ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS 2022
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
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 fulfill 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.
The opening words of this reading announce its central theme: Jesus, born of Mary, is the Messiah, long awaited by the Jewish people and prophesised in the Jewish Scriptures. At a first reading Joseph appears to have a more prominent place in this account than Mary; we hear how he was shocked by Mary’s pregnancy and intended to break up with her quietly until instructed by an angel in a dream to take her as his wife. Unlike in Luke’s Gospel there is no account of the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary or of Mary’s reaction to the astonishing situation she found herself in. However, at a deeper level, Matthew’s account of the events leading up the birth of Jesus clearly revolves around Mary and the child to whom she will give birth.
The text places great emphasis upon Mary’s virginity and the fact that her pregnancy is miraculous, not brought about by an act of man but through the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus has no earthly father, only his heavenly, eternal Father, he is truly Son of God, and because he is born of Mary, he is truly human. Mary provides the eternal Son of God with his human nature, through her God is with us, in her son, our saviour. If Jesus had not been born ‘one like us’ (cf. Hebrew 2:17), he would not have been able to redeem humanity. The name Jesus in Hebrew literally means ‘God saves’, and Mary plays an essential role in the salvation brought about by her son.
Matthew’s Gospel stresses that Jesus is the fulfilment of prophecies in the Jewish Scriptures, and this text contains one of the most famous of these prophecies, announcing how Mary’s role in the salvific power of the Incarnation fulfils Isaiah 7:14: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (a name which means ‘God with us’). However, Mary is more than the fulfilment of certain prophecies in the Jewish Scriptures; through her, a Jewess, all the promises made to Israel, God’s chosen people, reach their fulfilment. She is the one in whom the Old and New Testaments are united. She is truly “the highest honour” of the Jewish race (cf. Judith 13:18) and the truest image of the Church, for through her, Jesus, the Messiah, is God among us.
Sr Cathy Jones