December 19, 2010


This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. – Mt. 1: 18

This sounds like the Christmas story, but it really isn’t. It is an introduction, a preface, an overture, if you like, to the Christmas story. After all the frantic activity of this season, it gives us a little time for reflection on what the story is all about. There are four hidden things to look for in this Gospel:

1) Its focus is on God. God is about to breaking into our human world by taking on all the fears, joys & limitations that attend the human condition. Our yearning for an intimacy like this is about to be fulfilled. Nevertheless, it is God who takes the initiative, it is His doing. How much He must love us!

2) Joseph is a son of David, i.e., Jesus is the fulfillment of the Davidic prophecies. God has been faithful to His word, & the coming of Jesus will be the climax of God’s ongoing love affair with the human race. Why does God love us so? Only He knows.

3) It’s a scandalous situation: Mary is pregnant & her fiancé knows he is not the father, i.e., God chose to come into the world in the midst of scandal. Why would He do that? Because He wants to get us ready for the scandal of God in the flesh. Jesus, born in scandal, would continue to scandalize by challenging the prevailing understanding of the Law, breaking bread with sinners, touching lepers, calling tax collectors to follow him, & by making claims that sounded like blasphemy.

4) Matthew records a second part of the angelic salutation to Joseph: “Behold the virgin shall conceive & bear a son, & they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us” from the prophet Isaiah. Now, Emmanuel is a throne name, much like Cardinal Ratzinger taking the name Benedict XVI when he became Pope. It provides the bookend to Matthew’s Gospel: God is with us at the Incarnation & also at the end when the Risen Jesus says “behold I am with you all the days until the end.” He is visibly with us in the Church. In our best & worst moments, God will be with us. That is what Jesus is all about.

So today’s Gospel is full of foreshadowing. Matthew is telling us what to look for & pray over when we observe the Feast of Christmas itself: divine action, divine promises, divine scandal, & divine presence.

It is reminiscent of a poignant episode in the TV series MASH when the battalion is all set to celebrate Christmas & a new patient, severely wounded, arrives. Despite their best efforts, he dies anyway. The doctor in charge writes an incorrect time of death on the medical record allowing him to tell the soldier’s family that he died on December 26. His reason? “No child should have to connect Christmas to death.” Matthew wrote in troubled times, just like ours. Despite all that has happened & will happen, God is connected to life & to saving His people from their sins. AMEN!