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This is the 17th in a series of daily Advent reflections based on the appointed daily readings. To see the other posts in this series click on the Advent Reflections link above, or in the right-hand sidebar under categories.
Today we read Matthew’s version of the story of Jesus’s birth. So I thought I’d take some photographs of two of the nativity figures I brought back from Mexico. Mary is the first character we meet in the story.
Then we meet Joseph
After a crisis the two are reconciled through their faith.
We read about the birth and naming of Jesus – but it’s too soon to post any images of the Christ child. I told you, Advent is a time of waiting!
Today’s reading is Matthew 1:18-25 click on this link to read the text on Oremus Bible Browser. You can then read the passages before and after the one for today to see the context. I have also copied the text below as it is fairly short. It’s Matthew’s version of the birth story. Too often we get it intertwined with Luke’s story. We need to hear Matthew separately as it gives us clues about Matthew’s theology.
The Birth of Jesus the Messiah
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Because we know this story well, or at least, have heard it so many times, it is easy to miss the drama, the crisis, and the way God intervenes. Mary is a young girl, perhaps 13 or 14 – we don’t know how old Joseph is. Imagine the crisis Mary must have felt, to have to tell her fiancé (who was a God-fearing man) that she was pregnant. Matthew tells us that Joseph and Mary had not had sexual relations. Mary must have thought, “how can he possibly believe me when I tell him I haven’t been with someone else”. How could she tell him it was through the Holy Spirit that she had conceived a child? She must also have been very frightened about what Joseph would do. Surely he would be very angry, probably hurt and disillusioned. He would have every right to denounce her publicly. The response of the people in her village could be severe. At the very least she would be thrown out of the village, at worst she could be stoned to death.
Thank goodness Joseph was a good man, unwilling to make her a public spectacle. But, he couldn’t go ahead with the marriage and decided to quietly send her away, probably to relatives in another town.
But God intervenes. Joseph has a dream in which an angel tells him to go ahead with the marriage because it really was through the Holy Spirit that Mary conceived.
An Old Testament hero who was famous for his dreams and ability to interpret dreams was also named Joseph.
Joseph took the dream seriously and did what the angel had said. Can you imagine the meeting between Mary and Joseph after his dream? Think about the relief (for them both), the tears, the reconciliation, the questions. Mary’s love and respect for Joseph must have grown enormously. And Joseph, what must he have been thinking about his young Mary? Who is this woman who God has chosen? And what of this special child he had been told to name Jesus. What did the angel mean “…he will save his people from their sins”? What was happening to them?
As we wait and prepare for the celebration of Christ’s Mass, what strength can we get from the faith and trust of Mary and Joseph? Can we learn from them to listen to God’s messengers, in whatever form they come to us? Can we experience hope even at times of crisis? They had so many unanswered questions. Can we learn to be at peace with our unanswered/unanswerable questions? Waiting, waiting, waiting…welcome to Advent.