-Veronica Lawson RSM, December 22, 2019
One of my friends asked me what I would like for Christmas. “Nothing”, was my immediate response. “I just want to spend time with community and family and friends, especially those who would otherwise be alone”. And that’s what I’ll be doing, simply “being with”. Being-with others in joy or sorrow or in the humdrum of life is probably the best gift we can offer and the best gift we can receive. It is not always possible to be present in person and, thankfully, true friends know that “being-with” is not restricted to physical presence. There is a sense in which those we love are always with us and we are always with them, even when the demands of life and our work or ministry choices separate us geographically. Real friends are “with-us” even in our absence and “being-with” in spirit or in person is closely allied with “being-for”. Today’s gospel affirms “being-with” as God’s Christmas gift to us.
The first chapter of Matthew’s gospel tells us that the expected child Messiah or Christ-child is “God-with-us”, Emmanuel. The gospel will conclude with the assurance of the resurrected Christ, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). As we celebrate the successive liturgical seasons in the coming year, we shall have the opportunity to enter into the gospel story of God-with-us and with all of creation, and to live out the pattern of the Christ story more fully in our lives.
There is no angelic annunciation to Mary in Matthew’s gospel, no embrace of an expectant mother. There is no inn or innkeeper, no shepherds or shepherds’ fields. These are all features of Luke’s tableau. Matthew brings different features and different characters to centre stage. Chief among Matthew’s characters is Joseph who, like Joseph of old, receives God’s revelation in a series of dreams. The angelic announcement in today’s gospel is to Joseph: he is not to be afraid, but is to accept the extraordinary ways of God which will bring salvation for God’s people. Joseph trusts the word of God’s messenger: he abandons his own plans and lives by faith in God.
If we try to harmonise the different gospel accounts of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, we may lose some of the wondrous mystery of the feast we celebrate. If, on the other hand, we attend to the awesome truth that God is with us, then we might be more attentive to how we are with one another. We may also come to acknowledge our presence or “being-with” as a precious Christmas gift. Those who distance themselves from the community of life run the risk of succumbing to fear and of losing the joy in living. Acceptance of the truth that God is with us has the potential to drive out fear and to draw us into the deepest mysteries of life.
Matthew 1:18-24 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel commanded him; he took her as his wife.