Readings: Isaiah 7:10-24; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1: 18-25
Any event of a human life, unfolding in time, is not confined to the time it took to happen. Think of your own life experience, whether it’s an event of private and personal importance or a public, historical event, anything as trivial as gossip or an earth-shaking occurrence. Such happenings echo through our lives and we unpack their meaning at ever deeper levels. Even if I never change a detail of my recollection, my appreciation shifts and the meaning may be different in each recital of the facts.
A beautiful exemplar of this is Joseph in today’s Gospel. He does not become fixated in his problem: his promised bride, whom he had never touched, is pregnant. He presumes that he understands but he remains open enough not to make a case out of their predicament. And the same openness allows him to heed an angel and that predicament is retold with a new meaning.
Don’t say. “But an angel explained that to him; that never happens to me!” Remember, it was an angel in a dream; Joseph could have dismissed that as a figment of his imagination. Perhaps angels have, through whatever mediation, already spoken to you, but did you deny it because you presumed that could never happen? Joseph had the hospitable attitude capable of hearing an angelic message.
But this is not just another human event. This is the event for which we were created, when God’s realm breaks into our realm, when eternity mingles in time–just like the sacrament we celebrate at this altar. When time and eternity touch, time becomes relative and that is why we celebrate this Gospel during Advent.
Christ’s coming at the end of time, celebrated in Advent, isn’t exchanged for Christ’s birth in time. Conceived in the Virgin’s womb, Eternity overcomes the limits of time. For Mary, as for Joseph, this is the same as Christ coming to judge the living and the dead. By their responses, both Joseph and Mary are judged, found worthy and capable of the mission they are called to fulfill. That conception echoes all the way to the end time; that tiny life already contains the fullness of life; the helpless child who escapes Herod’s slaughter is already the dread and merciful judge before whom Herod is judged and condemns himself.
This is no birthday remembrance we prepare to celebrate. Isn’t it our story and our judgment that we are preparing?