4th Sunday of Advent (Year C)
First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14 Second Reading: Romans 1:1-7 Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:18-24
“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL CONCEIVE AND BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL NAME HIM EMMANUEL.”
Three days were left for Christmas. Getting up early in the morning, the wife said to her husband, “Honey! Last night I had a dream and in the dream you gave me a beautiful golden necklace as present for Christmas. What could that mean?” The husband smiled and said, “Wait and see.”
Next morning as soon as she woke up the wife again said to her husband, “Honey! Last night again I had the same dream and in the dream you gave me a beautiful golden necklace as present for Christmas. What could that mean?” And again the husband smiled and said, “Wait and see.”
On the third morning the wife said to her husband the same thing and the husband also gave her the same reply.
Finally, the Christmas Day arrived and the wife saw her Christmas present wrapped in a beautiful package and kept on her table. Excited as she was, thinking that her tricks worked, immediately she opened it expecting a beautiful golden necklace. But unfortunately to her great disappointment she found a book instead. And the title of the book was – “THE MEANINGS OF DREAMS”.
In the Gospel Reading of today we come across a man – St. Joseph, to whom the angel of God always spoke in his dreams and always he listened to them and in obedience of faith acted as he was told. He was a righteous man and he played an important part in God's plan of salvation of mankind. Actually, he was the hope of the prophesy of the Prophet Isaiah.
Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent - the last Sunday prior to the feast of Christmas. We are at the threshold of Christmas. The birth of Jesus is now imminent. In a few days’ time we will be celebrating the memory of that great event. Throughout Advent, we have heard of God’s promise to send a Liberator - a Savior into the world; today, we catch a glimpse of how that is to be accomplished and to some extent, we can associate with the greatest joy of the Blessed Virgin Mary who awaited the coming of Baby Jesus into the world.
In the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah asks Ahaz, the king of Judah, to put his trust in God and God will offer him any sign he wishes. When the king refuses, God himself gives him the sign of a Savior to be born. In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul sums up his good news to the early Christians by telling them that Christ is a descendent of David and the Son of God. In the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew, we are told about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. St. Joseph, who is specially chosen by God to be His instrument, is informed in a dream that his wife Mary is with child by the Holy Spirit. This way, St. Joseph also enters fully into the mystery of the Divine plan of Salvation and becomes a part of it by being the father(foster) of Jesus to give him the throne of David.
“THE VIRGIN SHALL CONCEIVE AND BEAR A SON, AND SHALL NAME HIM EMMANUEL.”
In the First Reading of today, we have the 'Emmanuel-prophesy' of the Prophet Isaiah. He speaks of the promise of a Messiah and a Messianic era. As a background for this: The kingdoms of Syria and Israel had already invaded Judah but failed to capture Jerusalem. To save his kingdom and the Davidic dynasty, Ahaz, the king of Judah, decides to align with the Assyrians who did not have the faith culture that the Hebrews had. Ahaz had already forsaken God, and was living a bad life, sacrificing to idols and even had murdered his own son as a sacrifice to pagan idols. The prophet Isaiah, an adviser to King Ahaz, can only see trouble from a political alliance with the Assyrians. So he opposes the plan arguing that the dynasty of King David is not going to be preserved by his playing politics but by putting his trust in God. It is God's power which will save him and his kingdom from his enemies. But Ahaz is not able to place his trust in God; he would rather trust human aid to accomplish what he needed. But Isaiah will not relent and he asks the king to ask God for a sign. Ahaz is afraid and he refuses to ask for the sign. Just the same Isaiah reveals the sign, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel." The name 'Emmanuel' comes from a grouping of Hebrew words and means 'God is with us.'
We see St. Matthew quoting this 'Emmanuel-prophesy' of Isaiah in today's Gospel passage, to show that this is being fulfilled in Virgin Mary, who is betrothed to St. Joseph belonging to King David dynasty.
“JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID, DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TAKE MARY YOUR WIFE INTO YOUR HOME”:
In the Gospel Reading of today, St. Matthew provides us with the circumstances surrounding the virgin birth of Jesus and its clear affirmation. However, he also wants to communicate to us a sense of how dramatic this divine action was. Actually, there are three famous biblical personalities that dominate the Advent season viz. Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary. But suddenly today a fourth biblical personality appears ever so briefly in the Gospels and then disappears: St. Joseph. While St. Luke presents the infancy narrative through the main character of Mary, St. Matthew builds the story around the person of Joseph. In both accounts there is an angelic appearance: in one case to Mary and in the other to Joseph. Mary is told in St. Luke’s gospel that she is to bear a son. When she says that she is still a virgin, she is told that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and her child will be the Son of God, the Most High. In Joseph’s case, he is told not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife, because, the child with whom she is carrying is of the Holy Spirit. The stories presented in both the narratives are different but the central message is the same. Mary is the mother of the Child but Joseph is not the father and he is given a new mission.
Now, St. Matthew begins with Mary, Jesus' mother, as betrothed to Joseph. But before they lived together, she was found with child. Among the Jews, betrothal was the first part of the marriage, constituting a man and woman as husband and wife though their normal married life would only begin some months later. Thus any subsequent infidelity was considered adultery which was punished with death by stoning. Divorce was allowed, but usually only initiated by the husband and was done publicly, so everyone would know the reason. So, Joseph is not out of line in the story when he decides he must divorce his pregnant wife. St. Matthew gives Joseph a very wonderful character, however. When Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant and he knows he is not the father, he undergoes a severe crisis. But he has such respect for Mary that he does not want to expose her publicly, but will do it in private, so not to shame her. But even this 'inspired' decision of Joseph is not enough for God. Joseph is part of His grandiose plan for the salvation of mankind. So, God intervenes. In a dream, an angel tells Joseph about the mystery surrounding Mary's pregnancy, that she is conceived 'through the Holy Spirit.' For his part, Joseph is to be the husband of Mary and the foster father of her and God's Son.
Continuing his narrative, Matthew says that when Joseph awoke, he did as the angel had commanded him and 'took his wife into his home.' Joseph listens to the angel. He listens and he acts on what he hears. Though Joseph played second fiddle to Mary, he was nonetheless to play a major role in God's plan. He was to provide Mary and Jesus with the needed care and protection. We may ask how Joseph was able to carry out all his duties and responsibilities. The answer is simple: he placed himself completely at the disposal of God - as Mary did with her 'fiat' ('Be it done to me') when the angel Gabriel told her she was going to be the mother of the Son of God. In carrying out their respective missions, both Mary and Joseph put their trust completely in God. And through their cooperation, God was able to bring His redemptive plan for mankind to its successful completion.
Thereafter, Matthew draws the connection of the virgin birth of Jesus quoting the Prophet Isaiah, saying, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,' which means 'God is with us.'" Jesus is the very presence of God the Father in our world. The effectiveness of that presence depends on our conscious union with Jesus and with the vision of his Gospel lived out in our daily lives. Let Jesus be really re-born in each one of us this Christmas. The Lord wants to enter into our hearts. We should be like Joseph and Mary who put their total trust in divine providence. As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us pray for all Christians that they may prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord and welcome Jesus like Mary and Joseph, to receive his joy and peace.
JESUS – THE SON OF A WOMAN AND THE SON OF GOD:
Today's Second Reading forms the introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans and carries his beautiful salutation to the Christian community at Rome wishing them the very best, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Here St. Paul considers himself to be 'a slave of Christ Jesus' and 'an apostle' set apart to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. He speaks about two over-riding aspects of Jesus Christ: his humanity and his divinity. As to Jesus' humanity, he affirms that Jesus is a descendant of King David as prophesied through the Prophet Isaiah; that he is human, born of the flesh, born of a woman. And as to Jesus' divinity, he asserts that Jesus is the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead. Through the mystery of incarnation, the Son of God became one with us – sharing the hopes and fears that we have in our imperfections. Through the paschal mystery of his passion, death and resurrection, the true nature of Jesus as Son of God was fully manifested. Indeed, Christmas and Easter are intimately woven as warp and woof of salvation history.
St. Paul further says that through Jesus Christ he and his companions have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of the Name of Jesus. This calling of obedience of faith is a calling to the entire human race. It is a calling to each and every one of us to feed upon the Word of God for our spiritual growth so that we may go forward to teach and defend the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus.
The Lord has come, the Lord is here, and the Lord is coming again. In two days, we will commemorate his coming on earth in human flesh. This moment of worship, a great Feast that unites heaven and earth, will be one of joy and praise for all the faithful who will gather around the spiritual table of the Lord to receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Anticipation and preparedness are the watchwords for this Sunday of Advent. In this immediate preparation for the birthday of our Lord, we delve into the meaning of him who is God’s gift to us - whose 'advent' or coming into our life we deeply long for. The Messiah would come as a child. He is the 'Emmanuel,' which means 'God with us.' And God is indeed in our midst. Born of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit and fostered by Joseph of the House of David, Jesus would save his people from sin. He is the radical revelation of faithful love and the fullest expression of saving life. May Mary and Joseph continue to be models and our examples of faith and trust in God as we encounter Christ, the son of God, the Light of world and the Prince of peace at Christmas. And this is the Good News of today.