22 December 2013
Some time ago I was invited to the 40th wedding anniversary of a couple I know quite well. Their 6 children and also their grandchildren were present. After a very enjoyable meal the husband spoke of their long years of marriage, of both the joys and the struggles. He spoke too of the time before they were married. He said ‘we were so much in love that we would spend our time together until the early hours of the morning, walking around the streets, looking in shop windows. We didn’t want to part. We wanted to be together’. That was long before people cohabited or lived together before marriage.
When we really love someone do we not seek to be near the beloved, to be always with them? Is it not the same with God and us? Our God loves us so much that he wishes to be with us always, not only in this life but also in the life to come. That is why in the gospel today we are told that the child to be born to Mary would fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means God-is-with-us’. This is indeed Good News. We have a God who does not wish to be far away from us but desires ‘to be with us’, to be near the beloved. Sadly it is we ourselves who often keep God at a distance, maybe because of fear of committing our lives to him etc.
When my friends married many years ago, they promised to be faithful to each other, for better, for worse: for richer, for poorer: in sickness and in health etc. When God created us that was the promise he made also in his covenant and renewed daily in the Eucharist. He is a God who will never abandon us. We may become rich materially and forget God but he waits hoping we will turn back to him. Sometimes when we have perfect health we may forget God and live in a way which hurts others and ourselves. God is still faithful and often if we suffer bad health, it is then we turn back to God and this faithful God of ours is there to welcome us in spite of our forgetting about him when our health was perfect etc.
Today too in the gospel we hear about Joseph who was probably shocked and very saddened to find that Mary was pregnant, but not by him. It was obviously a time of crisis for him – what would he do? Being obviously a kind man he decided not to condemn Mary publicly but to divorce her quietly. In this time of darkness he decided on a human solution. Maybe he even doubted God. How could God have allowed this? Then he experienced the helping nearness of God. It was revealed to him in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary to his home since she had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here then in the gospel we have a God who wants to be near us, to be with us, to dwell among us. But he doesn’t force his way into our lives. He comes knocking on the door of our hearts, asking permission to enter our world through us. God decided to need Joseph to be the legal father of Jesus just as he needed Mary to give birth to Jesus. Never in their wildest dreams would they have considered themselves important enough to play such a key role in Jesus coming amongst us. Yet they were people of faith.
At Christmas time we give gifts as a sign of our love. The gift we received from God was Jesus. Could we not also give God a Christmas gift? Above all the gift of allowing him to come into our world through us as did Mary and Joseph. So amazingly God still decides not to come into our world in any other way except through us humans. Will we allow him to dwell with us by agreeing like Mary and Joseph to respond to his invitation? The goodness of God can only be present in our world when we are good to each other. His forgiveness and kindness is present when we are forgiving and kind to each other. Likewise with his compassion, patience, gentleness. On the other hand we can be unforgiving, selfish, angry people blocking off what God wishes for our world. God as man appeared in Jesus. Aware of it or not people experienced God then in the human person of Jesus. God’s smile was seen when Jesus smiled. God looked on us kindly in the kind glance of Jesus. God touched us in the human touch of Jesus. He welcomed and forgave in the welcome and forgiveness of Jesus. It is no different today. This is the way that God still comes to us, just as Mary and Joseph cooperated with God’s plan by allowing him to come among us. They could, of course, have refused.
All of us saw the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11th this year. Who could have believed that these towering buildings made of solid concrete and steel would have collapsed but they did. They were manmade and undoubtedly meant to last for years and years.
In the gospel today we have two other towers. Mary and Joseph are towers of faith. They did not collapse when crises, attacks on their faith, darkness, doubts, suffering entered their lives. They were constructed not of solid concrete and steel but on the solid gift of faith and trust in God.
“Lord Jesus may we also be like Mary and Joseph – people of faith and trust who will allow You to come into our world through us, to allow you to be near us always so much do you love us. Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA