SUNDAY’S READING | December 18, 2022
It is first a human story. In the long saga of wars and rumors of wars, Syria has entered an alliance with the northern kingdom of Israel against the southern kingdom of Judah. Ahaz, king of Judah, hears the Lord telling him to ask for a sign: “Let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven” (Isa. 7:11). The king, however, trembles at the prospect of testing the Lord. The prophet Isaiah speaks: “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). Is the woman the king’s wife? Is the child Hezekiah? Is the Bible telling us again that the story goes on? Ruin will not be total as long as parents dare, in hope, to bring their beautiful babies into this broken world. A child will be born. Let this human story move us. A new life has arrived, a new face, a new image of God, an irreplaceable gift.
Just below the surface of this human story, there is a divine story. There is a young woman named Mary who is found to be with child of the Holy Spirit. There is a man named Joseph who has the dream of an addressing angel: “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” (Matt. 1:20). The angel, quoting Isaiah, says: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” “Emmanuel,” the angel says, means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). The young woman and the man had no marital relations until she had borne a son. Their marriage is more than human love, steeped in the enfolding presence of Spirit, addressed by an angelic voice. Their human love is deeper and richer because God is the mysterious center of their lives. God has come to each of them separately. God brings them together. In a sense it is not wrong to say that God consummates their marriage. God makes them one in the providential miracle of their calling. Together, they will lean over the crèche and behold the Messiah. God has made them parents.
Mary and Joseph are, as we are too, God-bearers. They bring this child to the world, and they announce by the witness of this strange birth that every person summoned to faith comes by a divine act. Human agency must say, “Let it be to me according to your word,” but even this is a gift of prevenient grace. Our story follows a similar narrative. “Through the Spirit, through whom Christ was conceived and born, we are born again by a spiritual birth” (Gregory the Great, Epistle 31). In a sense, faith is always a virgin birth. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Even as these words fall from our confessing tongue, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Jesus is quick to teach us: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). The Spirit awakens faith and makes us newborn people united to the one all-redeeming Christ.
Advent is a time for all times. Every day we wait for the Lord’s visitation. And as the Lord comes to us anew, we ourselves are renewed, awakened in the Spirit, born from the Spirit.
Look It Up: Read Romans 1:1-7. What is your new life? The obedience of faith.
Think About It: “Ever ancient, ever new” (St. Augustine)