O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
I am fortunate to have a very active wedding ministry. It is not uncommon for me to conduct between twenty and thirty weddings across my benefice and deanery each year. As a part of this ministry I take very seriously meeting with each couple and helping them to come to an understanding of what being ‘married’ means. As I meet each couple I often find myself reflecting upon the complete turn around that has been forced upon them by society in so very few years. The great majority of the couples I journey alongside have known each other for a long time, they have bought houses together and, sometimes, they already have children who they hope will be able to play a significant role in their marriage ceremony. This is all so different from the circumstances we find in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus.
We read of Mary being engaged to Joseph. As was the custom of the time, and for many centuries to come, this was probably a marriage arranged by the two families, with only a minimal involvement of the couple to be married. From the moment the betrothal had taken place the couple would have been seen as inextricably linked. For the woman to become pregnant during this time would have been viewed as the greatest act of betrayal, and would have left her open to the ultimate punishment of being stoned to death. It is in this context that we see just how kind and gracious Joseph was, because as we read: being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, [he] planned to dismiss her quietly. This act of kindness, we should note, came before an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, we cannot compare the birth of Jesus with anyone else’s situation at any point in the history of humanity. Yes, we do read of miraculous births in the Old Testament, but none of those refer to God coming into this world, to fully share in the human condition.
In the antiphon for today (O Adonai) we hear these words: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. In our reading today we hear of that moment. Despite all that could have gone wrong, we hear of the moment when God overcame the taboos of society and was born to humble parents, in a situation that others would have found scandalous.
Today we are called to rejoice that a new life came into this world, and that that life was to bring redemption for us all. We are called to celebrate with the earthly parents of that new-born boy, and to share in their wonder at all God has done since the moment of creation. We are called to take the Good News of that birth into our hearts and then to share it far and wide in order that others might come to know the depth of our joy today, and for the rest of time.