The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and announces the great news that the savior is to be born. Joseph had found that Mary, his espoused, was with child before they were to wed. Joseph was an upright man who followed the law of God. He knew the child to be born was not his. He was faced with a dilemma. To keep the law he would have to break the wedding plans. Most likely he was distraught due to apparent infidelity. Making a public scandal of the situation would have placed Mary in harm’s way. His love for her and his concern led him to the plan to “divorce her quietly,” for he was “unwilling to put her to shame.”
Such was the situation when the angel greeted him with the words “do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Joseph, trusting in the Lord’s plan, takes Mary into his home as his wife.
When the angel speaks to Joseph of the son to be born he mentions two ways by which the son will be known. First Joseph is to name him Jesus. Joseph as the foster father of Jesus takes him into his family by naming him. The naming of the child was the role of the father of the child. In this manner Jesus is grafted into the family line of Joseph, the family line of David, the King. Hence St. Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, can write that Jesus “descended from David according to the flesh.”
The name “Jesus” means “one who saves.” Jesus is the savior. He will save his people from their sins, he will save them from death and give them life. Second, Jesus will be referred to as “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” Through Jesus God the Father is manifest to the world. He becomes one with humanity by becoming human. He becomes human so we can become divine. (Clement of Alexandria) Jesus is “God with us,” ever present, ever abiding.
Today we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We are in the final days of our preparation for Christmas. We remember the events surrounding the nativity of Jesus. We prepare to rejoice anew in the love that God has for us in sending His son to be one of us, to be one with us and to bind us together in love. “Emmanuel” is a constant reminder of this love, a reminder that God is with us.
As these few remaining days of Advent draw to a close we might get preoccupied with the other preparations for Christmas. We might have last-minute gifts to buy and wrap. We might have parties to plan and prepare or attend. We might have to shop for the family Christmas dinner. We might have to get the children’s Christmas outfits ready. We might have to put up the tree or Christmas decorations. We might have to face mall traffic to get around. We might have to bake cookies. We might even have to do our Christmas cards.
So much can go on just prior to Christmas that we could easily be distracted from what we are celebrating. Added to this there might be other distractions if we face difficulties or sorrows. If this is our first Christmas after the death of a loved one, it might be a particularly trying time of the year. If we have lost our job or face unemployment, the festivities of the season can be difficult. If we are poor or struggling financially, we may feel weighed down by the social pressures and judgments with regard to wealth and material possessions.
If any of these apply to us then let the words of the angel ring in our ears as they did Joseph’s: “They shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
So we ask the question, when is God with us? Always. He is with us when we celebrate Christmas. He is here when we celebrate Easter. He is here when our babies are born. He is here when we die. He is here when we are in the peaks of health. He is with us when we are in the depths of illness. He is with us when we experience joy. He is with us when we experience sadness. He is with us when we are at peace. He is with us when we face anxiety. He is always with us.
In these final days of Advent let us heighten our awareness of God’s abiding presence so that when Christmas arrives we may truly rejoice.
Msgr. Josh Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.