User’s Guide to Sunday
By Tom and April Hoopes

Sunday, Dec. 19, is the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Liturgical Year A, Cycle I). Dec. 25 is Christmas, of course, and a holy day of obligation.

It’s the perfect week for a “Nativity-Set Rosary.” If you’ve missed your daily Rosary because it has been so busy, here’s a fun way to restart it with the kids.

Pray the Rosary at the crèche. For the Annunciation, remove everything from the stable except Mary and the angel. For the Visitation, turn the stable around and place
Mary as if she’s approaching it. For the Birth of Jesus, use Joseph, Mary and the baby. For the Presentation, use a Wise Man for Simeon and put the baby in his arms, with Mary and Joseph looking on. For the Finding of the Child Jesus, replace Baby Jesus with a shepherd boy and add more Wise Men.

It also works for the Luminous and Glorious Mysteries: Use a shepherd as the adult Jesus and the Wise Men for other characters. Use presents for the tomb and the various mountains.

Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalms 24:1-6; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24

Our Take
God has a very difficult job to do at Christmas. He wants to come close to his people, but his people no longer trust him. He wants to appear as Emmanuel (God With Us), but we’re convinced he is God Against Us.

This misunderstanding about God was at the heart of the fall of Adam and Eve. When Eve was faced with a serpent asking her to do the one thing God told her not to do, she easily fell into the traps he laid. First, he made God sound strict (“Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?”). Then, he made God sound tricky (“God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods.”) Once they ate, their whole attitude toward God changed. They no longer walked with him in the garden; they hid when they heard him approaching.

We often have the same misunderstandings about God today. Either we feel he is irrational and negative and mean, and we know better, or we think he is dictatorial, all-powerful and angry, so we act like an abused dog around him, shrinking in fear.

Ahaz, the evil king, suffers from both pathologies. He lives a life of disobedience, and when God commands Ahaz to ask for a sign, Ahaz refuses. “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!” he says. The words sound very holy, but amount to a big “No way, Jose” to God. He thinks he has God figured out.

How wrong he is. Listen to the sign Jesus gives Isaiah next: “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” God is going to be “God With Us.” He is reversing the “Us Without God” of the Fall. Not only is he not the dictatorial being Ahaz imagines and has no problem rebelling against — God is planning to be small, in order to ennoble us.

In the Gospel, Joseph has the reverse attitude of Ahaz. Obedient to God’s law, when he finds Mary is pregnant, he is willing to separate from her. But when the angel tells him to take the pregnant woman as his wife, he is willing to do that instead.

He’s not too great to be God’s servant; he’s also not too “humble” to be God’s partner. He trusts God and is willing to learn from God who God is.

That’s the attitude we should have at Christmas. God is coming close to us, whether we like it or not, and we will have to accept the fact of what that means. It means we are God’s close friends, and that means that what we do will matter.

Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,

where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.