On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear St. Matthew’s description of “how the birth of Jesus Christ came about” (1:18). In Matthew’s account, we learn of our dear Savior’s birth from the perspective of St. Joseph. Joseph’s original plan to divorce Mary quietly is prevented by the angel who visits him in a dream. Joseph, “a righteous man,” (1:19) obeys the angel and takes Mary and her unborn child into his home. Matthew explains, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet (Isaiah) ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel,’ which means God is with us” (1:22-23).
God is with us; God is with us; God is with us. What reassuring words; please take a moment to repeat these words to yourself. Let them sink in; let them penetrate your heart, your mind, your soul. We need to hear and believe these words now just as desperately as the People of Israel needed to hear them when they were first spoken to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah (Sunday’s first reading; Is 7:10-14). At that moment, the advent of the Babylonian Exile was upon the People of Israel, who would soon endure the destruction of the Temple and darkness of 70 years in exile. How important for them to be reminded that God is with us at this time of darkness and destruction. We need to believe God is with us now just as urgently as Joseph needed to believe it in his own moment of confusion and doubt over the pregnancy of his betrothed that would bring about the first Christmas.
In the core of our being, we desire to know that God is with us. At the heart of our faith, we believe that God is with us most completely in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate in a few short days. The final verse of Matthew’s Gospel reiterates the truth that God is with us, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (28:20). Spoken by the Risen Christ, God Incarnate reassures his disciples then and now that God is with us as He commissions us to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … teaching them” by word and example (28:19-20).
God is with us in our own moments of darkness and destruction; God is with us in our moments of confusion and doubt. God is with us in Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem and born anew in our hearts. God is with us, during these final days of Advent, amidst our Christmas celebrations and always, until the end of the ages.
Fr. Brennan, vocation director at St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere, earned Master of Divinity and Theology degrees from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.