Reflections 22nd December 2019

A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Now, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, we finally come to the Christmas story. But to understand today’s gospel it is worth taking a moment to think about the gospel that was read earlier this week (on December 17th). Last Tuesday we heard the verses that lead up to the story of how Jesus came to be born and they make for interesting reading as they present to us the genealogy of Jesus. Nowadays there is huge interest in tracing our roots, people study their family-tree and send off their DNA to find out more about their ethnic background. In Matthew’s time knowing where Jesus came from was of huge interest to his Jewish / Christian community. Their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God was costing them dearly. They were being cut off from their religious and cultural roots – ostracised from their families. So, when Matthew reminds them that Jesus is “Emmanuel”, God with us, he is inviting his readers to think not only about Jesus but about their origins as the people of God.  

Had God always come to them in expected ways, using only the great and the good to manifest his presence? Not at all! Take a look at the ancestry of David. Four women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba) are mentioned in the genealogy and there is more than a hint of scandal attached to each of them.  

The promised messiah is to be a Son of David, he is to be the sign of God’s faithfulness, a faithfulness that was made known to them through all the ups and downs of their very chequered history.  

Now Joseph has to make an act of faith that, in this apparently chaotic moment in his life, God is again at work. Mary’s child (who is not his child) is God with us. He is Jesus, the God who saves.   

The people for whom the gospel was written also know that this “son of David”, this messiah, was crucified. If we accept the sign that God is revealed in the virgin with child, then we also have to come to terms with God being with us in a crucified messiah. It is one story, one sign of God’s faithful love with us in the bits and pieces of every day, in the midst of scandal, shock and calamity. This is a big ask and it is not only asked of Joseph but of every generation of Christians ever since.   

Our faith is not simply that Jesus was God with us back then but that he is God with us now and until the end of time (See Matthew 28:20). 

The Sundays of Advent 2019, Reflections by Seán Goan (Co-ordinator of Spiritan Mission Ireland)