Michel de Verteuil
The story of the virginal conception of Jesus is historical but is also deeply symbolic, and your meditation will reveal to you that this is how Jesus Christ always comes to be born into the world, in all the various ways in which this happens.
You can read it as a story of Joseph, symbolic of those whose vocation it is to welcome the one who bears God within her. You might like to stay with the long and painful journey which this vocation involves, identifying with Joseph’s fears, his hesitations and eventually his total commitment. You might prefer to concentrate on his vocation to name the child.
It is also the story of Mary; although she does not say a word right through. She is the symbol of those who bear God within them and must wait until their collaborators welcome them and so allow God’s work to be born. Do not, however, invent your own story of how Mary felt or what went through her mind; take the text exactly as you find it and you will find ample material to help you understand the work of God.
The fulfilling of prophecy is an important part of the passage and you might like to meditate on it as expressed in verses 22 and 23. It would help if you read the original passage in Isaiah; as you will see there, the prophecy is a response to the king of Judah who looked for security in alliances with the powerful nations around him. Like all of us, he did not recognise ‘how Jesus Christ come to be born’.
Lord, any commitment involves a long journey.
We remember when we first committed ourselves:
– we would fight against racism or sexism or injustice at the workplace;
– we decided to give up drink and work among addicts;
– we accepted public office;
– we began giving spiritual direction.
At first we felt very happy,
then one day we recognised that this was your work,
in which success could not be measured in earthly terms.
It was like when Joseph discovered that Mary, his betrothed,
was with child through the Holy Spirit,
and we too decided to extricate ourselves as discreetly as we could.
But first, as we had made up our minds to do this,
you sent an angel to us, someone who told us not to be afraid
just because we now knew that we were involved in a work of the Holy Spirit.
We thank you that when we thought about it
we found the courage to do what your angel told us to do.
Yes, this is always how Jesus comes to be born.
“There is some spouse within us that we must meet and, failing that, we fail wholeness. There is in the heart of us all some image of the Beloved which we must not merely acknowledge but know, love and embrace. Without this marriage there can be no real human life.” …Matthew Kelty, Cistercian monk
Lord, Mary is that noble part of ourselves,
bearing your Son Jesus who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
– our generosity, the ability to sacrifice ourselves, to give all to a cause.
That part of ourselves frightens us;
we would prefer to deny it is there at all,
to remain with our mediocrity and our compromises.
Send us your angel to reassure us
that we must not be afraid to take that Mary to ourselves,
so that through us your Son Jesus may be born into the world.
“We do not have to put God into the world. He is there. But we must preserve his presence and aid our brothers and sisters to find him.” … A worker priest
Lord, as Christians we act as if we are doing the world a favour by our service.
But the world is like Mary bearing divinity in her womb,
and you want us, like Joseph, to welcome her with reverence
because of this presence within her.
We must proclaim to all that within the world we can find Emmanuel,
a name which means God-is-with-us.
Lord, people always think that the way to renew a society is by enlisting the support of the powerful.
Today we can see clearly that once again you are creating a new kind of civilisation through small communities, composed mainly of poor people,
fulfilling the word that you have often spoken through the prophets,
that no great power but a humble maiden will conceive
and give birth to a new beginning for society
and the world will know that you are with us.
Lord, we think today of women who are pregnant and are not being accepted.
Send your angel to those families,
telling them that they must not be afraid to welcome this pregnancy
because it is your gift to them.
Lord, it sometimes happens that we have a project within us,
one that you conceived through your Holy Spirit.
Others, even those who love us deeply,
cannot understand what is happening to us.
They fuss and worry, give us up and then come back to us.
Teach us to wait like Mary, knowing that when the time comes,
they will take us to their hearts and this project will come to birth.
Lord, there was a time when we were afraid to come near to Jesus,
thinking that we were not good enough.
But you sent us Joseph, who named Jesus for us,
as one who saves us from our sins.
3. Thomas O’Loughlin,
Introduction to the Celebration
We are beginning the celebration of God coming to us, God being with us, we being brought into the presence of God. This is the great mystery of Christmas: it is the feast of Emmanuel which means ‘God is with us.’ This is our special celebration this Sunday, but each time we gather here we remember the words of Jesus: ‘When two or three are gathered here in my name, I am there among them’. So, let us spend time reminding ourselves that Jesus is among us, we are in his presence in this gathering, and recalling that we are the people who proclaim him as Emmanuel: God is with us.
2. But what does it mean to believe that ‘God is with us’? That we actually believe this – as distinct from giving it verbal recognition – we should not take for granted. Our world tends to push ‘God’ out to the frontiers of our ways of thinking and imagining life and the universe. From the way most people use the word’ god’ it is clear that they are thinking of a distant, impersonal force. For other people – those who dabble in the New Age Movement – the word’ god’ often signifies a projection of our needs for an unknown other that can be trifled with but is not seen as a person who has made himself known through revelation. There are many who call themselves Christians who think of ‘God’ as far from them, but also think that ‘it’s good to have a religious dimension’ to their lives: ‘God’ is just a code word standing for’ all noble human desires’. All these fall very far short of the living person who lives within the Good News, and which is what gives life in every generation to its message.
Then, for Christians, there are the objects, systems, and beliefs that are seen as more present, more pressing, and more ‘real’ than God: money, power, and sex are still the great headings under which we can range the various forms of idolatry where a created object is put in the place of the creator. And, on that note it is worth pointing out that there is a special form of idolatry to which clergy are prone: imagining the reality of the divine as less important than the panoply of religion – an idolatry that manifests itself when people are more sensitive to the forms and regulation of the structures than to the gentle breath of God or the demands of justice, mercy, and doing what is right.
3. To live our lives in the light of ‘God is with us’ is the vocation of each Christian, but it is also the vocation of a lifetime.
4. How can the whole topic of believing’ God is with us’ then be brought before us in a homily? One the one hand, the whole liturgy of Advent and Christmas is an attempt to bring this mystery before us; but on the other hand, one can hear the words but this is not some simple piece of information to be learned; it is something that we have to grasp with our minds, our emotions, and our wills. One way is to lead a meditation on a series of questions.
5. Do we believe we encounter the presence of God in our gathering? Jesus said: ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Mt 18:20).
Do we believe we encounter the presence of God in combating hunger and human want? Jesus said: ‘for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Mt 25:35).
Do we believe we encounter the presence of God in combating poverty and injustice? Jesus said: ‘I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’ (Mt 25:36).
Do we believe we encounter the presence of God in love, in goodness, in creativity? We believe that God is the source of our light and goodness. As Jesus said: ‘Let your light so shine before all, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Mt 5:16).
Do we believe that we can encounter the presence of God in prayer, and become aware that God is personal and hears us? Jesus said: ‘And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith’ (Mt 21:22).
6. In each case I have taken the quotation from a single gospel Matthew – to show how this concern with believing in the presence of God, God being with us, runs right through his gospel; but the same point could be illustrated from any number of places. It is a basic conviction of Christians that God is known and close and seeks to encounter us.
7. Over the next few days we will hear ‘Emmanuel’ in the liturgy in its prayers and hymns and carols. We may hear this gospel passage read several times. Each time we hear the name ‘Emmanuel’ we have to remind ourselves that we are challenged to believe that ‘God is with us.’ It is the Christian conviction about this that inspires the whole celebration of Christmas.
Joseph is someone about whom we know little. There are few references to him in the gospels apart from the stories about the birth, infancy and childhood of Jesus (see Mt 13:55 and the parallels in Mark and Luke). He is very much a secondary or background figure in the gospel story. Yet, he is a real Advent person because, in a truly humble and remarkable manner, he prepares for the arrival of the Messiah into his life and into the world.
Matthew presents Joseph as having had no part in Mary’s pregnancy. When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant he wondered how this could be since they had not been living together as husband and wife. Initially he was confused and he did not know what to do. However, he did not act rashly. He listened to God’s word through the angel’s message in a dream and, although it demanded much faith, he did what God asked him. He allowed his life to be influenced and directed by God’s will. Therefore, without complaining, Joseph decided to prepare for the birth of Jesus by caring about Mary during her pregnancy.
Thus two aspects of Joseph’s character are revealed to us. First, Joseph was obviously a man of deep faith. He trusted God and, discerning God’s will, took the great leap of faith into the unknown in a difficult and confusing situation. God moved him in strange ways and he was responsive to this. Secondly, Joseph was selfless. He did not alienate Mary but, instead, accepted her and remained loyal. His selflessness enabled him to act without fear of ridicule and scorn. Doing God’s will was all-important for Joseph.
We can learn from these two aspects of Joseph’s character. For example, how do we respond to God who often communicates with us in strange ways? Are we able to make the leap of faith when we are unsure about the future? Can we acknowledge and embrace those people and life situations which least suit us? Advent is about cultivating our ability to focus beyond our own concerns and respond to the needs of other people so that Christ can come into our lives through them.
Joseph, in the portrait painted of him in Matthew’s Gospel, prepared for the birth of Jesus with gentleness and faithfulness. He cherished and supported Mary and, together, they brought Christ into the world. Joseph’s discernment of God’s will empowered his confidence. We are challenged to imitate Joseph’s example as we live and work with other people.
Joseph was a man of few words but decisive and significant actions. His behaviour made a difference. Unfortunately, some of us speak many words but these words are rendered meaningless by our contradictory behaviour. This can easily occur during the days of Christmas when we gather as families and friends. Therefore, let us learn from the example of Joseph. Let us discern and accept joyfully God’s will in our lives. And let us pray to Joseph, asking him to help us to do God’s will always.
he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do.(Mt 1:24)
Call to Joseph
Some of the most open-minded people I have met have been very religious, and some of the most narrow-minded people have also been religious! Like good and bad medicine, there is good and bad in religion.
True religion is open to mystery. We need a church lit with the light of God, as Joseph was. His burden was lifted when he was open to God, to take Mary home as his wife, no matter what Others might think
This is the annunciation to Joseph – the word of God from the angel to Joseph in a dream. It opened him to a huge new meaning in life. We accept this word as a central part of our lives, and the next time we meet the word, it will be made flesh.
Today’s Gospel is Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem. This is not Luke’s familiar story of a child born in a Bethlehem stable, but that of a young unmarried woman suddenly finding herself pregnant and her very hurt and confused husband wondering what to do. In Gospel times, marriage was agreed upon by the groom and the bride’s parents almost immediately after the age of puberty; but the girl continued to live with her parents after the wedding until the husband was able to support her in his home or that of his parents. During that interim period, marital intercourse was not permissible. Yet Mary is found to be with child.
Joseph, an observant but compassionate Jew, does not wish to subject Mary to the full fury of Jewish law, so he plans to divorce her “quietly.” But in images reminiscent of the First Testament “annunciations” of Isaac and Samuel, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and reveals that this child is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Because of his complete faith and trust in God’s promise, Joseph acknowledges the child and names him Jesus (“Savior”) and becomes, in the eyes of the Law, the legal father of Jesus. Thus, Jesus, through Joseph, is born a descendent of David.
Matthew’s point in his infancy narrative is that Jesus is the Emmanuel promised of old – Isaiah’s prophecy has finally been fulfilled in Jesus: the virgin has given birth to a son, one who is a descendent of David’s house (through Joseph). Jesus is truly Emmanuel – “God is with us.”
The “mystery” of the Incarnation is not that God could become one of us – the inexplicable part is how and why God could love humankind enough to humble himself to take on the human condition and walk with us, talk with us, die for us.
We have reason to rejoice and to hope, for in our midst dawns Emmanuel – “God with us.”
Joseph, the “just” and “upright” man, is a model of compassion, forgiveness and faith for all of us who are moms and dads, children, brothers and sisters.
God’s coming depends on “Josephs” – men and women of humility, selflessness and openness of heart and spirit – to welcome him and embrace his presence in our midst.
At the end of the play, the transformed and jubilant Scrooge throws open his bedroom window and bellows festively to the startled city street below, “Merry Christmas, everyone! Merry Christmas!” Scrooge then spies a street urchin passing by: “Hey you, boy, you there!” the joyful Scrooge shouts, “Come up here, boy, I’ve got something wonderful for you to do!” and sends the boy off to purchase the giant turkey in the poulterer’s window as a surprise for the Cratchits.
That’s when something unexpected happened one evening.
Now, in this staging, the audience did not see the urchin. No actor appeared on stage as the boy — the audience imagined the boy Scrooge was calling to. But at this particular performance, when the transformed Scrooge beckoned from the window to the unseen boy, a real six-year-old boy sitting in the audience with his family rose from his seat and walked onto the stage ready to do “something wonderful.
The boy in the audience thought Scrooge was calling him.
The actor playing Scrooge was caught off guard. There was now an unscripted child standing center stage. What to do? The audience held its breath. Then the person of faith beneath the veneer of Scrooge came to the fore. Bounding down from his window perch, Scrooge strode across the stage and cheerily embraced the waiting boy.
“Yes, indeed,” he exclaimed, his voice full of blessing. “You are the one, the very one I had in mind.” Then he gently led the boy back to his seat in the audience, returned to the stage and resumed the play. When the curtain calls were held, it was, of course, this boy, the one who had felt himself personally summoned from his seat, who received, along with old Ebenezer, the audience’s loudest and warmest applause.
From Fr. Jude Botelho:
The time is the 8th Century BC and king Ahaz is worried whether the kingdom of Judah will be destroyed by his two powerful neighbours. King Ahaz waits for the attack of his neighbours with fear and helplessness and looks around for allies and help. He decides to go to Assyria, a superpower and ask for help to destroy his powerful neighbours. Isaiah is advisor to king Ahaz and is strongly against what the king is doing. He argues that the dynasty of David will not be preserved through playing power politics but only through trusting in God. The prophet gives the king a sign ‘the maiden is with child and will give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God is with us’ This sign is given to the king to assure him that God is with Israel But Ahaz refuses to believe in the sign and trust in God.
Sign Of Christianity
The words of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, written in the third century are as timely today as when he wrote them. He said: “If I could ascend some high mountain and look over this wide world, you know very well what I would see. Robbers on the high roads, pirates on the sea… selfishness and cruelty, misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, an incredibly bad world, but in the midst of it I have found a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They are despised and persecuted but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians and I am one of them.
- Anthony Castle in ‘Quotes and Anecdotes’
Attitude Changes Things!
One day a lady who lived in town looked out of her window and saw a big truck pull up to her house, Out jumped five rascals and started unloading electric guitars and loudspeakers and drums…. They took them to the neighbours house. The woman was furious. Now her night’s rest and her ears and her life would be ruined by all the noise that would come from the house. Her husband came home from work and she began to scream at him, “We’ve got to move away from here or else we’ll go deaf and mad with that string band next door. But he calmed her down a bit and said, “Honey, why are you angry? Don’t you realize who those musicians are? They are the famous Sanguma String band that plays overseas to large crowds…. Woman, we should be glad they are here; we’ll be getting all this famous music for free.” His wife’s frown turned to a smile. She ran to the telephone and began to call her friends to come over sometime and take advantage of the Sanguma Band….. How attitude changes everything! Our attitude to Jesus too can change everything!
- ‘Quote’ in ‘1000 Stories You Can Use’
In today’s reading of Matthew’s Gospel, unlike King Ahaz, who did not trust God’s sign given to him, Joseph puts his trust in the rather upsetting sign of Mary’s mysteriously conceived child. Thanks to Joseph, of the family of David, Jesus will belong to the royal line. And, because of his faith, it is Joseph who gives the child a rightful name: Jesus, which means –God saves! Perhaps there are those who fear the approach of Christmas for whatever reason, they can take heart and hope from the story of the first Christmas. There was plenty of fear present there too! In fact all the main characters in it were afraid at one time or another. Joseph was afraid when he found that Mary was expecting a child even though they hadn’t been living together. But the angel appeared to him to reveal to him who the child was. Joseph did not fully understand, but being a just man, trusted God and so overcame his fear and did what was right. All of us are touched by fear at one time or another but we must not let our fears cripple us. Like Joseph we must seek to do the just and loving thing so that we move from fear to faith. Trust is the thing that enables us to move from fear to faith. The Christ child who comes to us at Christmas challenges us to enter into an intimate trusting relationship with God, trusting that we will receive love, and always more love. Though his humble and trusting action Joseph cooperated with God’s plan and provided a space for Jesus in his family and in the world. By trusting and cooperating with God in our own humble way we too can create a space for him to enter into our lives and into the present world.
The country doctor Brunoy had just said goodbye to his colleagues who had confirmed that Jean, the doctor’s only son, would die in a few hours of diphtheria. The anti toxin injections had been too late. As he now sat with his wife by the boy’s bedside awaiting the child’s death the doorbell rang. The doctor shouted to his secretary, “I don’t want to see anyone.” But the visitor would not go away. It was the farmer Rivaz who had walked 10 kilometres from Roseland. His son was sick. “I’ll come tomorrow” the doctor told him. “But if you don’t come now, he won’t make it through the night,” the farmer insisted. Then began a discussion…. “You can cure my son.” “But mine’s lost, he’s beyond all cure.” “But mine isn’t.” “Well, I’ll come tomorrow morning.” “Then it will be too late.” “Let me close the eyes of my dying child.” “But if you cannot help him any longer….” “As long as my son is alive, I’ll remain with him.” “All right, then both the children will die.” The doctor then asked for the symptom’s of the boy’s sickness and they were the same as his son’s had been. But it was still not too late to save him. So the doctor decided to go with the farmer.
- Ludolf Ulrich in ‘1000 Stories You Can Use’
- Glenstal Sunday Missal
In his book Beyond East and West John Wu has a fascinating passage. It reads as follows: “My wife and I had never seen each other before marriage. Both of us….. were brought up in the old Chinese way. It was our parents who engaged us to each other, when we were barely six years of age. In my early teens I came to know where her house was. I had an intense desire to have a glimpse of her. In coming back from school, I sometimes took a roundabout way so as to pass by the door of her house….. but I never had the good fortune to see her.” Wu goes on to say that he realizes the old Chinese marriage sounds incredible to Western readers. Some of his Western friends could hardly believe it at first. Wu says he was surprised his friends found the system so incredible. He asked them whether they chose their parents, brothers and sisters. Then he said, “And don’t you love them just the same?” John Wu’s passage from his book helps us to appreciate better the relationship between Joseph and Mary before Jesus’ birth.
- Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’
Sometimes fact is more mysterious than fiction! The "Denver Post" printed an article December 23, 1981 about a stranger-than-fact event that occurred in Colorado. Stan Sieczkowski heard in church about a Denver family facing a rather bleak Christmas holiday. Medical bills robbed them of any extras; they would not even have a tree. So Stan and his son Jay determined to get them that tree. They headed up into the Colorado Rockies in the family pickup. However, the truck skidded off the icy road and hit a boulder that shattered the windshield. Jay was showered by glass slivers and suffered from shock and crash trauma. Stan was uninjured, though somewhat shaken. Cars sped past that day -- maybe 200 of them. Only two stopped. A gentle, dark-haired woman took the boy into her car to comfort him while her husband and another man helped Stan move his truck off the road. Then they drove father and son to Stan's home and quietly left without identifying themselves. Later that month, Stan's pastor asked if he might deliver a food basket to the unfortunate family for which he had earlier tried to cut a tree. Stan found the house, but he could hardly find his speech when the door opened. Standing there before him was the same couple who had helped him on the mountain road! Call it an amazing coincidence...or call it divine providence. Some mysteries are better left unanalyzed. But it is nice to remember that, when we give our hearts away in a spirit of generosity, we can still brush up against wonder, joy and love.
- Steve Goodier
1. G. K. Chesterton,
-- Home to the most magnificent truth in the entire Bible
-- Home to our Lord's greatest promise
-- Home to the reason we celebrate Christmas
Immanuel is God-with-us in the cancer clinic and in the Alzheimer's ward at the local nursing home. Immanuel is God-with-us when the pink slip comes and when the beloved child sneers, "I hate you!" Immanuel is God-with-us when you pack the Christmas decorations away and, with an aching heart, you realize afresh that your one son never did call over the holidays. Not once. Immanuel is God-with-us when your dear wife or mother stares at you with an Alzheimer's glaze and absently asks, "What was your name again?"
Ever and always Jesus stares straight into you with his two good eyes and he does so not only when you can smile back but most certainly also when your own eyes are full of tears. In fact, Jesus is Immanuel, "God with you" even in those times when you are so angry with God that you refuse to meet his eyes. But even when you feel like you can't look at him, he never looks away from you. He can't. His name says it all.
Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations
7. Obedience and Compassion
Stories from Father Tony Kadavil's Collection:
1: "You'll know tonight.”
It was a few days before Christmas. A woman woke up one morning and told her husband, "I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?" "Oh," her husband replied, "you'll know the day after tomorrow." The next morning, she turned to her husband again and said she had the same dream, and received the same reply. On the third morning, the woman woke up and smiled at her husband, "I just dreamed again that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?" And he smiled back, "You'll know tonight." That evening, the man came home with a small package and presented it to his wife. She was delighted. She opened it gently. And when she did, she found -- a book! And the book's title was The Meaning of Dreams. Today’s gospel tells us how Joseph had a dream and how he reacted to it. (Rev Samuel Candler.
Today’s Gospel message is a bit like the story of Beauty and the Beast, the animated film nominated for the Oscar Award in 1991. In that film, Beauty stepped into the ugly world of the Beast, not because he was loveable, not because he deserved her, but because she loved her father. But the world of the beast did not change right away, even though Beauty was there. The servants, who shared the curse of the Beast, warned him that Beauty might be the one they had been waiting for, but the Beast continued to rage and scream and roar, finally sending Beauty away. On her way home, she was attacked by the wolves, and Beast saved her. As Beauty returned and nursed the wounded Beast back to health, they began to bicker and blame each other, until in one beautiful moment, Beauty stepped into the heart of the ugly beast. From that moment on, the Beast began to change slowly. He started to laugh and play. And then, finally, Beast realized that he loved Beauty, and in an amazing act of love, he released her to find her father. Beauty and her father returned to the ugly world of the Beast to warn him of the danger of the townspeople's attack, but they were too late. In the fighting, Beast had been stabbed, and as he lay dying, Beauty confessed her love for him. And the spell was broken. Beast was changed by the love of Beauty. Because Beauty stepped into the ugly world of the Beast, Beast was changed, little by little, until one day he was transformed into a wonderful handsome prince. In Jesus, God stepped into our ugly, beastly world as Joshua (Savior), and Emmanuel (sign of God’s permanent presence with us), to change it, to bring to it – to us – the beauty of the love of God's kingdom. But change comes slowly. Yes, just look at our world. There are so many ugly people, so many beastly things happening. But, there are some people who are changing and some who have been changed by the beauty of God's love, and both begin loving others. Today’s Gospel describes the changes that occurred in St. Joseph and in the Holy Family.