The opening prayer at mass on this fourth Sunday of Advent asks the following of the Lord: “Fill our hearts with your love, and as you revealed to us by an angel the coming of your Son as man, so lead us through his suffering and death to the glory of his Resurrection.” This prayer provides an example of how authentic Catholic reflection about Christ always keeps an integrated vision, linking together the mystery of his incarnation and nativity with the mystery of his death and resurrection. In the New Testament reading at mass Saint Paul keeps this integration in mind as he writes of “[God’s] Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:3-4).
Such balanced reflection on the mystery of Christ has its origins in the Gospel, where we hear the angel of the Lord say to Joseph: “[Mary] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). The angel mentions the joyful birth of the savior and the fearsome reality of sin in the same sentence—joining the incarnation with its ultimate “end”— Jesus’ death and resurrection to eternal life.
While Joseph heard these words plainly from the angel of the Lord, he could not but have been dumbfounded over this news. The point about Christ’s birth and death being part of a coherent movement is something we modern believers can discern standing as we do at a comfortable distance from these events. Joseph, on the other hand, stood in the midst of these events and would have been stunned to hear the news that Mary was expecting a child.
Nonetheless, in faith, Joseph obeyed the command of the angel and took his place in the history of salvation, knowing its beginning from the prophet Isaiah but not knowing where it would end. Living in the light of the revelation of Christ, we make an act of faith too—not in trusting what would happen in and through the life of the Christ-child, for we know that—but in trusting that there is a place for us in the salvation he brought.
In doing so our act of faith is no less challenging than Saint Joseph’s was: even knowing the story of our salvation as taught by the Church and laid out in the Bible, we hesitate to believe at times that God truly became human in Jesus Christ for the sake of our redemption. Confronting our own regrets and frustration with ourselves we find it hard to believe that we are loved by an almighty and all-knowing God, yet that is exactly what we celebrate at Christmas. As we strain for a sign of God’s fidelity we need look no further than the incarnation and birth of the Christ-child, God’s ultimate pledge of his love in the present life and beyond.
It takes no proof to acknowledge that from our birth to our death we share in varying degrees in the same sufferings Christ endured in his earthly life. This Christmas let us be renewed in hope that the love of God made visible in the Christ-child may lead us through whatever suffering we might encounter in this life…so that at the end of this life we may share in the “glory of his resurrection,” saying together with Isaiah the prophet and the angel of the Lord: “Truly, God is with us” (Matt 1:23; cf. Isa 7:14).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.