“Emmanuel ⋯ God is with us” (Mt 1:24)

by Shiu Lan

This Sunday is the last Sunday of Advent. Next Sunday we will celebrate the nativity of Jesus when over 2,000 years ago, he was born in a very cold night in Bethlehem, “the City of David”; “And the Word was made flesh” (Lk 2:4, Jn 1:14).

Yet the spirit of Advent continues throughout everyday of our life. We continue to wait for the second coming of Christ when he will come again to judge the living and the dead. In the meantime, the Living Christ is present and dwells among us; we encounter him in the Eucharist, the Sacraments and in the homeless person in a cold winter night, or someone who knocks on our door in need of our help. Christ sends the Holy Spirit to us in the Sacrament of Confirmation to empower us and fortify us against sinful temptations. Then in these times of waiting, we must take heed of his teaching to “stay awake” and “be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of man will come” (Mt 24:42, 44). We must strive to live in grace with prayer and good works as Jesus wants us to be.

In the Gospel reading is St. Matthew’s account of how Mary’s pregnancy that perplexes Joseph is resolved. St. Jerome proposes one of the interpretations in Catholic tradition to explain why Joseph has decided to end the betrothal with Mary. He finds the situation of Mary bearing a child inexplicable and divorce seems to be the only option. He wants to do this quietly because he cannot bring himself to believe that Mary has been unfaithful. Joseph is said to be a righteous man who lives by the law of God and judges Mary’s situation with utmost charity (ICSB P8). Then an Angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and tells him that “the child conceived in (Mary) is from the Holy Spirit”, “he is to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:20-21). When Joseph awakes from sleep, he does exactly what the Angel of the Lord commands him, and “took her as his wife” (Mt 1:24). In doing so, Joseph has set aside his own fears and lives out his vocation as the legal father of the Messiah; as a descendent of King David, he imparts Davidic (royal) rights of inheritance to Jesus. St. Matthew sees the birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary as a fulfilment of what the Lord has spoken through prophet Isaiah, ‘“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us”’; referring to Mary as the Virgin and Jesus the son. (Is. 7:14, Mt 1:23, ICSB P8).

St. Paul in the second reading tells us that he and his companions have received grace and apostleship to bring about “the obedience of faith” to the world; the obedience that springs from faith, the act of trusting in God and entrusting oneself to God. Faith inspires love which is the indispensable basis for living with Christ (Rm 1:5, Ref ICSB P257). “(We) are called to belong to Jesus” (Rm 1:6). So in faith and love we must live all the days of our lives.

Jesus is the Emmanuel, “God is with us” (Mt 1:24). With Jesus’ personal and reassuring promise of his continued presence amongst us, “I am with you always until the end of this world", may we, with the Advent spirit of “be ready”, live our life joyfully in faith, hope and love and when the time comes, may we be found worthy of our eternal prize in heaven (Mt 28:20).