4th Sunday of Advent
Reading 1. Isaiah 7: 10-14
Reading II. Romans 1: 1-7
Gospel. Matthew 1:18-24 (the virgin shall conceive).
In one of his epistles St. Paul said that his brother Jews wanted or needed signs before they could believe. He, of course, had received a great sign himself when the Risen Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. We are no different from the Jews of the time of Christ. In fact, in today's world we probably require signs even more than they did. Unless something extraordinary happens, it is hard for us to believe.
On this last Sunday of Advent the first reading is about a sign. The ruler, Ahaz, is told by Isaiah, the prophet, to ask for a sign. When Ahaz refuses to make such a demand of the Lord, Isaiah gives him a sign anyway. It is the famous prophecy:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.
Although these prophetic words were spoken more than 600 years before the birth of our Lord, St. Matthew clearly sees their fulfillment in today's gospel. He even quotes the passage from Isaiah and tells us that the story involving Mary, and Joseph, and the Child was meant to fulfill the prophecy. However, instead of naming the Child, "Emmanuel" the angel who appeared to Joseph instructs him to name the child, Jesus or Jeshua.
What is the signifiacance of these names? We know that throughout their history the Jews have been reluctant to use the name of God. Whether this was due to reverence, awe, or fear is hard to say. It is hard for us to imagine this attitude today, but if we think of the way in which we would hesitate to call a respected teacher by their first name, we can get a little sense of their feelings.
Instead of naming God, they chose to refer to His activity in the world. Thus the word, "Jesus" literally means, as Matthew tells us, God saves. Similarly, the name, Emmanuel, means God is with us. The birth of the Child will mean that God has entered our world in a special way. He will become one of us and from that day forward we will be able to call Him by his real Name, and even call Him brother. He can no longer be viewed as distant or unapproachable. We cannot imagine Him as some angry old man in the skies waiting to throw lightning bolts at us when we step out of line. God is Love, and Love comes into the world at Christmas.
Just like th Jews of yesteryear we too need signs. Maybe there is nothing special about them. Maybe we just fail to recognize them. Maybe, we can just point to the signs expressed in Charley Brown's Christmas song.
Christmas time is here.
happiness and cheer,
fun for all that children
call their favorite time of year.
Snowflakes in the air,
olden times and ancient rhymes
and love and dreams to share.
Sleigh bells in the air,
yuletide by the fireside
and joyful memories there.
Christmas time is here;
we'll be drawing near;
oh that we could always see
such spirit through the year,
such spirit through the year.