday Sermon for December 18, 2022, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings: Is 7:10-14; Rom 1:1-7; Mt 1:18-24

As we approach the great Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord, we are given insight into this beautiful act of charity and humility on the part of our Blessed Lord.  At the same time, we see the trust and the obedience of our Lady and St. Joseph.  Finally, we see what needs to be our response to this glorious mystery.

In the first reading, the Lord sends the Prophet Isaiah to the faithless king, Ahaz.  Isaiah instructs the unfortunate man to ask for a sign from God.  It can be anything; whatever the imagination is capable of conjuring up.  The king refuses to cooperate, so God provides a sign that would be so extraordinary that anyone would be able to recognize that only God could cause such a miraculous event to occur: a virgin would be with child.  Even more, the Child would be called Emmanuel. 

So, a virgin would conceive and bear a Child and God would somehow become a baby in the womb of a virgin and be born for us.  Neither of these things makes sense, but the virgin with child would be the sign, the extraordinary nature of which points beyond itself to something even greater: God becoming man and dwelling with us.

The humility of God is truly incomprehensible.  However, recall that charity and humility are equal, so the love of God, which is equal to His humility, is also incomprehensible.  By itself, this kind of love is hard for many of us to accept, but when it is God’s love it is infinitely beyond human reason.  This is what we see in the Gospel reading as St. Joseph struggled to comprehend what was happening in his wife.

We are given insight into the trust and humility of our Blessed Lady because she did not try to convince St. Joseph of the truth.  Rather, she may have told him what was happening, but then prayed and left it to the Lord to help the glorious Saint to accept.  When the angel speaks to St. Joseph, he accepts, without hesitation, a mystery that can never be fully comprehended in this life or in the next.  Truly, this is a man of profound faith and charity!

The promise we hear about in the first reading was given to the Jewish people, so they knew and believed in what God would do one day.  However, when it actually happened, it would be difficult to believe in something that cannot be grasped by the senses.  Who could know that our Lady was a virgin and the Child within her was God?  There was nothing external to demonstrate the fulfillment of the sign.  As it was with St. Joseph, it would ultimately require an act of faith.

However, our Lord’s life and work point to the truth of Who He is and, once one could ponder the possibility that He was Emmanuel, they could then look backward to ask the question of whether or not our Lady was the fulfillment of the sign.  St. Paul had to address this in his own life.  We know that he initially rejected everything about our Lord, but after Jesus appeared to him, he believed in our Lord and understood that He was the complete fulfillment of everything that had been promised to the Jews.

St. Paul accepted the truth of our Lord so deeply that he could now call himself a “slave of Christ Jesus.”  Because most of us have not received a revelation like St. Paul, he lays out everything for us, as we see in the second reading.  St. Paul preached a Gospel that encompassed all that God promised through the Prophets leading up to Jesus Who is the Son of David in His humanity, but demonstrated to be the Son of God by power and the Spirit of holiness through the resurrection.

This is what St. Paul is presenting to all of us for the purpose of bringing about the obedience of faith in each of us.  We may not have the humility, trust, and charity of our Lady and St. Joseph, but we are called to have faith like St. Paul: faith in God Who made the promises contained in the Old Testament, and faith in Jesus Christ Who is the fulfillment of those promises. 

Once we can see how God works, we can accept the complete truth.  This acceptance, in turn, leads us to act on that faith.  This is the obedience of faith of which St. Paul writes and to which we are called.  Once St. Paul embraced the faith, he conformed himself to it, he lived it, and he wanted everyone else to accept it.  Our complete fulfillment is found in accepting, embracing, and conforming ourselves to the complete fulfillment of everything God promised: Jesus Christ, Emmanuel!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit