Our sins are less important than the good we do to empower others … regain your peace by helping the Community
If we approach today’s Readings with a western, modern, mind-set, we lose part of the power of God’s word, and also struggle to see the importance of how Jesus came to be born.
Joseph receives the Holy Spirit as a Jewish man, not as a Christian. “According to the Jewish idea, the Holy Spirit was the person who brought God’s truth to men; who taught the prophets what to say; who taught men of God what to do.” [William Barclay, 1975]
The emphasis on Joseph being the “father” was to ensure the baby Jesus became part of David’s line through adoption: the lineage is maintained, while preserving the blood free from the sins of David and those who followed him.
The Christian world’s stress on virginity would not be understood by many Jewish people. The operative Word in the Gospel is all about the action of the Holy Spirit, not Mary’s virginity. It’s not her virginity that is important but the fact that Jesus is the Word brought by the Holy Spirit, and not a human being – thereby stressing the Divinity of Jesus, while Mary receiving Jesus in her womb confirms the humanity of Jesus.
Until the 1850’s, science always taught that children come from the man as fully formed miniature beings, and the woman was like a fertile field which receives the fully formed miniature human being, allowing it to grow into a baby before birth.
Now that science has proven the contribution of a woman in the development of a child, it simply enhances the full humanity of Jesus; strengthening the Church teaching that Jesus understands our human weaknesses: thereby increasing our closeness to God in times of failure.
The First Reading highlights the fear of the old world to come close to God or to ask too much from God: God-relationships were based on unhealthy fear of God, rather than a fear of losing God in our lives; which is the proper way to teach people about the fear of God:
As John says in one of his Letters: if we fear God’s punishment, it means our love is not yet perfect. King Ahaz is afraid to come close to God whereas, through the incarnation, God says: I want to be close to each of you.
Where do you see God joining humanity in your community, in my community, today? The people we expect the least, may be where God is once more joining hands with us.
We tend to look for perfection: the perfect man, the perfect woman, the perfect priest, who will reveal God to us today. But let us read our Psalm again:
“Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? … The man with clean hands and pure heart, who desires not worthless things.”
“Clean hands” does not mean a perfect non-sinful person. But one who keeps washing their hands (acknowledging their failures and trying again).
“Pure heart” does not mean never having a bad thought, but whether our focus is in the right place, the right direction, the right purpose. Along the journey we all have flat tyres, broken fan-belts, and overheating engines. But we know where we should be going.
Look around and see the good that people are doing, and give thanks to God for inspiring those that do it. Next, look at ourselves: what are we doing that prevents God from joining hands with me, in order to bring Christ into the world?
Where do I block God’s mercy for others? Where do I withhold God’s generosity to others? Between now and Christmas, can we be challenged to look out for the “maiden” and reach out the hand, as St Joseph did, to help that person give birth to something good for others, or is an act of love for others.
This is the purpose of Advent: to open our eyes properly: to learn to see GOODNESS again. It requires us to slow down, to take time to listen, to take time to reflect on the health of our communities: what can I do to help?
Will I be like St Joseph initially reacted? Will I allow the Holy Spirit to guide me back to the more difficult road to empower others, to stand up against injustice, and to sacrifice myself?
What sort of a Christmas do you want to have? A party with a hangover, or a transformation in our ways of thinking, that leads us to an inner excitement with new meaning for life.
Depression, guilt and shame all focus inwards, leading to Hell. Whereas, a focus outwards for other people, beings new life and a pathway to Heaven – our old ways lose their attraction.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI