Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas Vigil - Year A

Isaiah 62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17.22-25; Matthew 1:1-25

Nine months ago the angel Gabriel appeared to the young virgin Mary and announced to her the plan of God that she should be the mother of the Redeemer. Mary was taken aback but gave her full consent: Let what you have said be done to me.

At that moment a profound mystery occurred. Though she was a virgin Mary conceived a child. The angel told her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you … and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.

There is no suggestion, of course, that the Holy Spirit could be called the father of the child. The Holy Spirit is present as the creative action of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary just as he was at the dawn of creation. Clearly, Matthew intends this parallel between the first creation and the conception of Jesus who is the ‘first-born of all creation’. (Col 1:14)

Mary does not speak to Joseph of the angel’s message, nor of her pregnancy. This must have been very difficult for her. So profound is her humble obedience that she leaves all initiative to God; after all, this is his work. What a huge lesson for us, who impulsively intervene and confuse situations we simply don’t understand!

Mary immediately sets off to visit her elderly kinswoman who is also pregnant.
Tonight the Gospel tells Joseph’s side of the story and asks us all to reflect on the greatness of this righteous man who proved himself a worthy spouse of Mary. As the genealogy of Matthew makes clear Joseph is a member of the house of David. He is to give to the Messiah his lineage as ‘Son of David’, as the prophets had foretold.

After three months away Mary returns and Joseph soon notices that she is pregnant. Again the same heroic restraint is evident in Joseph as we saw in Mary. And how fitting that this mighty work of God be allowed to unfold between them without question or comment. They hold themselves before it as reverently as they knelt on either side of the crib in Bethlehem.

Joseph is trapped between two irreconcilable facts – the unquestionable virtue of Mary and her obvious pregnancy. The first caused him to want to spare her public humiliation and the second required him to acknowledge that this child was not his. Finally Joseph decides to very quietly bring the relationship to an end. However, that night, in a dream, an angel appears and in a few words resolves all his difficulties. What joy he must have felt, what relief; and what immense gratitude to God.

It is worthwhile, at this point, to take note of the presence of the angels in the revelation of the mystery of God’s plan for salvation. Indeed, we can say the angels had been extremely busy. Starting with the appearance to Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth, in order to announce birth of John the Baptist, then to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus, then to Joseph to put his heart at rest and, let us not forget, tonight the angels will come to announce to the shepherds the birth of the Messiah.

Tonight, on the eve of the birth of Jesus, we honour Joseph his father. We marvel at the grace operating in this humble man. Like his spouse Mary he gave his Fiat, to the angel’s message when: he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus

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