When I was a kid I loved science fiction – I still do.
And one of my favorite things to do
was to watch those classic science fiction movies from the 50s– It still is.
You know those films when it always seemed that
aliens were invading,
diseases were spreading,
meteors were hurtling towards the planet
and the end of the world was at hand.
Perhaps part of the thrill of such movies was precisely the fact that they let you taste what it could be like if such cataclysmic things happened.
But then allowed you to walk out of the theater, turn off the TV and return to the real world.
After All the end of the world was never going to really happen
But just watch the news, read the paper or sometimes just to turn on the TV:
Polar Caps melting, sea levels rising, forests burning and people dying of asphyxiation
Alliances breaking, prejudices building, and sabers rattling between nations that were once allies,
People in once prosperous countries like Venezuela, starving.
People in once democratic countries, increasingly oppressed.
As times the images we see and the stories we read seem so surreal that we say; “it’s like a movie”
Except for the fact that it is not; It is really happening.
As a result, some people are organizing, other protesting, others still simply despairing
All of them saying, it is the end of the world.
Which is why it is good to be a Catholic.
Because we Catholics are rooted in a tradition which is thousands of years old, stretching all the way back to the Patriarchs of the Jewish people.
And if there is one thing the Jewish people know from,
it is the end of the world.
Because it has ended for them many times.
Back in the 8th century for example,
The kingdom of David and Solomon had split apart.
The northern half, the Kingdom of Israel
had allied itself with the Assyrian Empire (think Iraq)
against the southern kingdom of Judah.
It was only a matter of time before Israel and Assyria would attack and destroy Judah.
Of course, the official line was that that would never happen.
Jerusalem was the capital of Judah.
Jerusalem had the temple.
The temple was God’s house.
The people of Judah were God’s people
God would NEVER allow them, their temple and their city to be destroyed!
But unofficially, their king, Ahaz, was terrified.
We don’t know why.
But one thing is clear; he thought it was the end of the world.
He was so afraid that the prophet Isaiah reassures him in today’s first reading
that while Judah might not be perfectly faithful - God is.
To prove it he invites Ahaz to ask for a sign from God.
The one thing any of us would want;
to be certain that God exists and is with us – and all Ahaz must do is ask!
. . . but what Does Ahaz do?
he is so worried about further angering God that he refuses!
You can almost hear Isaiah sigh as he tells Ahaz,
“Well alright look; A young woman will conceive and bear a son,
and by the time he is old enough to tell good from evil
the problem with Assyria and Israel will have passed.
That is why the child will be called “God is with us.”
God will have again shown you how even when you are not perfectly faithful, God is!”
We do not know who this woman or her child were.
We do know however, that in a very short period of time,
the alliance between Israel and Assyria crumbled,
and Judah was spared. It was not the end of their world.
However, we would never remember this promise of Isaiah in the way we do
if the Gospel writer Matthew had not seen in it
a reflection of another young woman, who conceives and bears another child.
Matthew saw Mary’s conception as a sign;
proof that God was with them. We get that.
But that he makes the connection between Mary’s conception and that of that young woman 700 years before – that, we don’t get. But we should.
The first hearers of Matthew’s Gospel did.
You see, Matthew wrote his Gospel in 90 AD – 20 years after . . . the end of the world.
in 70AD the Romans did what the Assyrians were unable to do;
they entered Jerusalem, burned the city, and destroyed the temple.
To many it seemed like the end of the Jewish people;
But not to Matthew.
For he saw in the birth of Jesus a connection with Isaiah’s prophecy.
He references it in today’s Gospel – saying to the people in his day;
Even though Ahaz thought it was the end of the world, it was not;
the birth of that child was a sign that God was with them; that
God was faithful, even when they were not.
Thus even though we think it is the end of the world, - it IS not.
The birth of that child named Jesus is a sign that God is with us;
That God is faithful even when WE are not.
Matthew could say this
in the face of the destruction of everything he had been taught to believe in
Because Matthew and his listeners knew their tradition and saw it reflected in the rest of Jesus’ story;
they knew how he lived, what he taught,
and how he invited others to follow his example
and live here and now in that new world he called the Kingdom of heaven.
They knew how he was rejected and betrayed, imprisoned and executed. It was the end of the world.
And yet they also knew that the resurrection we celebrate at Easter
means nothing if it does proclaim what we celebrate at Christmas
that the birth of Jesus is a sign that God is faithful
Even when it seems like the end of the world.
One of the things that I liked about those science fiction films of the 1950s
was that no matter how dire the situation got,
there was always some scientist who would figure out a way
to defeat the aliens, cure the disease
or at very least to build a ship that would evacuate a chosen few at the end of the world.
But frankly life is not like the movies.
Happy endings are few and far between; and despite the fact that we protest, organize, fight and vote,
sometimes the world does end. Just ask Matthew. He saw it with his own eyes.
But we don’t have to ask him. Why?
Because he gives us our answer before we can speak the question.
Because you see Mathew and the people who first read his gospel knew the truth.
Truth is, the world is always ending;
leaders come and go, empires rise and fall;
the things we trust in to be stable and secure sooner or later change.
THAT is why Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth the way he does
and refers to that unnamed woman and her child the way he does.
Jesus is still that sign that God is with us;
listen to his teaching, put his words into practice, live in his new world
and in that see the truth.
The world is always ending.
But God faithfulness never does.