‘He took his wife to his home’ is how today’s gospel ends (Mt. 1.18-24) and what a wealth of meaning is found in these few short words. By taking Mary to his home, Joseph took under his roof the child she was carrying. He took into his home the Christ child, the Messiah, the Son of God. Yes, he had the assurance of the angelic message mediated through a dream, but he must have been bewildered by what was happening. How could what was happening fit within conventional understanding? Yet reaching deep within himself, Joseph found the resources to stand alongside Mary. Perhaps it was a sense of duty as well as some inner intuition. The gospel today hints at reluctance, because it takes the dream to overcome his doubts. By staying with a difficult situation, Joseph found himself guardian to Mary and the holy child. It makes me think of the ancient Celtic saying, ‘The lark says in her song, Often, often, often, goes Christ in the stranger’s guise.’ It is a reminder of how often we are called to stay with a situation in which things are not clear to us, but where we have to go forward in a spirit of trust and faith. Sometimes this is the only way God’s purpose can be revealed to us.
The birth of Jesus is to be the fulfilment of a prophecy made some 700 years earlier. We hear that prophecy in the first reading today (Isaiah 7.10-14) where Isaiah prophesies that as a sign from God, a maiden will bear a son, ‘whom she will call Emmanuel, a name which means “God is with us”’ (verse 6). There is one intriguing difference between the original passage in Isaiah and the way that Matthew cites it. In the original passage, we are told that it is the maiden who will call her son Emmanuel. However, in the gospel we hear that ‘they will call him Emmanuel’. They tells us that many will discover through Christ that God is with us. This is not a private revelation, meant for a few only. It is something that will involve the whole world, as untold numbers come to see in Christ the human face of God.
You and I are privileged to be among those people who look at Christ and see God in him reaching out to us. When the gospel says they will call him Emmanuel, we are part of that group. Hold fast to this, because it means that the fulfilment of the prophecy is not a past event but a present reality. Wherever people turn to Christ and find God in him and through him, then the prophecy is fulfilled. We believe that ‘God is with us’. To say this is not to believe that God blesses every short-sighted human action or indulges us. Rather, it says that there is a deep tide in history, in which God constantly reaches out to every human being who turns to him. It says that we can never forfeit the love of God, for God is with us. This says that God comes to each and every human being. No matter how humble our place in life, we can be like St Joseph: we are able to take Jesus and Mary to our own home.