In celebrating the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we rejoice in the knowledge that God chose to come among us. It is interesting that Matthew’s Gospel alone uses the term “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” As Christians, we believe that the Incarnate One came among us to be with us, to share in and identify with the daily experiences we have. We believe that Jesus Christ is both divine and human.
In this Christmas message, I want to focus on the story told in Matthew’s Gospel. The Gospel-writer relates the birth of Jesus from his perspective. Mary was engaged to Joseph, and before getting married it was discovered she was pregnant. This presented Joseph with a dilemma, and because he was a good man, or as Matthew puts it, “a righteous man,” he planned to handle the situation with sensitivity to protect Mary. As he thought about how he might end his relationship with Mary without fuss, Joseph had a dream in which an angel told him that Mary’s pregnancy was of God and not because of unfaithfulness on her part. The angel encouraged him to marry her, because she was bearing God’s Son for a purpose that would benefit humankind. The child he and Mary would care for and raise would be the promised Messiah. On awaking from his dream, he followed the instructions given to him by the angel. He married Mary and on the birth of the child, Joseph named him Jesus.
We do not have the benefit in any detail of what Joseph truly wrestled with in discovering Mary was pregnant. We are told he contemplated quietly divorcing her, but before doing so, he experienced an encounter with God through an angel that led him to a different decision than the one his society would have expected him to make. We can conclude that Joseph was not just a good man, but compassionate, mature and willing to listen to the voice of God, even if confused and bewildered. He was not impulsive and angry when he could well have been, but measured and attentive to the angel’s message. We may well describe Joseph’s situation as being “between a rock and a hard place.”
His example for us is to be open to and willing to discern God’s purpose, even in difficult circumstances. He must have been concerned about what his family and the people in his community thought of Mary and the embarrassment she must have felt. Of course, no one else knew of God’s plan and involvement in the lives of Mary and Joseph. Joseph could have simply reacted as most of the people around him expected and have Mary stoned, if not “put away” privately. He chose neither.
He decided to risk the ridicule, embarrassment and ostracization as he opted to listen to the angel in carrying out God’s will and purpose. Joseph trusted God’s purpose and intention for his wife Mary. It is not always an easy decision to go against the expectations of family and friends when facing a significant dilemma. Joseph’s relationship with God must have been so grounded that he could listen and obey the angel’s message.
This story raises questions for us as believers. How do we listen to the voice of God through the many angels or others whom we encounter on a regular basis? Can we be as trusting as Joseph was? Joseph had to believe that, unexpectedly, Mary and he were chosen to participate in God’s mission for the salvation of the world. It was surprising to both, that they should be chosen to play a vital role in the salvation history of humanity. How open and willing are we to trust God and allow ourselves to be used as vessels and instruments of God’s reconciling love for the world?
Can we make ourselves available to God to use us in drawing others unto him? What might we be prepared to do or even give up for the advancement of the loving reign of God? God needs us to carry out whatever the divine plan is for the salvation of humanity. How willing are we to trust God in such a plan?
Just as Joseph initially considered severing his relationship with Mary because of expected scandal, we too are sometimes tempted to avoid doing what is right for fear of losing friendships or the opportunity for advancement. We may also be tempted to avoid associating with people considered as “outcast.” We should remember that our Lord was often accused of eating and drinking with outcasts and sinners.
In the midst of life’s challenges, scandals, uncertainties, fears and anxieties, we are once again reminded this Christmas that God is with us – our Emmanuel. In coming among us, God intends to comfort, forgive, save and enable us in the mission into which we are called to share and participate.
May you and your families have a blessed, happy and holy Christmas.