4th Tuesday of Advent
Isaiah 7:10-14 ; Luke 1:26-38
Once again it is the prophet Isaiah who provides the inspired text suited to contribute to our preparation for our Savior’s birth. When Achaz refuses to ask the prophet for a sign, Isaiah strongly criticizes his lack of faith and decides that he, God’s confident prophet, will provide the sign. He names a most mysterious one when he then declares that it is not he, the prophet, who will produce the sign, but God. He states it in the following terms: “the Lord Himself will give you this sign: The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” Strangely, Achaz is not the central figure in this remarkable event. He is not to be the father of this promised son of the Virgin; it is not he who is to name the boy. Whose son will the child be?
Much time was to pass before the hidden significance of this prophetic sign was brought to light. St. Matthew took up these final words of the prophet to the Jewish king, and was inspired to give their hidden meaning. He was inspired by the same Holy Spirit who had enlightened Isaiah when he wrote that the centuries old prophecy found its real fulfillment in the conception and birth of Jesus. He tells how God’s plan of salvation was revealed in a dream to Joseph who had discovered that Mary was with child though he had no intimate relations with his engaged fiancée. God’s messenger revealed to the distressed Joseph that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit of God. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux held the opinion that Joseph realized the child was conceived of the Holy Spirit and, considering himself unworthy to be known as the father of this divine son was planning to break the engagement when he has the inspired dream in which the angel urges him to take Mary as his wife. For, knowing Mary as he did, he could never suspect her of impurity. As surprising as this opinion is, yet it is compatible with the text and in certain respects more insightful than the usual explanation we are more familiar with.
Modern exegetes explain Joseph’s reaction at discovering his intended wife was pregnant as meaning he thought she had relations with another man. An angels’ reassurance that Mary’s child was conceived miraculously was provided to Joseph in a dream to remove the natural opinion that Mary had been unfaithful. Luke’s version that we have just heard, tells only of the exchange between Mary and the angel Gabriel. He does not mention Joseph in connection with the conception of Jesus, though he states that May was betrothed to him. We are left to reflect on the details of our Lord’s relations with Mary and Joseph in his infancy and childhood. The few details provided by the Evangelists have stimulated much reflection over the centuries.
The all-important reality that has remained essential, first revealed in these readings, is that in the person of Jesus God Himself is truly with us and has taken on a human nature in order to unite us with himself and with the Father in the Holy Spirit. This is the mystery we renew at the Eucharist we celebrate here this morning. May we always prove faithful to it by lives worthy of so great a mystery.