BEHOLD A VIRGIN SHALL CONCEIVE AND BEAR A SON!
One of the most disturbing events of history is the birth of Jesus Christ. This is due to its unnaturalness. Thus this birth defiled every biological and other scientifical laws concerning human birth. It wasn’t simply because Mary was pregnant outside her husband but following Jewish marriage tradition Mary was at the point of this event unqualified for any sexual relationships not even with the said husband. There are three major steps involved in Jewish traditional marriage rites. Its at the completion of these rites that a man and a woman can be said to be husband and wife: the engagement stage, betrothal and the consummation stages. The first stage –engagement stage- is the stage where the parents determine who a child would marry. The second stage is the betrothal stage whereby the two persons involved agree to marry each other. This stage is comparable to the courtship in our present society. The third stage is where the man and wife after the public rites, declarations and exchange of consents consummate and seal the marriage in sexual union. Unfortunately, Mary and Joseph were still at the second stage of the marriage rite when Mary was found to be pregnant. At this stage a woman is supposed not by law to have known the man by sexual relation. This was the worry of Joseph! Hence Joseph was therefore perplexed, troubled and at cross roads between his love for Marry and obedience to the Jewish law concerning adultery (Deut. 22:23-24). Nevertheless, Joseph handled this difficult matter in a godly manner.
This event is not unwarranted! It was warranted by the divine design as described in the First Reading today. Today we hear the ‘Emmanuel-prophesy’ of the Prophet Isaiah. He speaks of the promise of a Messiah and a Messianic era. As a background for this: The kingdoms of Syria and Israel had already invaded Judah but failed to capture Jerusalem. To save his kingdom and the Davidic dynasty, Ahaz, the king of Judah, decides to align with the Assyrians who did not have the faith culture that the Hebrews had. Ahaz had already forsaken God, and was living a bad life, sacrificing to idols and even had murdered his own son as a sacrifice to pagan idols. The prophet Isaiah, an adviser to King Ahaz, can only see trouble from a political alliance with the Assyrians because they will one day enslave the Israelites. So he opposes the plan arguing that the dynasty of King David is not going to be preserved by his playing politics but by putting his trust in God. It is God’s power which will save him and his kingdom from his enemies. But Ahaz is not able to place his trust in God; he would rather trust human aid to accomplish what he needed. But Isaiah will not relent and he asks the king to ask God for a sign. Ahaz is afraid and he refuses to ask for the sign. Nevertheless, Isaiah reveals the sign, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”
There seems to be textual conflicts between Matthew and Luke’s Gospel accounts especially as regards the appearance of the angel. Nevertheless, there can at best be described as textual compliments than conflicts because each supplies what is lacking in the other. St. Matthew provides us with the circumstances surrounding the virgin birth of Jesus and its clear affirmation in today’s Gospel reading. St. Luke presents the infancy narrative through the main character of Mary, St. Matthew builds the story around the person of Joseph. In both accounts there is an angelic appearance: in one case to Mary and in the other to Joseph. Mary is told in St. Luke’s gospel that she is to bear a son. When she says that she is still a virgin, she is told that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and her child will be the Son of God, the Most High. In Joseph’s case, he is told not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife, because, the child with whom she is carrying is of the Holy Spirit. The stories presented in both the narratives are different but the central message is the same.
Joseph is part of God’s master plan for the salvation of mankind. So, God intervenes. In a dream, an angel tells Joseph about the mystery surrounding Mary’s pregnancy, that she is conceived ‘through the Holy Spirit.’ For his part, Joseph is to be the husband of Mary and the foster father of her and God’s Son. He was to provide Mary and Jesus with the needed care and protection. We may ask how Joseph was able to carry out all his duties and responsibilities. The answer is simple: he placed himself completely at the disposal of God – as Mary did with her ‘fiat’ (‘may it be done to me at you wish’) when the angel Gabriel told her she was going to be the mother of the Son of God. In carrying out their respective missions, both Mary and Joseph put their trust completely in God. And through their cooperation,
Jesus desires to be among us humans. He left the height of the heavenly place to come down here on earth and not even from the great tribes in Israel but from Nazareth- small and unpopular tribe. The coming of the long awaited Messiah, the light of the world, the king of the Jews and the desire of the nations, not through clouds and lightning but through the nine-months pregnancy of a country girl, through thirty years of the normal human process of infancy, adolescence and adulthood, reminds us that God comes in ordinary, normal, daily circumstances of life. God comes to us in the people we see around us being born, growing up, ageing and dying. It is often difficult to see God in the people who are familiar to us or in our own very selves. But we ought to see the incarnation of the Son of God as a bridge between heaven and earth, between the divine and the human, between the order of grace and the order of nature, between the sacred and the profane, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, saint and sinner e.t.c. Thus the Kingdom of Heaven is not some pie-in-the-sky fantasy land that is far removed from our lives. It is rather as our master Jesus says, ‘here among us’.
As we await his coming, may his simplicity and humility inflame our hearts unto one another. Moreso, may we learn from Joseph today to solve our marriage problems godly! Amen!