21 Dec


(A biblical refection on the FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT [Year A] – 22 December 2019)

Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:18-24

First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalms: Psalm 24:1-6; Second Reading: Romans 1:1-7 

The Scripture Text

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her  away quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife. (Matthew 1:18-24 RSV)  

Marriage customs in Palestine in Jesus’ time were much different from what we are accustomed to today. Back then, there were two parts of a Jewish marriage ceremony – the engagement and the consummation.

The engagement, which usually lasted at least a year, was a time for the bride to make her dress and prepare for the wedding. During this period, the bride and the groom could not see each other so they communicated through messages delivered by the best man.

The engagement began with the signing of a formal marriage agreement or with the groom giving gifts to the bride’s family. After this took place, the bride and the groom were legally husband and wife even though they did not yet live together.

The consummation occurred when the groom took his wife into his home to live with him. The consummation completed the marriage contract.

The story in today’s Gospel tells us Joseph found out about Mary being pregnant while they were engaged but before they consummated the union. The engagement year had not ended and they were not yet living together. Since Joseph could not visit his wife during this period, she obviously wasn’t pregnant with his child.

With Joseph and Mary legally becoming husband and wife at their engagement, divorce was the only way Joseph could end the relationship. Another alternative was for him to publicly accuse Mary of adultery, which according to Jewish law, would have led to her being stoned to death. The whole mess is finally cleared up by an angel who tells Joseph Mary conceived the child by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the child has divine origin. The angel gives the child the name Jesus, a name that means “Yahweh saves” or simply “salvation”. How appropriate that name is!

(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 8-9.)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are Emmanuel, meaning God with us. I adore You and bless Your Holy name, dear Lord Jesus, and now I surrender my life to You. I humbly ask that You come and dwell within me forever, so that I may give You glory. Amen.

Jakarta, 20 December 2019 

A Christian Pilgrim


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