The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” Then Isaiah said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.
1) The Lord's are the earth and its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.
2) Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.
3) He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks for him, that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)
Believe it or not, one of my favorite movies is Steel Magnolias. Yeah, I know it's very much a so-called "chick flick" (i.e., one that's aimed at primarily a female audience) but I have found much fodder for homilies in it. One could easily point out the sacrifice of Shelby in bearing a son despite the health risks, the deep loss felt by Shelby's mother (played by Sally Field, one member of an illustrious cast) at the death of her daughter, etc. But the point that seems most appropriate here are the roles, or rather lack thereof, played by the men in this movie. They are all cast in supportive (or non-supportive, as the case may be) roles. But they are very much in the background of the story. And really, isn't that the same case in the biblical narratives of the first family? Joseph is ever supportive of his wife and son, but never speaks a single word.
As I reflected on this passage from Matthew's gospel, I was struck by the fact that Matthew points out that everything that happens in it is to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah which we heard in the first reading: "The virgin shall be with child and bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel". Matthew also points out that this name means "God is with us".
God is with us indeed but he comes to us at times, in ways and through people we least expect, as we can readily see when we look at this gospel passage. First of all, he came at a time when Joseph and Mary least expected it. God sent Gabriel to approach Mary with the question upon which the future of salvation rested at a time when she was betrothed to a man named Joseph. Now we have to understand that there were three steps in the Jewish marriage procedure. First, there was the engagement, which was often made when the couple were only children. It was usually made through the parents, or through a professional match-maker, the "Yenta" in Fiddler On the Roof. And it was often made without the couple involved ever having seen each other.
Then there came a year of betrothal. The betrothal might be called the ratification of the engagement into which the couple had previously entered through the parents or the match-maker. Prior to the betrothal, the engagement could be broken if the girl was unwilling to go on with it. But once the couple entered into the betrothal, it was absolutely binding. During that year, the couple were known as man and wife (although they did not have the rights of man and wife) and the betrothal could only be terminated by divorce. Since Joseph and Mary were betrothed at this point in their relationship, Joseph could only end the betrothal through divorce. Only upon completion of the betrothal period could the third step in the Jewish marriage procedure, the marriage itself, take place.
Now we also must understand one more thing about the betrothal: the consequences of a woman who was betrothed being found pregnant were serious. Matthew says that Joseph was unwilling to expose her to the law because if anyone found out that Mary was pregnant, under the law she would be stoned to death. This is also why Joseph had decided to divorce her quietly in the presence of two witnesses, so that no harm would come to her. (1)
But before Joseph could act on his plan, the angel appeared to him in the dream. So God came to Mary and Joseph at a time that they least expected. But God also came to Joseph in a way he least expected: through a dream. As opposed to our modern dreams which are mostly self-centered, dreams in the Hebrew Scriptures revealed God's will or plan for that individual.
Lastly, God came to Joseph through someone he least expected: an angel. Isn't that the way it is for us too? Doesn't God come to us in ways we least expect, at times we least expect and through those whom we least expect? Consider the following story.
- Our family was driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Christmas Day. That year Christmas came on Sunday and we needed to be in Los Angeles on Monday morning, having spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with my husband's parents.
We stopped for lunch at a diner in King City. I was enjoying a review of the happiness and meanings of the day when my reverie was interrupted. I heard Erik, our one-year-old son, scream with glee in his high chair. "Hi there." (Two words he thought were one.) He pounded his fat baby hands - whack, whack - on the metal tray of the high chair. His face was alive with excitement, eyes wide, gums bared in a toothless grin. He wriggled and chirped and giggled, and then I saw the source of his merriment.
A tattered rag of a coat; greasy, worn. Baggy pants, both they and the zipper at half mast over a spindly body. Toes that poked out of would-be shoes. A shirt that had ring-around-the-collar all over and a face like none other. Gums as bare as Erik's. Hair unwashed, uncombed, unbearable. Whiskers too short for a beard, but way beyond the shadow stage. And a nose so varicose that it looked like the map of New York. I was too far away to smell him, but I knew he smelled.
His hands were waving in the air, flapping about on loose wrists. "Hi there, baby; hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster." Erik continued to laugh and call, "Hi there." Every call was answered. I turned the high chair. Erik screamed and twisted around to face his old buddy.
The waitresses' eyebrows were rising. Several diners went "ahem." This old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby! Now the bum was shouting from across the room, "Do ya know peek-a-boo? Hey look, he knows peek-a-boo."
The old guy was drunk. Nobody thought anything was cute. My husband was embarrassed. I was humiliated. Even our six-year-old wanted to know why that man was talking so loud. We ate hurriedly and in silence, all except Erik, who continued to run through his repertoire with the bum.
My husband rose to pay the check, telling me to meet him in the parking lot. I grabbed Erik and headed for the exit. The old man sat poised and waiting, his chair directly between me and the door. "Lord, let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik," I prayed.
I tried to side-step, to put my back between Erik and any air that the old man might be breathing. But Erik, with his eyes riveted on his best friend, leaned far over my arm, reaching out with both arms in a baby's pick-me-up gesture. In the split second of balancing my baby and turning to counter his weight, I came eye-to-eye with the old man. His eyes were imploring. "Would you let me hold your baby?"
There was no need to answer. Erik propelled himself from my arms into the man's and immediately laid his head on the man's ragged shoulder. The man's eyes closed and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands, full of grime and pain and hard labor, gently, so gently, cradled my baby's bottom and stroked his back.
The old man stroked and rocked Erik for a moment, then opened his eyes and looked squarely in mine. He said in a firm, commanding voice, "You take care of this baby." I said, "I will."
He pried Erik from his chest, unwillingly, longingly, as though he were in pain. I held my arms open to receive my baby, and again the gentleman addressed me. "God bless you, ma'am. You've given me my Christmas present."
I said nothing more than a muttered thanks. With Erik back in my arms, I ran for the car. Dennis wondered why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly and why I was saying, "My God, my God, forgive me." (2)
The mother in this story found out what Joseph did in our gospel, that God can come to us at times we least expect, in ways we least expect and through those whom we least expect. I think that sometimes an experience like this author's is referred to as "entertaining angels". Perhaps the old man was an angel in disguise.
As we prepare to remember the first coming of Christ on that first Christmas morning 2000 years ago, we need to ask ourselves if we are being truly open to "entertaining angels" in our lives. Sometimes we could be entertaining angels when we encounter someone like the author of our story did. Or we could be locking them out of our lives because we harbor grudges, resentment, bitterness or anger in our hearts? At Christmas time, we are reminded to treat every human being with dignity and love because we never know who might be an angel in disguise. And if we don't let them into our lives, some day we may find ourselves saying what the author of our story did: "My God, My God, forgive me. How could I be so blind!"
1. Adapted from The Gospel of Matthew copyright 1976 by William Barclay, St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Used with permission.
2. Erik's Old Man by Nancy Dahlberg. Reprinted with permission from Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, pp. 307-309, copyright 1997 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL.
(Copyright 2016 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Lord Jesus, you are the Messiah promised long ago through the prophets. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you are the one who saved us from our sins. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you are the Son of God and the Son of Mary. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: In joyful anticipation of the Lord's coming at Christmas, let us join our hearts and voices in prayer.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, come and save us".
That the leaders of the Church will help us to prepare our hearts as a fitting place for the Lord, we pray to the Lord.
That all those who mourn the loss of a loved one may come to know the peace that only Christ can bring, we pray to the Lord.
That all married couples will treat one another with the same mutual love and respect which Joseph and Mary had for each other, we pray to the Lord.
That all parents and guardians will love their children as God loves all of us, his children on earth, we pray to the Lord.
That all those who are traveling during this holiday season may rejoice in the company of their loved ones and return home safely, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Merciful Father, you sent your Son to become one like us to save us from our sins and lead us to everlasting life. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to welcome him into our hearts, just as Joseph welcomed Mary into his home. We ask this through Christ, our Lord.