Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:
"Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,"Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.
which is translated, "God with us."
- Matthew 1:18-25
Yesterday, we read that after having been told by the angel Gabriel that she would conceive a Son, and also of Elizabeth's pregnancy, Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord." And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever." And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. We look closely at this description of Joseph as a "just" man. The word in Greek means "just" and it can also mean "righteous." We ask ourselves what kind of righteousness do we see in Joseph. My study bible says that Joseph's righteousness consisted of a mercy that transcends the Law (Hosea 6:6). He showed mercy by his unwillingness to expose her supposed sin, although he was obliged by the Law to do so. This is an example of the righteousness Jesus will espouse in His teachings. Joseph is called Mary's husband, but the Bible calls engaged couples husband and wife before marriage (Rachel, for example, was called the wife of Jacob before marriage because of their engagement -- see Genesis 29:21; also Deuteronomy 22:23-24). So, Joseph is called the husband and Mary, and she is called his wife further on in today's passage. By tradition in the Church, Joseph is remembered as the Betrothed. He was, in an important sense, both guardian and husband to Mary.
But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." My study bible points out here that the angel (or "messenger") of the Lord dispels Joseph's false reasoning by announcing what is utterly unreasonable: the pregnancy of Mary is by the Holy Spirit. The virginity of Mary points us to the divinity of Christ.
And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,"
which is translated, "God with us." My study bible notes for us that Matthew repeatedly uses the formula that it might be fulfilled which was spoken (2:15, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:56; 27:35). This underscores, it says, the intervention of God throughout history, demonstrates the continuity between Old and New Covenants, and indicates the beginning of the new creation. Jesus' conception fulfills Isaiah 7:14, in which we are told that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son. The One conceived in Mary is not a new Person coming into existence, but rather the eternal Son of God "using her womb as His throne," my study bible says. Both the virginal conception by means of the Holy Spirit and the name Immanuel, God with us, are declarations of Christ's divinity. JESUS is the Greek version of the name Joshua, meaning "God Saves" or "Savior." A Savior, in the language of the Old Testament, can also be understood as judge or deliverer, and a redeemer. We recall Joshua as the first to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land; he is a "type" of Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, who brings in the New.
Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS. Just as Mary is obedient to God, so also is Joseph. It's important to understand that the word "till" doesn't imply anything that happened after this event; rather, in the Greek, the word indicates what happened "up until" the event, and frequently implies the same situation continues after the event. The Church, from its beginning, has proclaimed the "ever-virgin" quality of Mary. Jesus is firstborn; again this word means no child was born before Jesus -- but does not necessarily indicate subsequent children. "Firstborn" is traditionally known as primary heir and recipient of blessings; thus a position that exists regardless of whether or not there are siblings. My study bible tells us that Jesus is also firstborn over all creation, and also firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:15, 18).
We can write of the "ever-virgin" character of Mary (which implies much more than a physical state but also teaches us about her spiritual state), and the miraculous quality of this event of the birth of Jesus, or Immanuel, "God with us." But for my part, my mind goes to the quiet quality of this scene, somewhere out of the way, so to speak, the birth of Christ in a place without fanfare and seemingly as one of the "least of these." If we think of the quietness and intimacy of this birth, we have just three people involved: Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus Himself, the Lord Incarnate. What stands out in the quietness of the three is the intimacy of the relationship to God in each of these parents, and through the Son how God is tied in to everything in our world, and into each of our own lives. Mary and Joseph are both told the great news before Jesus' birth, and both are obedient, even in the "quietness" and intimacy of the great news that at this point hardly anyone else knows. Their humility gives us a truly holy quality, not borne out in distractions of pomp or display, but instead in just the pure truth of what is happening, the reality of "God with us." God works in each of them, in their faith, and the vast work of the Spirit makes each event possible. This great good news isn't for the pomp and circumstance of the world. Rather it is also for each one of us, in our own intimate relationships with God, and it is "for the life of the world," because all the world is sanctified through His presence, this birth, "God with us." Everything in our world is blessed through His birth and His life, and all the elements of our lives are so blessed as to become fruitful via His Gospel. Our very water is sanctified for baptism, wheat (the grain of the field) becomes His body for our Eucharist, wine (fruit of the vine) His blood, given for us as eternal sign of God's steadfast love and mercy. This is what we focus on. God takes on our flesh, our life in this world, and sanctifies and blesses all of it for each one of us. These two figures, Mary and Joseph, are holy because of their love and obedience to God. But they are examples for us all, for each of our lives, each in our own way. The birth of the Child ties together our lives, their lives, the lives of all those who came before, and every single element in our world. After all, the others who will share in the news of this birth, we're told, are shepherds in the field with their flocks, the angels who announce the joyful news, and the animals symbolizing all of creation in a Bethlehem manger. We also have a sign of the whole created cosmos in the star that will guide the three Magi to Jesus. Let us be humble enough to see Him still as "God with us," in our own quiet time to understand, even in the midst of all the celebrations.