Reflection on 4th Sunday of Advent: 22nd December 2019

Emmanuel: God is with us

There is no rational explanation for Jesus’ conception and birth. That’s where most of us get stuck with today’s gospel reading. That’s where Joseph got stuck as well. So he “planned to dismiss Mary quietly.” We shouldn’t be too surprised. Isn’t that what we tend to do when we don’t understand? We dismiss what makes no sense. We turn away from possibilities that don’t fit with our ideas, beliefs, and experiences. In dismissing what makes no sense, that which we don’t understand or can’t explain, we are refusing to open ourselves to something new. Sometimes that means we refuse to open ourselves to the life and opportunities God wants to birth in us and through us. What do we lose when we demand answers and refuse to live with questions, when we limit our lives to what we know, what’s familiar, what makes sense, and close ourselves to the not-knowing, to something new, different, or unexpected? Do we dismiss Emmanuel, God-with-us, by our searching for explanations and understanding rather than trusting and entering into the mystery?

The Marriage of the Virgin by Giotto (circa 1305)
 Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy

Ultimately, Joseph took Mary as his wife. However, he first had to move beyond what he understood and what made sense. He had to allow God-with-us to transcend the limits of his knowledge. He had to let go of trying to put it all in terms of a rational explanation. This first had to happen within Joseph himself and it must first happen within us as well. It is a shift that happens within us.

That is our preparation for Christmas. It means that we are to see our whole lives through the lens of God with us. Instead of looking for answers let’s ponder what might be born in us, what needs to be born in us, what is waiting to be born in us. That’s how we open ourselves to the life and possibilities God offers us. That’s how we experience Emmanuel, God with us. That’s what Joseph did. He took Mary as his wife and opened himself to something new, something different, something unexpected, something unexplainable. He opened himself to the life and possibilities God offered and he named it all Jesus.

Michael Marsh

May we all have a wonderful Christmas and spend the New Year unwrapping the mystery of the reality of God-with-us.