Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24, Response: Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory. Romans 1:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24
One of the main themes in this Sunday’s Gospel, the fourth and final Sunday of Advent, is trusting God’s plan. We see this in the readings from Isaiah and Paul, and in the story of Joseph’s dream.
The exchange between the prophet Isaiah and King Ahaz reveals the prophecy of the most important sign that will make us trust in God’s plan: “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” (Isaiah 7: 14)
St. Paul exhorts us to have “the obedience in faith.” (Romans 1: 5) We receive this gift through the Spirit of the Risen Lord.
Then, finally, seen in Matthew is the trust that is asked of Joseph in his dream. Joseph has already chosen to do the right and kind thing, to quietly divorce Mary, who is with child.
In his dream, the angel Gabriel asks Joseph to set aside this choice for the greater good and the greater glory of God, and to trust in God’s plan.
Most especially in this story of Joseph, the role of the Spirit in God’s plan is very pronounced. It is by the power of the Spirit that Mary has conceived, fulfilling the prophecy.
The awesome thing about it is, unless we trust God’s plan, the power of the Spirit is “held in abeyance” until we entrust our “yes” to God.
Stories of trust
This is why the stories of Joseph and Mary are important stories of trust in God’s plan, which in turn sets into motion the plan through the power of the Spirit.
We often say that Christmas is for children and, as we grow older, for the childlike. It is the trust that a child has that predisposes one to be open to all things.
This is why Christmas is more joyful and magical when there are children in the family. These children awaken in us the childlike trust in God’s plan. Like Mary and Joseph, we are asked to trust in this plan “concretized” in the child in the manger.
The moment we trust God’s plan and entrust ourselves to it, the Spirit “kicks in” and leads us to participate in the plan.
In the Jewish tradition, which is the context of Joseph and Mary, the Spirit leads one to the truth and empowers one to recognize the truth when one sees it. This is the first fruit of their “yes”—the Spirit leads them to the truth of God’s plan through the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Nativity of our Lord.
All throughout their living out of their “yes,” Joseph and Mary allowed the Spirit to guide them: Joseph through his dreams, Mary through prayer and discernment (“and she kept all these things in her heart”).
Joseph had four dreams. The first is in today’s Gospel and the next three are when he is told to bring his family to safety in Egypt (Matthew 2: 13-15); when he is told to return to Israel after Herod’s death (Matthew 2: 19-21); and when he is asked to take a detour to Nazareth (Matthew 2: 22-23).
Mary allowed herself also to be led by the Spirit and actively discerned its movement and meaning in her life and mission, which is her Son.
There is a third function of the Spirit in the tradition of Joseph and Mary. The Spirit then was the principle of God’s creation—recall the story of creation in Genesis. It was also the principle of recreation or, for those who say “yes” to the plan, of cocreation.
This is Christmas. Each year we renew our “yes” to God’s plan, animating in us a childlike trust in our God who also entrusted his Son to the world and the care of humans, Joseph and Mary.
It is the story of the Spirit of peace, joy and love that comes to us through the child in the manger. This is the truth that the Spirit of Christmas leads us to: Jesus, who is God’s peace, joy and love.
It is this truth that the grace of the season allows us to see amid the busy-ness of Christmas. Peace, joy and love are in the festivities, yes, but also in the quiet moments of being with loved ones, in the gift-giving especially to those who have less in life, in watching the awe and wonder of kids who open their presents, and in the moments of prayer and celebrations of the Mass.
Christmas reminds us that God and humanity, heaven and earth meet in our “yes” to his plan, trusting him and allowing his Spirit to lead us from here on.
As the first announcement of the angel to the shepherds of the Child’s birth assures us: “‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David, a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.
“And this will be a sign for you: You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, [joy and love] to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Luke 2; 10-14)