Lectionary 10; Gospel: Matthew 1: 18-24
On this last Sunday of Advent as the feast of the Nativity draws near, we find the birth of the messiah forecast both in a famous prophecy and a mysterious dream, and so it is worth reflecting on why God communicates through such dramatic means. Some events or persons so defy human understanding that their significance is missed. If however another person comes along or a series of happenings takes place that clarifies their meaning the import of the original event or person is at last made clear. In the recent life of the church two examples can be found in Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Both men lived at times of great change in society and geopolitics, and both had a certain prescience about what the Church had to do in order to respond to the signs of the times. They helped, each in their own way, to interpret what was happening in the world and to urge Christians to respond constructively.
As Catholics we believe that God has given us the intellectual capacity to come to knowledge of his existence and goodness through reason alone. There remain however profoundly important elements of God’s identity and ways that are beyond our ability to discern on our own. To remedy this and to make clear that which defies human understanding God has made himself and the fullness of his plan for salvation known through the special means of his revelation which is handed on in the scriptures and through the tradition of the Church. Through them God has shown himself to us completely and perfectly, even if we for our part do not grasp him or his message perfectly.
The instruments God chooses to use to reveal himself are part of the life of every person and so are readily receivable—human language, deeds, symbols, and historical events. These acts of self-revelation are so profound that often God makes use of extraordinary means to deliver them, as when a prophet like Isaiah speaks—or when persons like Joseph are given dreams. Isaiah’s prophecy announces the birth of a child whose significance seems confined to being a sign of God’s fidelity to Israel in the midst of yet another war over territory and ancient political loyalties. Joseph’s dream shows the full meaning of the prophecy however: the child of Isaiah’s prediction ultimately represented the messiah who would lead Israel forth from all earthly wars and alliances into his Kingdom—the child who is Christ the Lord, the messiah, the savior and redeemer of Israel and all the nations.
While all the people of Israel looked forward to their redemption, it took Isaiah to reassure them of God’s presence event at a time of national hardship, and it took Joseph and his dream to uncover the full meaning of God’s beautiful act of self-giving and revelation. As we approach Christmas we give thanks to God who reveals himself and his gracious will for our salvation in many words, signs, and powerful deeds. When we are troubled and unsure of how God could be present in a particular difficulty in our lives, or how our dreams might be fulfilled or dashed, let us remember that in God alone does the fullness of our human dignity and glory find its origin, and in him alone do we find the way to the salvation and new life that is born together with the Christ child.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.