Ahaz proclaims the sign that the Lord will give: a virgin shall give birth to a son, Emmanuel.
The Lord is the King of Glory who established the earth.
Paul greets the community at Rome and declares himself a servant of Christ Jesus.
An angel appears to Joseph, directing him to take Mary as his wife and telling him that the child she will bear will be called Emmanuel.
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
We light the 4th Advent Candle, the Angel Candle which reminds us God’s love in sending His Son, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Love comes first in the fruit of the Spirit because love is the primary fruit of the Spirit. It is the most important fruit of the Spirit and encompasses all the rest. Love comes last in the four candles around the outside of the Advent Wreath, because love is also the most important of these, and in Advent, we are working our way towards the most important aspect of Christmas, which is God’s love for us in Christ. And today we find in the liturgy the loving, responsive obedience to God, as modeled for us in the Gospel by St. Joseph. Love is the central theme of today’s readings, with special emphasis on the Virginal Birth of Jesus.
In the first reading, God gives a sign through the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz of Judah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14) Matthew considers this as one of the most descriptive and definite prophecies foretelling that the future Messianic king, the Christ, would be born as a descendant of David. The Refrain of today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 24), “Let the Lord enter; He is King of Glory,” reminds us that, like Joseph, we must choose to let Jesus enter our hearts to rule our lives, for God never forces us to receive His gifts. Paul, in the second reading, also asserts that Jesus is a descendant of David and thus the Messiah, being: “descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom 1: 3). Paul also explains that Jesus was revealed and established as the Son of God in power by his Resurrection from the dead. Then Paul provides a sweeping summary of God’s mighty acts in history through Jesus Christ.
Today’s Gospel, from Matthew, focuses on the person and role of Joseph. In order for Jesus to fulfill the Messianic prophecy given by Isaiah, Joseph had to, and freely, willingly, did, accept Jesus as his son, making Jesus a descendant of David because Joseph was a descendant of David. Hence, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus was not the biological child of Joseph. But because Joseph was the husband of Mary at the time Jesus was born, and because he named and thus accepted the child as his own, Jesus was legally the son of Joseph and thus a descendant of David.
This account, as its heading says, is about the birth of Jesus the Christ. If we had to identify a principle actor in the narrative, it would have to be the Lord, moving behind the scenes to bring about the birth of Christ. Mary is found to be with child (the verb is passive, and so the story is not emphasizing anything she did). Joseph is about to act but is prevented from doing so by the Lord through a dream. His actions are in response to the revelation from God. But it is God who is at work in the narrative: God the Holy Spirit brings about the conception in Mary, the angel from God reveals the mystery to Joseph and gives him the instructions, and all of this is a fulfillment of what God had prophesied hundreds of years earlier.
God has visited this planet in order to redeem people from their sins. It all began with the extraordinary birth through a virgin, Mary, which had been foretold centuries earlier. Everything about this incarnation was to be supernatural, or it would not work. And so, from the outset, we are confronted with the divine nature of Jesus the Messiah, and with the purpose of his coming into the world. As Isaiah said, this would all be a stumbling block to some, but a foundation stone to those who believe. Whether people believe this first sign or not, the point is clear as to what the Word of God is clearly saying about Jesus. Matthew will now build on this introduction through the chapters.
In these last few days of Advent, a season when we need to retrace the stories of new birth and the return of light, may we hear a word from that dark place, a word that banishes all fear and encourages us to take one tiny leap of action to draw nearer to something we do not fully understand. Emmanuel is God with us: do not be afraid.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in--be born in us today!
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell--
Oh come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel.