Our Christmas reflection begins a few days early as we ponder the scripture readings for the last Sunday of Advent. We begin by listening to the most famous prophecy in the Old Testament.
At a time of grave national crisis, as kings were uniting to wage war against Judah’s king Ahaz, Isaiah delivered these words of hope to him. “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”
Isaiah was speaking to the dire situation Ahaz was facing, but at the same time, his prophecy was looking into the future. Today, Matthew incorporates this prophecy into his infancy narrative that begins, like the story of King Ahaz, with a crisis.
Joseph had discovered that his betrothed was pregnant. He had decided to quietly dissolve the engagement until he had a dream. In the dream an angel explained to him that he and Mary were part of a divine intervention that was beginning to unfold through the working of the Holy Spirit. Mary would give birth to a son who was to be named Jesus, a name that focused his destiny. Jesus means: to deliver – to rescue – to save. He will be the long-awaited redeemer. Matthew then quoted Isaiah’s prophecy but implied a radically new interpretation. The child would be named Emmanuel, “which means ‘God is with us.’” For King Ahaz the child that was to be born would be strengthened by God’s power in order to rescue Judah from invading armies. Matthew declared that at that very moment Isaiah’s prophecy had come to fulfillment. This child named Jesus would literally be “God with us!”
MIDNIGHT MASS December 24, 2019 Titus 2:11-14 Gather #892
We bundle up and leave our homes in the dead of night to gather with the community for the Midnight Mass. Again, Isaiah speaks to us. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”
Then St. Paul adds to Isaiah’s prophecy. His short exclamation in his letter to his co-worker, Titus, reassures him, and us, that God’s light is with him. “The grace of God has appeared, saving all…as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.”
Finally, an angel speaks to us through the shepherds in Luke’s narrative of the birth of Jesus. From the dark night sky, the angel speaks. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you, who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying a manger.”
Luke’s reference to the child wrapped in swaddling clothes is a prophecy of the day the adult Jesus will, once again, be again be wrapped in clothes – this time, he will be wrapped in his shroud. His redemptive death is intimated even at the moment of his birth. And as we gaze at the manger we recall Jesus’ promise to be the bread of life.
In the darkness of this holy night we celebrate the Light proclaiming that Christ, the Light, is among us. With joy and thanksgiving, we celebrate that Light and share the Bread of Life. May it strengthen us in our mission to bring the Light into the darkness.