The season of Advent is past; our period of anticipation is complete. The solemnity of the Lord’s birth celebrates the mystery of the incarnation by which the Word of God humbled himself to share our humanity, in order that he might enable us to become sharers in his divinity.
Since the 18th century, it has been commonly taught that the date of Christmas was set in order to counteract a pagan Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun,” which was celebrated on December 25th. Just after the winter solstice, the year’s shortest day, when it seems that the nights are so long that they will suppress the light of day, Sol Invictus, the Roman sun god, begins to regain strength and the days start to lengthen again — a victory that was cause for rejoicing. It is therefore thought that Christians chose this day because Jesus is one with the true God, who conquers the power of darkness.
The origin of the calendar date, however, is largely irrelevant. The focus of our celebration is to commemorate the cosmic event that occurred in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago: God has taken on flesh and become Emmanuel, “God with us.”
1st Reading – Isaiah 62:1-5
For Zion’s sake I will not be silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her vindication shines forth like the dawn
and her victory like a burning torch.
Nations shall behold your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
you shall be called by a new name
pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.
You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD,
a royal diadem held by your God.
No more shall people call you “Forsaken,”
or your land “Desolate,”
but you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”
For the LORD delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.
Today’s first reading is an oracle of salvation. As we look forward to the celebration of the birth of the Messiah and his arrival at the end of time, Isaiah looks forward to God breaking his silence after many years of Israel’s exile in Babylon. He points to the glorious future which is in store for the faithful in Zion, the new Jerusalem.
For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
The poetic structure of this verse indicates that the names Zion and Jerusalem are interchangeable. The imagery that follows will show that the city represents the entire nation.
Until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.
God will not rest until all peoples witness the vindication of the nation, their salvation from exile and restoration as a people of God.
The image of salvation as a welcoming light — seen here as a breaking dawn and a burning torch — echoes Isaiah 58:8 and 60:1-3.
Nations shall behold your vindication, and all kings your glory;
The new Jerusalem will be a beacon for neighboring nations.
you shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.
Name changes in Scripture indicate a change in destiny; here, the promise of a new name is a promise of recreation. The fact that this name will be spoken directly by God implies a new, elevated status: Israel will have a renewed relationship with God and enjoy enhanced privileges.
You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD, a royal diadem held by your God.
This is clear royalty imagery. Note that God does not wear the crown of Jerusalem on his head, which is a human custom of conveying glory and power. Since God is all-powerful, such a gesture would be unnecessary. Rather, he holds his crown, Israel, in his hand, indicating possession and protection.
No more shall men call you “Forsaken,” or your land “Desolate,”
The reading shifts to marriage imagery. “Forsaken” can mean abandoned by one’s husband; “desolate” can mean barren (see Isaiah 54:1).
But you shall be called “My Delight,” and your land “Espoused.”
Although his people have violated their covenant relationship with God, he has not forgotten his promises to them. God is always faithful. The people who were once forsaken are now God’s delight; the land that was once barren is newly espoused.
For the LORD delights in you, and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.
The metaphor of marriage is perhaps one of the best ways of portraying the passionate love that God has for us and the depths of intimacy with us that he desires.
Here, the bliss of reconciliation of God with his estranged spouse Israel is described. He seems willing to do almost anything to reestablish the covenant bond the human partner has broken, and he will not rest until reconciliation is accomplished.
Since the 6th century, Christian tradition has used this poem in the liturgy of Christmas Day. The birth of Jesus has brought about the joyful union of God and mankind in a way that surpasses the deep intimacy joy of spousal union. A monk of the Middle Ages makes this beautiful comment:
“Like the bridegroom who comes out of his chamber the Lord came down from heaven to dwell on earth and to become one with the Church through his incarnation. The Church was gathered together from among the Gentiles, to whom he gave his dowry and his blessings — his dowry, when God was made man; his blessings, when he was sacrificed for their salvation” (Fausto de Riez, Sermo 5 in Epiphania).
2nd Reading – Acts 13:16-17, 22-25
When Paul reached Antioch in Pisidia and entered the synagogue,
he stood up, motioned with his hand, and said,
“Fellow Israelites and you others who are God-fearing, listen.
The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors
and exalted the people during their sojourn in the
land of Egypt.
With uplifted arm he led them out of it.
Then he removed Saul and raised up David as king;
of him he testified,
‘I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart;
he will carry out my every wish.’
From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course, he would say,
‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me;
I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’”
Our second reading comes from the story of Paul’s first missionary journey. He is making a speech at a synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia. It is the first of several speeches of Saint Paul to Jews proclaiming that the Christian Church is the logical development to Pharisaic Judaism (see also Acts 24:10-21; 26:2-23).
When Paul reached Antioch in Pisidia and entered the synagogue,
he stood up, motioned with his hand, and said, “Fellow Israelites and you others who are God-fearing, listen.
The audience consists of Jewish people and potential Gentile converts to the Jewish faith. These Gentiles came to the synagogue because they admired Judaism and wanted to learn more about it; however, they had not made a total Mosaic commitment (which would have included circumcision and following the dietary laws).
The people in this group were especially fertile subjects for Christian conversion.
The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and exalted the people during their sojourn in the land of Egypt. With uplifted arm he led them out of it.
Paul begins with a survey of Israel’s history from Israel’s divine election in the Exodus experience.
Then he removed Saul and raised up David as their king; of him he testified, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish.’
He continues his summary of Israel’s history. Notice the close attention to historical details in the Torah and the historical books. The saying “David, son of Jesse” combines Psalm 89:21 and 1 Samuel 13:14.
When the prophet Samuel was searching for a possible king, David was a virtual unknown, even within his own family. The youngest of seven sons, he was never even considered as a candidate (see 1 Samuel 13:14 and 16:1-13). This is yet another example of how God uses the seemingly insignificant to confound the prominent; the weak to confound the strong.
From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
This is the crux of Paul’s speech, the theme of his entire message. Jesus is the promised Messiah who God raised from the dead to bring salvation to his people.
Recall that God promised David that he would establish in him the royal dynasty from which the Messiah would come. Here, Paul is proclaiming that Jesus is the promised Davidic heir. This ties Jesus to David and Isaiah 11:1, and Nathan’s oracle in 2 Samuel 7:16.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel;
John the Baptist was the prophet who announced Jesus’ coming and prepared Israel to receive him through a baptism of repentance.
Notice the repetition of the name Israel: Paul’s focus is still on Israel as the intended recipient of the Messiah.
and as John was completing his course, he would say, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’”
The quote ascribed to John the Baptist appears to be a combination of his testimony found in Luke 3:16-17 and in John 1:19 and 27.
John the Baptist is presented in Luke’s gospel as a transitional figure between the period of Israel (the time of promise) and the period of Jesus (the time of fulfillment). With John, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises has begun (Luke 16:16).
Gospel – Matthew 1:1-25
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham became the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.
Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez became the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab became the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz became the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth.
Obed became the father of Jesse,
Jesse the father of David the king.
David became the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
Solomon became the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asaph.
Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Uzziah.
Uzziah became the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amos,
Amos the father of Josiah.
Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers
at the time of the Babylonian exile.
After the Babylonian exile,
Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abiud.
Abiud became the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok.
Zadok became the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar became the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.
Thus the total number of generations
from Abraham to David
is fourteen generations;
from David to the Babylonian exile,
from the Babylonian exile to the Christ,
Now 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.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.
Having just heard in our second reading that Jesus is a descendent of David, we now shift to Saint Matthew’s account of the genealogy and birth of Jesus.
This christological passage from Matthew teaches, through the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, that:
- Jesus has David as his ancestor,
- Mary is the virgin who gives birth according to the prophecy, and
- the Child’s conception was miraculous and of the Holy Spirit.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
Saint Matthew delivers a jolting revelation to his Jewish readers with this opening line. He announces that the long-awaited Messiah, who was promised by the prophets to restore the kingdom of David (late 11th century BC – 6th century AD), is none other than Jesus of Nazareth.
For the Jews and other Eastern peoples of nomadic origin, genealogy was of great importance because a person’s identity was especially linked to family and tribe; the place of birth was of secondary importance. In the case of the Jews, there is the added religious significance of belonging by blood to the chosen people.
the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Note the mention of David first, before Abraham, despite the fact that Abraham came long before David and is the “father” of the Israelites. The focus is primarily on God’s covenant promises that identify Jesus as the Messianic king foretold by the prophets as David’s heir.
For Saint Matthew, the rank of the “kingdom” through David is greater than the rank of birth through Abraham. As we know, not every progeny of Abraham was numbered among the people of God (Romans 9:6-7; Galatians 3:16); examples include Ishmael and his descendants and Abraham’s five sons by Keturah and their descendants (Genesis 25:1-4).
Each of them, both Abraham and David, whether by the promise of the Lord or rank of birth, lived as a worthy predecessor in the line of Jesus Christ as to his existence in flesh. For the Lord had promised to Abraham, who by right of circumcision was the founding patriarch of the Jewish people, that from his seed all nations would be blessed. This was realized in Christ, who received his body from the line of Abraham … So also is David first among the tribe of Judah in the rank of king. And likewise God promised to this very tribe that the eternal king, Christ the Lord, would be born from the fruit of its womb. For David was the first king from the tribe of Judah, from which the Son of God received his flesh. [Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew, 1:1]
Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.
It was unusual for women to be named in a genealogical list, and in naming women it’s odd that Matthew did not name Abraham’s wife Sarah or Isaac’s wife Rebekah, or Leah and Rachel, the mothers of the children of Israel.
In fact, the gospel writer goes out of his way to mention four women who were each in some way involved in a scandalous past, as seen here with Tamar. She was a Canaanite woman who posed as a prostitute and deceived her father-in-law (Judah) into having sexual relations with her. The result of this incestuous union were the twins Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38).
Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.
Another scandalous woman. Rahab was a prostitute of Jericho, a non-Jew, who sheltered the spies sent to scout out the promised land (Joshua 2). She and her household were spared when the Israelites took the city.
Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth.
Ruth was a Moabite woman (a foreigner from a people who were the descendants of an incestuous act) whose story is told in the book of Ruth.
Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king.
God made three promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3: land, a great nation, and blessings. The promise of a great nation was fulfilled in his descendant David.
David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
The mother of Solomon was Bathsheba, another woman cloaked in controversy. She was an adulterous wife, a fact alluded to here by referring to her not by name, but as “the wife of Uriah.”
Uriah was a Hittite, and it is presumed that Bathsheba was also. She committed adultery with David, and when she became pregnant, David ordered Uriah into battle to be killed in an attempt to conceal their sin. The child of this adulterous relationship died and Solomon was conceived after David and Bathsheba married.
Why did Matthew single out these controversial women in his genealogy? If he wanted to give Jesus the most distinguished and respected ancestry, why didn’t he choose such highly regarded foremothers in Israel as Sarah, Hagar, Rebecca, Rachel, or Leah? Perhaps Matthew used these four foreign women — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba — to announce a theme that runs through his entire gospel: the message of Jesus is also for the Gentiles. God’s design is to save all mankind.
Or perhaps naming these scandalous women was a preemptive strike against the scandalous lies that some Jews were circulating about Mary of Nazareth. If these women could become the mothers of the leaders of the people of Israel (like Bathsheba’s son King Solomon) with important roles to play in God’s plan, who were they to say that Mary’s son was not destined by God to redeem his people?
“It is significant how much our Lord’s temporal ancestry was connected with sinners and foreigners! These blots on the escutcheon of his human lineage suggest a pity for the sinful and for the strangers of the covenant. Both these aspects of his compassion would later be hurled against him as accusations: ‘he is a friend of sinners’; ‘he is a Samaritan.’ But the shadow of a stained past foretells his future love for the stained. Born of a woman, he was a man and could be one with all humanity; born of a Virgin, who was overshadowed by the Spirit and ‘full of grace,’ he would also be outside that current of sin which infected all men.” —Venerable Fulton J. Sheen
Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph.
The successor of Abijah was not Asaph, but Asa (1 Chronicles 3:10). Matthew may have deliberately introduced Asaph (author of Psalms 73-83) to show the fulfillment of the promises of all the Old Testament.
Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat was actually the son of Asa (1 Kings 15:24).
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah. Uzziah became the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amos,
Some texts read “Amon.” Amon, son of Manasseh, was installed as king while an infant according to 2 Kings 21:18ff. The rendering of Amos for Amon is believed to be the result of an early confusion of the name of King Amon with the name of the prophet Amos.
Amos the father of Josiah. Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian exile.
The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and took the last Davidic king away into exile in 587/6 BC. This deportation to Babylon is described in 2 Kings 24-25. It fulfilled the prophets’ warnings to the people of Israel and their kings that they would be punished for their infidelity to the commandments of the Law of God, especially the first commandment.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, a Davidic king had not ruled God’s people since this event, a span of over 500 years. During that time, the holy prophets had promised that a Davidic Messiah was coming to liberate God’s people. For centuries, the people had been awaiting the coming of the promised king as they suffered under the domination of foreign powers (including the Romans, since 63 BC).
After the Babylonian exile, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok. Zadok became the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud the father of Eleazar. Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah.
Note the careful construction of this verse: it does not state that Jesus was the son of Joseph, but rather that Joseph was the husband of Jesus’ mother.
Jewish genealogies followed the male line. Joseph, being Mary’s husband, was the legal father of Jesus. The legal father is on a par with the biological father as regards rights and duties. However, there is evidence that Mary also belonged to the House of David. It was quite common for people to marry within their clan, and several early church fathers testify to this: St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin, and Tertullian, who base their testimony on an unbroken oral tradition.
Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
Here, the gospel writer spells out his planned arrangement of Jesus’ genealogy based on the number fourteen. The gospel writer has actually manipulated his list of the ancestors of Jesus of Nazareth to produce significant numbers associated with names and generations within his list. For example, in the second set, he omits kings Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah, who were Davidic kings of Judah between Joram/Jehoram and Uzziah (1 Chronicles 3:11-12; 2 Chr 24-26:2).
The list of fourteen generations is actually two sets of seven generations, seven being one of the “perfect” numbers, signifying fullness and perfection, especially spiritual perfection. It is also symbolic of the covenant. There are a total of six groups of seven from Abraham to Jesus, which means that Jesus starts the seventh group of seven, providing even more focus on the number of the covenant.
Matthew is underscoring his primary message: the covenant promises to David and Abraham had now been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. He is the promised King of a new, restored Israel. The Advent of the Messiah is presented as the climax of Israel’s history.
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
Having expounded on the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew pivots and launches an account of Jesus’ birth. However, we will see that this passage is focused on Jesus’ conception and the early days of Mary’s pregnancy.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together,
According to Mosaic Law, engagement took place about a before marriage and enjoyed almost the same legal validity. From the moment of engagement, the man and woman were given the titles “husband” and “wife,” a certificate of divorce was required in the event of a break in the relationship, and any subsequent infidelity was considered adultery.
The marriage proper consisted in the bride being brought solemnly and joyously from her father’s house to her husband’s house (Deuteronomy 20:7), at which time the union was usually consummated. This was followed by a seven-day wedding feast (Genesis 29:27, Judges 14:12), after which the couple began to live together.
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Note how simply Matthew proclaims that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Obviously discovering that an engaged woman is pregnant before consummating her marriage with her husband presents a huge problem. As we have already stated, Joseph and Mary were legally and morally bound to each other under the specific laws enumerated in the Deuteronomic Code (Deuteronomy 22:23-27). Any sexual contact between a betrothed woman and another man was equivalent to the sin of adultery and punishable by death for both the betrothed woman and her partner in sin (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18; Leviticus 18:20; 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22).
At this period in Jewish history, it’s unlikely that Mary would have actually been executed, as Mosaic Law prescribed, because under Roman occupation a man or woman could only be executed for violation of Roman law. However, her entire future is still at stake: If Joseph repudiated her, no other Jewish man would marry her and she would be ridiculed and shunned by the community.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
Joseph was faced with a dilemma. As a righteous man (díkais, which translates to “observer of the law”), what should he do? Joseph obviously knew that he was not the father of this child in the physical sense. Being an observant Jew, he could not marry someone who appeared to have so grossly violated the Law of Moses.
Jewish law did allow a man to divorce his wife (Deuteronomy 23:13-21; Mishnah Sotah 1.1, 5). Even in his heartbreak, he did not want to expose her to shame, so this was the course of action he chose.
Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream
God illuminates the way for Joseph, who is faced with a situation that exceeds human understanding.
Scripture conveys many stories of divine revelations, either in dreams or through the mediation of heavenly messengers. Both means are employed here.
and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
It is easy to understand that Joseph would be heartbroken and upset. But why would he be afraid?
In light of the Mosaic Law’s requirements of justice, it wouldn’t be honorable for him to assume the paternity of a child whom he knew wasn’t his. If the true paternity came to light, his failure to repudiate her could be seen as evidence of a disgraceful connivance on his part for her sin.
Acting out our commitment to God is a fearful thing, and it demands great trust in him.
For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.
The angel reveals the true origin of the child to Joseph and exonerates Mary of any impropriety.
Note how Matthew reiterates Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit. This is not intended to imply a trinitarian theology but is more concerned with pointing toward eschatological fulfillment. In Jewish prophetic theology, the Spirit of the Lord was believed to be the renewing force in the future messianic era. Here, at the dawning of that era, the power of the Spirit is manifested in an extraordinary way.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
According to the customs of the times, if a man named a child, he was declaring the child legally his. The angel’s command leaves no doubt in Joseph’s mind that he is to be the child’s legal human father.
The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yeshua (Joshua), which means “Yahweh helps,” but in first-century Judaism was interpreted as “Yahweh saves.”
The angel makes a word-play on the name by stating “because he will save his people from their sins.” This subtle connection with the divine name Yahweh, and the child’s mission, will not become clear until later.
To a Jewish audience, it would have been surprising to hear that Jesus will save the people not from foreign domination, but from their sins.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
This is the first of Matthew’s ten “fulfillment” formula statements which begin “this was to fulfill …” and are followed by a quote from the Old Testament passage or by an allusion to a combination of several passages in one quotation. They show that everything God did in the Old Testament was part of his divine plan in preparation for the advent of the Messiah.
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
The sacred author quotes Isaiah 7:14 in the Greek Septuagint form. There the Hebrew almâ (a young woman of marriageable age) is translated to Greek as parthénos (virgin). Matthew and the Church, looking backward through the lens of the resurrection, see the birth of Christ from the Blessed Virgin Mary as the perfect fulfillment of this prophecy, which was foretold about seven hundred years prior.
and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
This is amazing news. The birth of Jesus, as described here, initiates the Messianic age of salvation to which the whole Old Testament looks forward, and Jesus makes the presence of God among his people a physical reality.
Matthew considered the “God-with-us” appellation so important that the very last sentence of his gospel is Jesus saying: Behold, I am with you always.
The Church holds that the physical reality of God’s presence continues in the Holy Eucharist and via the Holy Spirit.
“Every religion speaks of God or the gods. Many philosophies contain teachings about a supreme being or first cause. But the Bible alone indicates that God’s truest name and most distinctive quality is that he will be with us. In good times and bad, during periods of light and darkness, when we are rejoicing and grieving, God is stubbornly with us. Emmanuel.” —Bishop Robert Barron
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
In the gospels, the word awoke carries a greater meaning than simply to arise. In his rising, Joseph has experienced a deep inner awakening, similar to Peter’s healed mother-in-law (Matthew 8:15), the forgiven and cured paralytic (Matthew 9:5-7), the disciples at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:7), and the bridesmaids who wake to greet the bridegroom (Matthew 25:7).
Joseph does as instructed without question or delay. He is the obedient man of action whose every move is attentive to the will of God. Unlike King Ahaz in the first reading, Joseph trusts in God even when life is surprising and difficult — a choice that leads to joy and peace. Ahaz represents a life built on trusting things of the world — a choice that leads to anxiety and unfulfillment.
As we prepare for the coming of Christ into our own hearts and homes we can use Joseph as our model: We can become more and more obedient to God and become more and more loving in our relationships with one another.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
Following the Greek text strictly, the New Vulgate version says: “et non cognoscebat eam, donec peperit filium.” The literal translation to English is: “and he knew her not until she had borne a son.”
The Greek word donec (“until”) does not carry with it the implication that Joseph had relations with Mary sometime after she gave birth (nor does it exclude it). The same word is used in John 9:18 where it states that the Pharisees did not believe in the man blind from birth until (donec) they called his parents. They didn’t believe afterward either.
Thus with some anguish, Joseph abandoned his initial thought of quietly putting his betrothed Mary away, and the birth of Jesus became possible.
Connections and Themes
Christmas vigil. The Christmas Vigil echoes the words of Jesus who said to his disciples, “watch and pray” (Luke 21:36). The word “vigil” comes from the Latin word vigilia which means “a watching” or “keeping watch.” In the language of the Church, this term is used to designate the day falling before a more or less prominent feast or solemnity. The vigil is a day that is set apart by the Church as a preparation for the greater day that follows it. In the early centuries of Christianity, the faithful were accustomed to gather in or near a church on the evening preceding great feasts, there giving themselves to prayer, in honor of the mystery or saint who would be venerated on such feasts. The observance of a fast the entire day before these feasts became part of the discipline of Christianity. It was in this way that Christian tradition was confirmed and perpetuated.
In a few hours, the entire world will be celebrating Christmas Day to commemorate the birth of the child Jesus in the world to save his people from their sins. The arrival of Jesus in the history of salvation marks the moment when the guidance of Israel by God the Father was transferred to Jesus who instituted the Church.
Yahweh fulfills his promises. In the first reading, the Lord delighted in Zion, the City of Jerusalem. For a long time, God had been silent, no longer speaking through the prophets because of their sinful ways. Now God decided to manifest his mercy. He promised that he would not rest until the justification of Zion had shined forth like the dawn and her salvation like a burning torch.
When God spoke of the justification of Zion, it was to be understood that he was speaking symbolically of the justification of his people. The Lord’s justification was so glorious that God would not limit it to just the Jewish nation. Such a glory would be witnessed by all the nations, and because of this glorious transformation, God’s people would never be “forsaken” again, nor be termed “desolate.”
This justification came in the form of the infant Jesus.
This glorious event could not have come to pass without the fulfillment of God’s promises that were made to Abraham and his descendants. Today’s second reading affirmed the fulfillment of God’s promises: When God made David their king, in his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes’ (Acts 13:22), and Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised (Acts. 13:23).
Genealogy of the Messiah. Today’s gospel reading gives an “account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Why such a long genealogy? It was to prove to all the believers of all times that Jesus was truly the Messiah. It was to prove that through Jesus, salvation came to the world. It was to prove that the promises of God to Abraham had finally been fulfilled.
Note that Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph. Jesus, conceived in Mary of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 1:20) was the adoptive son of Joseph. Through adoption, Jesus qualified for the throne of David as King. Through adoption, Jesus fulfilled the promises of the Heavenly Father.
As the adopted son of Saint Joseph, Jesus qualified and inherited the Crown to the earthly Kingdom. Equally, through our adoption by the Lord God, we qualify and shall inherit the Heavenly Kingdom. May we always be grateful to our Lord Jesus for this gift!